Peter Drucker was my mentor.
I only met him once. It was around 1980 and I was visiting a friend who lived near Drucker. We were taking a break and walking around his neighborhood when my friend pointed out Drucker's house.
"I'd love to meet him," I said. So we walked up to the door and rang the bell. A woman answered. Mr. Drucker was busy. We left.
A couple of hours later my friend's phone rang. It was Drucker, inviting us to come by after dinner.
His house reminded me of my parents' home. It was filled with books, the space of a writer and thinker. It was also very European, radiating a casual courtliness.
Drucker was about seventy then. He was a bit hard of hearing. His accent was thick. But we embarked on an evening of rich talk during which he asked me over and over in different ways what contribution I wanted to make.
Looking back, I am struck by the graciousness of it. Drucker did not know me at all. He barely knew my friend. He certainly had other things he could have been doing.
Even so, he took an evening to be a teacher. He made an off-hand comment about his habit of studying something new every three or four years. I immediately resolved to do the same.
When we left he told me I must take my gifts and make the best contribution I could to the world. I'm still figuring out how to do that.
That was a wonderful evening, and it had a profound effect one me. But it's not why I consider Drucker a mentor.
We never spoke again. We never corresponded. Peter Drucker was my mentor through what he wrote. He performed the same function for thousands of people who never met him.
Drucker saw himself as a writer He filled a long life with writing productively, provocatively, and well. In the beginning he wrote about philosophy and politics.
He was on the faculty at Bennington College when the legendary Alfred Sloan of General Motors asked him to come and study that corporation. The result was his first "management" book, "The Concept of a Corporation" in 1946. The book is still in print.
I put quotes around the word management in the last paragraph because at that time there were no management books. No one studied management as a discipline.
He continued to write about society, but he also wrote about management and what he wrote created the discipline. "The Practice of Management" came out in 1954. "Managing for Results" followed ten years later.
In 1966, Drucker published "The Effective Executive." It was the first book of his I read. I still re-read it. I'm on my second copy because I wore out the first one. I think it's the best management book ever.
1973 saw the publication of "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, and Practices." By then I looked to Drucker's writings to help me understand the world I worked in.
I bought the heavy volume in hardback as soon is it came out. I still have it. There are 32 "key concepts" penciled into the inside front cover, with page references. Highlights and underlinings are on many of the pages. Post-It notes stick out all over.
The writing is masterful. Drucker explains things with a transparently lucid prose. He chooses examples and anecdotes magnificently and then renders them well. It is the work of an intelligent and curious writer with no academic pretensions.
What made Drucker great and helpful to me and thousands of others wasn't his scholarship. I went to other books for information and for knowledge, for studies and surveys.
But I return to Peter Drucker again and again for wisdom. That, after all, is what you want from a mentor.
You can find Drucker's books on Amazon. Here are my three favorites.