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Summer Reading: Five Management Classics

Summer Reading: Five Management Classics

Although Peter Drucker was a self-described workaholic, he did take time off each summer to hike amid the peaks of Colorado, reflect on the previous year's successes and failures, and, of course, read.

As you head to the beach or the mountains with your own stack of books (or your Kindle, Nook, or iPad), keep in mind five classics about management and leadership that Drucker himself loved. All appeared before his own landmark The Practice of Management was published in 1954. "Every one of these books," Drucker noted, "laid firm and lasting foundations."

1. The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor

Although it has become fashionable to disparage Taylor and his methods for spurring industrial efficiency, Drucker never wavered in his admiration for the mechanical engineer or his ideas. Indeed, Drucker asserted that scientific management may well be the greatest "contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalist Papers." And he believed that Taylor's concepts weren't just instrumental for raising the productivity of those in factories; they're crucial as well, Drucker said, "to learn how to make knowledge-work productive." It is also worth pointing out, in an age when many top executives have enjoyed skyrocketing pay packages while their employees' incomes have stagnated, that Taylor urged a more equitable structure. "The principal object of management," he declared at the start of The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, "should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee."

2. Industrial and General Administration by Henri Fayol

Originally published in 1916, Fayol's writings reflect the mind not only of a sage theorist but that of an able practitioner; for many years, he ran a French mining company with about 1,000 employees. Fayol's contributions include laying out a fundamental framework for administration: forecasting, planning, organizing, coordinating, commanding, and controlling. Drucker said that although "Fayol's language is outdated … his insights into the work of management and its organization are still fresh and original." In fact, many businesses would do well to study Fayol's notions of generating esprit de corps and getting the most out of employees up and down the organization. "Every intermediate link in the chain," Fayol wrote, "can and must be a source of energy and ideas; there is, in each of these links, or men, a power of initiative, which, if properly used, can considerably extend a manager's range of activity."

3. The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization by Elton Mayo

Decades before today's management consultants began speaking of the need to engage all employees and ensure that everyone across the enterprise is aligned around a common set of big-picture goals, Mayo called for the same basic approach in this 1933 book. "It is not enough to have an enlightened company policy, a carefully devised (and blueprinted) plan," Mayo wrote. "To stop at this point … has much the same effect as administering medicine to a recalcitrant patient. It may be good for him, but he is not persuaded. … This is the essential nature of the human; with all the will in the world to cooperate, he finds it difficult to persist in action for an end he cannot dimly see." Although Drucker praised Mayo's book, the two men got into it during an address that Mayo delivered at Harvard Business School in 1947. Drucker questioned Mayo's philosophy, and Mayo thumbed his nose, literally, at Drucker. The two quickly apologized to each other.

4. The Functions of the Executive by Chester I. Barnard

"We all know," Drucker wrote in a 2004 Harvard Business Review piece, "thanks to Chester Barnard's 1938 classic The Functions of the Executive, that organizations are held together by information rather than ownership or command. Still, far too many executives behave as if information and its flow were the job of the information specialist—for example, the accountant. As a result, they get an enormous amount of data they do not need and cannot use, but little of the information they do need." For his part, Barnard, who was president of New Jersey Bell Telephone, put it this way: "All communication relates to the formulation of purpose and the transmission of coordinating prescriptions for action and so rests upon the ability to communicate with those willing to cooperate."

5. Dynamic Administration by Mary Parker Follett

This collection of speeches and articles on management was published in 1941. Yet Drucker didn't discover Follett for another 10 years. It was a true revelation. "Follett … had been the brightest star in the management firmament," Drucker said. "And—to change the metaphor—she had struck every single chord in what now constitutes the 'management symphony.'" Among her seminal ideas: that conflict must be made "to work for us" by integrating clashing perspectives into a new and different answer. She also held that effective management was vital for all organizations, not just business. Follett's "true importance lies in her vision," Drucker wrote. "She saw the society of organizations and she saw management as its generic function and specific organ well before either really existed."

Happy summer. Happy reading.