MLA’s  Procedure and its Future

November'19 | William A. Cohen, Ph.D., Major General, USAF, Ret.

smiling-business-woman.jpgIf you agree with Peter Drucker, Professor Henry Mintzberg, and a growing number of academics and practitioners, management is a liberal art, and managerial decision making should not be made solely, or even primarily by crunching and analyzing numbers to spit out solutions. Neither Drucker nor Mintzberg used the term “MLA,” but it seems to me that is what both meant. Management is more than a case of analyzing numbers in managing organizations to ensure profitability or even any other worthwhile goal. You may already know that the practice of MLA has been proven by Professor Mintzberg at McGill University in Canada over a period of the last thirty years or so.  However, the term “MLA” came from Professor Joseph Maciariello at Claremont Graduate University in California after completing several years of research on Drucker’s ideas and publishing his book, Drucker’s Lost Art of Management along with his co-author Karen Linkletter in 2011.

Procedures for MLA Analysis for Decision-Making

Professor Maciariello presented MLA as emphasized by Drucker as a philosophy that must include moral and ethical behavior along with being socially responsible. However, a philosophy may need specific application procedures to achieve profitability and other important goals that a manager may be responsible for attaining. To succeed fully with MLA requires procedures just as quantitative analysis methods require certain application procedures. Mintzberg developed mind-set and group competency MLA procedures and has proven their effectiveness in practice solving challenging management problems in real life in five partner countries. 

Drucker did not put his concepts for MLA into practice with a specific methodology, but he did suggest that they must include ethics, morality, and social responsibility. He also defined basic guidelines and requirements for application.  He called the latter “The Four Essentials.” He combined MLA with a general analysis procedure which a manager could use to analyze complex situations dependent on quantitative analysis and the liberal arts to arrive at the most effective and efficient decisions in various situations and environments. Together with Mintzberg’s work, the separate concepts of both result in a powerful methodology which truly support the title of Mintzberg’s best selling book “Managers, not MBAs” which argues that the MBA degree does not produce what it claims and that in reality “Management is above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.”

Drucker’s Four Essentials for Applying MLA

The four essentials were the basis of Drucker’s concept of MLA. These four essentials were knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership.

1. Knowledge – Drucker listed acquisition of knowledge in the following specific liberal art disciplines: Economics, Ethics, History, Humanities, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Psychology. I’m sure that he might have listed others as well, and that  these were noted only because they should not be excluded. Also, he did not omit quantitative analysis.

Drucker’s inclusion of the physical sciences and economics meant that a manager shouldn’t ignore quantitative and economic analysis, only that these are not the only liberal arts to be considered, nor are they necessarily the governing ones in every situation.

2. Self-knowledge – This is vastly important, but under-rated and even ignored by many. 

Ancient Chinese military genius Sun Tzi (Sun Tzu in English) wrote: “If I know myself and know my enemy. I need not fear defeat in 100 battles. If I know only myself, I will lose half. If I know only my  adversary and not myself, I will lose all.”  Yet, most strategy planners in corporations, the military, and politicians, too, spend much of their time on competitive analysis, but notably less on self-knowledge which is of considerable importance.

3. Wisdom – This is probably the most difficult to acquire and quantify, but most cultures, give it the most importance. For example, there are 222 mentions of wisdom in the Jewish Holy Scriptures (“The Old Testament”) and wisdom is thought to be the foundation of both Chinese and Jewish scholarship and ethics. 

Wisdom is essential for what I call “trained intuition,” or the  ability to make successful decisions “from the gut” and even without a written analysis. It is noteworthy that Drucker told his students in class, including the author, that many management decisions are properly made from the gut based on experience and judgment. This is confirmed by  Mintzberg’s extensive work and the practical ways he runs his academic programs, which are accredited for a master’s level in management, but are not MBA degrees and exclude some courses considered essential for an MBA in management, rather than for more properly for specialists in their fields.

