Peter Drucker: The consultant as “Master Questioner”

Why was Drucker—“the man who invented management”—so in demand as an advisor?

My research recently brought me in contact with The Drucker Institute, a social enterprise named after the legendary business guru Peter Drucker (who died in 2005).  The Institute applies some of Drucker’s principles and ideals to a variety of initiatives and good causes. I was put in touch with the group because someone pointed out to me that Peter Drucker was, among other things, a master questioner.

The Institute’s executive director, Rick Wartzman, confirmed this and shared with me an article he’d written about Drucker for Forbes last fall, titled “How to Consult Like Peter Drucker.” It’s worth a read in its entirety, but I want to focus in on one part.

After pointing out that Drucker was widely seen as “the man who invented management” and the father of business consulting—the go-to advisor during a span of half a century for everyone from GM to Procter & Gamble to Coca-Cola—Wartzman’s article then poses the question: “Why was Drucker so in demand? What made him so good?”

The answer: questions. “For starters,” Wartzman writes, “he understood that his job wasn’t to serve up answers. ‘My greatest strength,’ Drucker once remarked, ‘is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.’”

Often those questions were deceptively simple, Wartzman points out. As in, Who is your customer? What business are you in?

The clients who hired him may have started out expecting the great Drucker to offer brilliants solutions to all their problems. But as he told one client, “The answers have to be yours.”

As I discussed this with Wartzman the other day, I observed that it seems most consultants don’t follow Drucker’s model. They figure they’re being hired as “the experts” and therefore it’s their job to provide answers. But as Drucker understood, an outsider looking at your business will probably never understand it as well as you do. Hence, that outsider really shouldn’t be telling you what to do. He/she should be helping you see things from a different angle, challenge your own assumptions, re-frame old problems, and ask better questions—so that, in the end, you can figure out the solutions yourself.

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About the Author

Journalist and speaker Warren Berger realized that the majority of successful creatives and entrepreneurs he was interviewing over the years were great questioners. His wondering about “How can we all learn to do what they do?” led to this website and the writing of THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS (2018) and A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION (2014). Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts.

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