I try to read several books on management each year (I’m an academic administrator), usually picking up a few things from the bargain bins of the bookstores I enjoy haunting. This summer I read “Inside Drucker’s Brain,” a collection of Peter Drucker’s principles by Jeffrey A. Krames, who also wrote a similar book on Jack Welch (of GE fame). The book was a helpful reminder of the scope of Drucker’s thinking and his place in the history of strategic thinking about management. I know that Drucker has fallen out of favor in many circles, but having cut my teeth within a family business, where I learned a great deal about the benefits of both practicality and the ascription of dignity to one’s fellow workers, I find much of Drucker to be useful. “The Effective Leader” had a great influence on me in terms of serving in administrative roles. “Inside” was a very good distillation that may be read on a flight or on breaks between meetings.
Having said that, I picked up “Inside” again after letting it sit for a month or so to shelve it and started flipping through it again when something struck me: there was virtually no mention of Drucker’s faith as a foundational principle of his thoughts. When one reads a line like this one, “Drucker . . . was the first to view workers as a company’s greatest asset—not a cost—as had been the prevailing wisdom before him” (42-43), that implicit faith element just jumps out: the shared humanity of fellow persons should not be ignored. As Krames continues, “Drucker inserted dignity into the managerial equation from the beginning . . . and never wavered” (82). The only place where Drucker’s faith is tangentially addressed is in the section on Drucker’s early works that ran contrary to the emerging Nazism of the 1930s. Drucker was not afraid to call “evil” by its name.
The elision of the faith elements of a man’s life and work is one of the cardinal sins of omission by the academic and business worlds, where the Christian Intellectual Tradition is treated as implicit at best and embarrassing at worst. I’m not saying that we need to crank out fresh hagiography, but if someone wants to understand a thinker like Drucker, it is not possible to be honest and omit what was not a “Sunday morning faith” for the man but rather an all-encompassing system that drove much of his passion for people and institutions as a whole. Indeed, Drucker mentored, of all people, Rick Warren and Peter Steinfels’ obituary for Drucker in the New York Times asks, almost literally, why hardly anyone ever talks about Drucker’s faith. My point is not that we turn Drucker into some sort of theologian, per se, but rather that we don’t forget the theological principles that influenced his work.
This reminds me of my own experience with T. S. Eliot. I had high school course that taught “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Same thing in college. In graduate school, we did “The Wasteland” and much of his other poetry. A second grad school course on the American Modernists pretty much taught Eliot as the shimmering incarnation of the ennui of the 1920s. This was the first time a professor made an off-hand comment about “Eliot’s later poetry being a bit trite as he became –cough—a Christian.” I remember sitting up in my desk and thinking, “A what!?” before finding a biography that afternoon and discovering poems like the “Four Quartets.” What’s next, I wondered, will I find out that John Donne was a pastor or something? (note: I’m being sarcastic! ;-)
There is a difference between an ellipsis and elision. An ellipsis drops out a phrase or a clause within a sentence that is not necessary for the accurate understanding of the sentence. Elision obliterates a meaningful unit, changing the understanding altogether. Omitting a man’s faith and his participation in the great Christian Intellectual Tradition may not change the meaning of that man’s life for someone who is a secularist, but it does elide the truth from posterity. And we are the weaker for such acts of obliteration.