Manage with Courage

In one of The Effective Executive’s most striking passages, Peter Drucker writes, “The most important thing about priorities and posteriorities is…not intelligent analysis but courage.”

Aiming first to be smart is a deadly sin for an executive, every bit as detrimental as preoccupation with one’s own interests, talents, power or position. Although analysis should always shape and inform action, it cannot provide the initial spark required to create action.

Courage is what serves that special purpose. Without courage, an executive in possession of the most brilliant idea in history can only ponder what might be. With courage, knowledge becomes productive.

For Drucker, courage is more than mere motion in the face of uncertainty. Courage manifests in four specific ways of taking action: “Pick the future as against the past. Focus on opportunity rather than on problem. Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon. And aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is ‘safe’ and easy to do.”

Long before Drucker wrote The Effective Executive, he was a young man fleeing totalitarianism in search of a way to defeat it. He did not create the discipline of management because it was a smart idea. He created it because he had the courage to ask what he could do to strengthen the institutions of society—and thus society itself—against the horrors of the 20th century.

The Effective Executive is an expression of Drucker’s courageous choice to focus on society’s future possibilities as against its past tragedies; on the opportunities management created, not the problems it solved; on his own direction by advocating for a humanistic practice of management; and on the high aim to make society both more productive and more humane.

Excerpted from Zach First’s afterword to the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Effective Executive.