SPA 362 –
Leadership Development Lab II Spring 2020

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Week 5 – Business and Technology I:  Peter Drucker and Jeff Bezos

This week we introduce a pair of leaders in some ways different from most of those we study in our SPA courses.  Peter Drucker is one of the leaders – the inventor, in many  ways – of the 20th century’s new field of “management theory.”  It seems obvious to us now that the last decades of the 20th century were a dramatic shift to a technology society – this was not obvious when he began writing about it in the 1950s.  Jeff Bezos is an heir to Drucker in the sense that he brought about the new kind of economy that Drucker began writing about 50 years earlier.  Bezos too has a sense of historical sweep in this view of things – it’s not just the coding skills but the reconception of how an economy can work that helped propel Bezos to become the world’s richest person.

This week our reading selections offer you the opportunity to really commit to learning new, interesting, important ways of thinking about leadership – “In college, we read Peter Drucker, and I remember that he said….” and alternatively the opportunity to try to take a short-cut to learning with quick bites at the apple but the risk of missing some real, long-term nutrition.

Peter Drucker

Serious students will read these two articles from Drucker, where he picks up the ideas he’s been writing about for decades in a time when those things are actually becoming evident to others.  We begin with the Harvard Business Review in 1992, The New Society of Organizations (also available at AU’s online library). He updates this in his 1999 in California Management Review article.  You should at least read the 1992 HBR article.

Summaries of these kinds of discussions are offered in Forbes magazine (The Best of Peter Drucker) and HBR (What Peter Drucker knew about 2020).  You can add to those these two morsels where the author brings together the ideas of “knowledge workers” and “millennials” – part 1 and part 2.

Jeff Bezos

In some ways Bezos is easy to vilify as the modern-day evil corporate giant like those of 19th century political cartoons about trust-busting.  In other ways, he is a one of the very few people who can be called visionary – a person with an idea that is unlike anyone else’s, with the talent and skill and luck and perseverance unlike anyone else, and with the ability to see the day-to-day with some historical context and perspective.  Bezos talked about how at the beginning of the 20th century, lots of new companies had the word Motor in them – Ford Motor Company, General Motors, etc., and that of these hundreds of companies, only a few would survive.  What determined which of these companies survived, and what lessons might there be for AOL and Netscape and Napster and MySpace and a hundred years later?

We begin with two short stories about Bezos’s recent speech to the Economic Society in Washington (video below).  The first highlights his point that big business should be scrutinized, not vilified (you can also find this article through the AU online library; you might also find it  here or elsewhere on the web).  The second is a more general review of his leadership and life lessons (you can also find this article through the AU online library; you might also find it here).

The second narrative about Bezos is how he translated this reinvention of business into power in Washington.  The Wall Street Journal asked this (you can also find this article through the AU online library or maybe here).

If you have popcorn and a comfortable chair, or are about to go for an hour’s drive or run, may I suggest the following

A classmate suggested adding this reading: and considering this prompt for your consideration: Business owners interact with a lot of people who can sometimes have conflicting interests, including customers, employees, and shareholders. How does a business leader choose who to prioritize, and how does a business leader make those decisions? In relation to profit, how much does being a moral business leader matter?

Essay Prompts

For this week, I’d propose a couple of different things.

Some are obvious: in what ways are people who look at economics or industry or workers or employers similar to / different from people who look at governments, agencies, policies, citizens.

Albright and Rice, and in some ways our Nobel laureates, demonstrated how “the vision thing” contributes to leadership.  How do Drucker and Bezos do “the vision thing”? We all balance le crise du jour with longer term concerns.  Do “leaders” do this differently than ordinary people.

We might also distinguish between those who can see the future and those who shape it – in politics, business, or elsewhere.  And what is the role of reflection in leadership: how might an interview in 1999 with Jeff Bezos (or Sirleaf or others) differ from an interview today?

As always, if something moved you that’s not raised here, you are free to propose your own prompt.  Ok, everyone, let’s have fun

From our student team, interesting and important explorations:

1. Based on the Forbes article that analyzes Tesla founder, Elon Musk’s leadership style,

-Do you agree with Forbes definition of creative leadership? Why or why not?

-The Forbes article discusses how effective creative leaders listen to their intuition (themselves) AND their teammates, how can you strike that balance when practicing leadership in your own life?

-Do you consider yourself to be a creative leader? If yes, how has being a creative leader influenced your experiences as a leader? If not, what type of leader would you consider yourself to be and how has that influenced your experiences as a leader?

2. When it comes to business and tech there is a leadership gap that needs to be bridged according to this  MIT article. The following article discusses how leaders who work in the technology business must find a way to enable a transformation in within the industry.

-When it comes to leadership and business the most important thing a leader needs in order to bridge gaps and successfully run an industry is to take ownership and be engaged more behind the scenes. When running a business how should a leader in tech work towards taking ownership when problems arise? How should a leader be more engaged within their company?–The article mentions that in order for the IT business to work and for there to be change, IT businesses have stopped seeing IT as an organization but rather as a capability. Leaders have to play a more active role. How should leaders in any business setting make their industry more capable?

3. Leading a balanced life means to lead others with a mindset that envisions a bright future through ideas that help prosper but also an aspect that grounds one’s self. To understand your faults as a leader is important-ideas stem from what you do not know.

-Do you agree that a leader should be aware of his shortcomings?

-Do you believe a business leader owes complete transparency to his followers?

-Do you weigh in ethics when considering the decisions a powerful leader has to make? Do you believe the ends justify the means?

-When can you think of times you let your ego cloud your judgment and how did it affect your decisions?