Peter Drucker: Stop Focusing on What’s Wrong

You can learn a lot about a person in a short time. That’s how I feel about my conversation with Dr. Justin Menkes, bestselling author and executive assessment expert. Our call was briefly interrupted when his car arrived – he was flying home early from Spencer Stewart offices in NYC to surprise his wife.

When I asked why he doesn’t go by Dr. Menkes, he said his family teases him about not being a “real” doctor – there are Medical Doctors in his immediate family. His comment made me imagine family banter bouncing around the dinner table.

Justin studied under the late Peter Drucker and earned his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Claremont Graduate School.

Drucker told Dr. Menkes he focused on what’s wrong in organizations too much and not enough on what they are doing well.

Justin pushed back by saying if he went in telling them how great they were they wouldn’t need his consulting services.

Nearly 20 years later, Justin writes in Better Under Pressure that high performing CEO’s possess realistic optimism. He said it took him several years to fully appreciate what Drucker was trying to teach him.

Realistic optimism is confidence without self-delusion; the ability to pursue audacious goals while remaining cognizant of challenges.

6 Capacities of Realistic Optimists: (From Better Under Pressure)

  1. See the world as it is –don’t hide your head in the sand.
  2. Let the world see you for who you are. Don’t feel shame around personal failure and imperfection.
  3. Be sensitive to and aware of others.
  4. Reject overconfidence.
  5. Enjoy self-reflection.
  6. Embrace agency – confidence your experiences and outcomes are within your control.

Can you become a realistic optimist? The thing that makes the biggest difference is believing you can make a difference.

How do you cultivate realistic optimism both personally and organizationally?