4. Leadership – Drucker wrote that leadership was of utmost importance and must be focused on the task and mission as well as the care and development of those led.  Moreover, it includes integrity and consideration of the welfare of those led by the leader above his or her own welfare.

I think it significant that Professor Chen Chun Hua at Beijing University and according to Fortune Magazine the 10th most influential businesswoman in China found “Heroic Leaders” at the most successful companies she investigated in China. Heroic leaders by this definition meaning in part that the company’s mission, their subordinates’ performance, and the wellbeing of these subordinates came first, before the leader’s own welfare or self-interest.

Drucker’s four essentials should be practiced before, during, and after the initiation of the process in making and implementing a decision made based on MLA. A practitioner prepares for MLA decision making through the four essentials over time and improves his ability in each essential during practice and implementation of his or her managerial decisions.

The MLA analysis framework for MLA decisions is found in Drucker’s book, The Practice of Management. It is in five steps:

  1. Define and specify the Central Problem governing all other issues along with the relevant factors pertaining to the situation.
  2. Develop potential Alternate Solutions to the problem 
  3. Analyze and Compare the Advantages and Disadvantages of each Alternative Solution
  4. Find and write down the Best Solution
  5. Convert the Best Solution into Action and Implement it

Implementing the Best Solution Using Mind-sets

Drucker stopped here. One could say that much of his life work involved “managing for results” or implementation. However, here we have Mintzberg’s application of MLA in his programs to assist us.  He organized his classes of executives into teams to solve complex management issues in each of five partner countries. But in doing this he did two things differently. First, in each partner country, the students, who were all practicing executives, were to approach the problem with a different attitude based on  one of five “mind-sets.” These were: 

  1. A Reflective Mind-Set
  2. An Analytic Mind-Set
  3. A Worldly Mind-Set
  4. A Collaboration  and Cooperation Mind-Set
  5. An Action Mind-Set

Mintzberg found that when the mind was “set” and directed to approach the problem solution in a specifically defined way, different and unique alternative solutions would result.

The Concept of Mintzberg’s Shared Competencies

All Mintzberg’s students were and are practicing executives, not only college-educated men and women who were but recent graduates with bachelor-level degrees and may or may not have some business experience. Moreover, they come from different countries and different industries. Consequently, the total experience trove of each student team was both extensive and broad. Therefore, the competency resulting from their previous high-level experience was significant individually and by sharing these in a team as Mintzberg requires, the quality of the group solutions, decisions, and implementations in his teams is noteworthy and partially due to their shared competencies.

I have found similar effectiveness with executive students at the California Institute of Advanced Management (CiAM) in California who were also frequently multicultural and from different countries to the extent that during my presidency of five years, I required problem solutions by students teams in every course for problem-solving  with corporations and we even insisted that online students join these teams and participate in this work and did such work in foreign countries through the Internet, including the second largest corporation in Mexico. These procedures have been largely continued by President Jennie Ta, my successor. Clearly Mintzberg’s shared competencies are a winning element for applying MLA whenever possible.

MLA Marches On

The work done by Drucker, Mintzberg, Minglo Shao, Joseph Maciariello, and others continues, and we are still at the beginning of a major management revolution with the MLA idea.


*Adapted and syndicated from a forthcoming book by  Francisco Suarez and William Cohen  PETER DRUCKER’S MOST IMPORTANT NEW REALITY: MLA Methodology and Its Practice

Other Sources

A Class with Drucker by William A. Cohen (AMACOM, 2008)
Consulting Drucker: Principles and Lessons by William A. Cohen (LID, 2018)
Drucker on Leadership by William A. Cohen (Jossey Bass, 2009)
Drucker’s Lost Art of Management by Joseph Maciariello (McGraw-Hill, 2011)
Heroic Leadership: Leading with Integrity and Honor by William A. Cohen (Jossey Bass, 2010)
Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top by William A. Cohen (LID, 2019)
The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership by William A. Cohen (Longstreet Press, 1998)
The Soul of the Firm by C. William Pollard (Delta One, 2009)


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William A. Cohen, PhD
Major General, USAF , Ret., President​​


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