Picking People — Lessons from Peter Drucker

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Selecting or helping to select personnel, paid staff, and volunteers is a prime task of leaders. Below are suggestions that come from the legendary management thinker Peter F. Drucker. They are found in The Essential Drucker: Selections from the Management Works of Peter F. Drucker (HarperBusiness, 2001, chapter 9).

Of all the decisions a leader makes, none is as important as the decisions about people because they determine the performance capacity of the organization.

The Basic Principle

  • If I put a person into a job and he or she does not perform, I have made a mistake. I have no business blaming that person.
  • It is the duty of leaders to make sure that the responsible people in their organizations perform.
  • Of all the decisions a leader makes, none is as important as the decisions about people because they determine the performance capacity of the organization.
  • Don’t give new people major assignments, for doing so only compounds the risks. Give this sort of assignment to someone whose behavior and habits you know and who has earned trust and credibility within your organization.

The Decision Steps

  • Think through the assignment. Job descriptions may last a long time, but assignments change all the time. Think through what particular challenges this job involves at this specific time.
  • Look at a number of potentially qualified people. The controlling word here is number. Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration. Equally important, the person and the assignment need to fit each other. To make an effective decision, a leader should look at three to five qualified candidates.
  • Think hard about how to look at these candidates. The central question is not, “What can this or that candidate do or not do?” It is, rather, “What are the strengths each possesses, and are these the right strengths for the assignment?”
  • Discuss each of the candidates with several people who have worked with them. One person’s judgment alone is worthless. We need to listen to what other people think.
  • Make sure the appointee understands the job. The largest single source of failed promotions is the failure to think through, and help others think through, what a new job requires. Years ago, a boss of mine challenged me four months after he had advanced me. Until he called me in, I had continued to do what I had done before. To his credit, he understood that it was his responsibility to make me see that a new job means different behavior, a different focus, and different relationships.
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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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