Joe’s Journal: On Management as a Liberal Art

“Management is what tradition used to call a liberal art ‘liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; ‘art’ because it deals with practice and application. Managers draw upon all of the knowledges and insights of the humanities and social sciences on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on the physical sciences and ethics. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results.”

–Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker told me when we were working on The Daily Drucker that only about 40% of his work was dedicated to management and the other 60% was dedicated to writing about society. He was concerned with understanding how the field of management would impact society and vice-versa, and how the liberal arts were relevant and related to the practice of management.

He looked at the way the history of humankind and the development of management were intertwined. Leadership and management have been studied or practiced throughout the ages, but the body of management knowledge just hadn’t been systematically codified before Drucker. Many of the problems faced in management are problems that have been faced in history such as by government. For example, the central problem in formulating and ratifying the US Constitution was the question of how to distribute power between the federal government and the states. When Drucker worked with GM he saw that essentially what Alfred Sloan had developed to manage the company was based on federalism—he called it an exceeding good essay in federalism. The problems we deal with in management have been faced in economic, religious, and political history. Leadership and management require that we acquire wisdom and that is available from a study of history and philosophy. It includes what can be learned from a study of the humanities, social sciences and technology.

[EXPAND More]The first business schools all had a very close tie to the liberal arts. In fact, many of them required a background in the liberal arts before studying management. The liberal arts develop one’s critical thinking skills. Just going through questions of ethics and moral reasoning takes a lot of critical analysis. Developing the skills of perception to understand what is being seen as well as what is not clear but might be coming around the bend is what can come from the liberal arts. They are not just about truth, beauty and wisdom; with them, one learns rhetoric and logic, and critical analysis. They also have a mission to inculcate certain values like those that form character and discipline.

Drucker said that integrity is the touchstone to management (i.e., it’s very essence). Certainly, leaders have to have intelligence and competence, but if one leads people without integrity, one can destroy people with one’s very brilliance. Drucker’s point is that in a knowledge society all knowledges have to be brought down and applied to the work of human beings; all knowledges need to be applied to the problems of real life. He was committed to reading as much as possible outside the field of management. He loved art and literature and mathematics, especially chaos theory in mathematics. He inspired in me a real desire to broaden myself in a number of other fields, as well as continuing my work on management.

–Joe Maciariello[/EXPAND]