The Effective Executive
BY PETER DRUCKER
The Effective Executive is a management classic from the 1960s. Peter Drucker offers readers guidance on how to become an effective executive. As long as your decisions impact your team’s productivity, you are an executive. You do not need to be managing people to be an executive. Therefore, The Effective Executive is a book for anybody who wants to make more effective workplace decisions. Plus, encourage others to make better decisions.
Is your workplace culture efficient? Do you get along with your employees and boss, working as a team to accomplish your goals? I’m willing to bet your office, like most, has its struggles with effectiveness. How would it feel to overcome these hurdles to success and reach your true potential as both a leader and a team?
Executives are under a lot of pressure to perform at their best. They must make swift decisions, delegate efficiently, use time wisely, and much more. Above all, leaders need to be an example of peak performance on the job. Juggling all of these responsibilities is a tough task.
If you feel like you’re drowning in your leadership role, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done will help you get your head above water and thrive. As a management consultant who has written over 35 books, Drucker is well-prepared to teach us how to become an effective executive.
Here are 3 great lessons about becoming a more efficient leader:
1. To be an effective executive you must lead by example, first developing your own skills.
2. Learn how to make the right decisions and stand by them, no matter what others say.
3. Focusing on the talents of your employees will build an efficient working environment.
About Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker was an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author. He was a leader in the development of management education and is described as “the founder of modern management.” Drucker went to California in 1971, where he developed one of the country’s first executive MBA programs for working professionals at Claremont Graduate University. From 1971 until his death, he was the Clarke Professor of Social Science and Management at Claremont. Claremont Graduate University’s management school was named the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management in his honor in 1987.
Top 20 Insights
1. The first lesson in becoming effective is to focus on your own progress so you can lead by example. Reviewing your results and performance, checking them against your expectations, is crucial. You must become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. This is vital to learning how to delegate the work that others can do better than you.
2. As a manager of people, you have to make a lot of decisions. These choices affect other people, who won’t always agree with the path you select. Thankfully, there are some useful tips to making good decisions. People may still disagree with you, but you can have the confidence that you made the right choice.
3. Making decisions is one thing, but the execution of choices already made is even harder. Regardless of the difficulty, you must learn to follow through to become an effective leader.
4. As an executive, you have the power to give this same kind of confidence-boosting power to your team members. All you have to do is play to their strengths.
5. Your attitude should be one of “how can I do the best job possible?” Seeing your work in this light will make sure that your boss doesn’t have to exhaust their time managing you. And it will also improve your opportunities and position within the company.
6. Start by managing commitment and enforcement of decisions. Without these in place, a new policy will never go into effect. To manage this better, identify the specific people responsible for each step of the plan.
7. No matter how much criticism you receive, stand by your decision and take full responsibility for the outcomes.
8. Start by asking yourself if the decision you’re about to make is actually worth making. You can sum this up easily by asking two additional questions:
· What would the outcome be if you didn’t do anything?
· Would the most likely result of the decision greatly outweigh the costs and risks?
If the answer to the second question is “no”, don’t proceed with making the choice
9. Seek insight from others in performance reviews. You may not be able to see your weaknesses or strengths as well as others.
10. Getting outside input is vital to improving your process so that you can be the best example to your team. When people see that they can give you feedback and that you will use it, they will trust you more.
11. Self-development of the effective executive is central to the improvement of the organization. As administrators work towards evolving significance, they raise the achievement level of the whole organization.
12. When you are trying to determine what needs to be done, you should look for opportunities, not problems. Problems can usually be solved through delegation, but opportunities require the know-how of the effective executive to be fully leveraged.
13. Time management must be conscious for time is a non-renewable resource. You must make choices about what you will and won’t do, knowing that every decision you make has the cost of time associated with it.
14. By focusing on the work you can do, and not the power you’re supposed to have, or whether or not it’s in your job description, you weed out the unnecessary and make room for the effective. You also recognize what you can’t do, and through delegation with an emphasis on contribution, you make others effective with you. It’s not about getting something done; it’s about getting the right things done.
