Management consultant Peter F. Drucker advised many chief executives but, he never told them what to do. So how can you apply his insights to your work? So, what was his value proposition?
Drucker told his clients what to do, but he never told them how to do what he recommended.
One of his clients said, “Drucker never told us how to solve our problems or build our sales. All he did was to ask questions. This was more than a little disconcerting at first. However, his questions did make us think, and our thinking sometimes led to the solution of the issue we had been struggling with.” Even when his clients insisted on explicit steps to the solution of a problem, Drucker resisted the tendency to respond with explicit “how to” instructions.
Here is another anecdote as told by one of his previous clients.
This particular manager was faced with some huge challenges to his business and asked Drucker some specific and pointed questions, but Drucker answered with a question. The manager tried a second time to get specific guidance about how to save his business. Drucker responded with another question. The manager refused to give up and again continued requesting specific answers to his questions. Finally, Drucker surrendered and said, “Okay, so you are in trouble. What are you going to do about it?” Note that this response continued to place the responsibility for positive outcomes on the manager.
We should not think that Drucker’s technique was simply an easy assignment culminating with a huge fee. His interrogatories almost always lead to success. The client in this case was none other than Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.
At the time, GE was involved in a large number of different businesses around the globe when Drucker asked him two important questions: “What businesses would you rather not be in?” Jack Welch listed several businesses which he evaluated as having less than optimal results. Drucker asked a second question: “What are you going to do about it?”
These two questions helped Jack Welch to decide that, regardless of profitability or other factors, if GE could not be the number one or number two in an industry, or could not achieve this position within a reasonable amount of time, the business would be sold or closed.
These two questions clarified Welch’s goals and aspirations which allowed him to focus and concentrate the organization’s resources and capital where they would have the most positive impact. Jack Welch got “more bang for GE’s buck.” One could say that, the two foregoing questions helped to make GE the most valuable company in the world by 2004.
My take is that, sometimes asking questions, can be more effective than trying to provide all of the answers.
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