15. As an executive, you are part of an organization, either as a leader or an integral part of it. That organization’s task is to help ordinary individuals achieve extraordinary results. To achieve excellence, you must look to leverage people’s strengths, not try to fix their weaknesses. You could try to teach Joe Montana to throw left-handed, but why? Staffing from strength is taking advantage of the talent you have to build an effective organization.
16. Having confidence in yourself and your decisions is vital to becoming an effective executive. An unsure person wavers on decisions and second-guesses their actions, but an effective executive is constantly moving forward. That doesn’t mean you can’t be humble or admit mistakes, but that you focus on what you can actually change or do. Dwelling on past mistakes is not actionable. And you know that even if you have made mistakes in the past, you have the know-how and capacity to make up for them and still obtain incredible results.
17. When you are deciding on which tasks to focus, choose the one that will have the biggest impact and will make a difference. Often times this will take courage as the biggest opportunities come with the biggest perceived risk. But your job as an effective executive is not to play it safe or maintain the status quo; it is to strive for excellence.
18. Well managed organizations are “boring” because few crises occur and “fire drills” are limited to actual test of a building’s fire system. That’s because as an effective executive, you have to create a set of rules or processes that manages for the predictable occurrences. If you are constantly making decisions, it’s because you haven’t looked at the big picture and established guidelines. If something out of the ordinary does arise, or circumstances change, you should make the decision that is both best for the situation and that can be reapplied again if necessary. Making the same decision twice is redundant, inefficient and redundant.
19. Effectiveness is not like a subject in school that can be taught from a textbook. It is a self-discipline that must be learned over time and through experience.
20. Multi-tasking may be the norm these days, but it is single-tasking that makes you effective. You have far more to-do than can reasonably be done, and the fastest way to get from one task to another is to focus on that one thing until it is completed. By setting priorities, as well consciously choosing what not to do, you’ll also know that the single item you are working on is the most important contribution you can be making right now.
Lesson #1: Effectiveness Can Be Learned
“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”
Effectiveness is the key ingredient for obtaining results. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are all essential for success. However, you will not experience this success without effectiveness. In fact, without effectiveness, these features can limit what you can attain. Effectiveness relates to your ability to work on the ‘right’ ideas, and knowledge workers responsible for this effectiveness are called executives. Hence, you do not need to manage people to be an executive. Instead, you simply need to contribute to tasks that can affect the organization’s results.
Knowledge work should be measured against results rather than quantity or costs. If one cannot increase the supply of a resource, one must increase its yield. Effectiveness is one of the most valuable tools for increasing yield.
Effectiveness is a habit. Hence, it is something you can learn and build into your life. Crucially, there are five habits of an effective executive:
1. Understand where your time is going. Systematically manage this time so you can be more effective.
2. Focus on how you can contribute to the surrounding tasks. Drucker describes this as an outward contribution.
3. Build on the strengths you already possess. Also, understand the strengths of your contemporaries and complement these strengths.
4. Prioritize the tasks that will have the most significant positive impact on your performance before considering any other tasks.
5. Learn to make the right decisions at the right time.
Lesson #2: Know Thy Time
Time is a significant limiting factor for an effective executive. Subsequently, effective executives start with their time rather than their tasks. Essentially, planning is never the first port-of-call for effective executives. Instead, an effective executive starts by considering where their time will be going.
You can start effectively managing your time by cutting back on demands on your time that are unproductive. To solve this problem, they choose to allocate their time to the largest possible continuous units. The author recommends a three-step process to start implementing effective time in your work.
Step 1 – Recording Time
The first step when seeking to adopt executive effectiveness is to record your time use. The simplest way of doing this is to use a time log. You should not log this time after completing the task, though. Instead, try to use real-time logs of your time. This will allow the time log to be more accurate and less reliant on your memory. This time log should effectively guide your time management.
Step 2 – Managing Time
Time management allows you to cull the activities you spend considerable time on that are non-productive. If your company’s productivity would not change if you removed a specific activity, then you should eliminate this task. There will also be tasks that other people could do equally well or even better than you. With these tasks, delegate them to others so you can focus on the most critical tasks.
Several forms of mismanagement can lead to wasted time. Firstly, insufficient foresight can lead to previously wasted time being wasted again. Secondly, a workforce too large will increase the amount of time wasted interacting rather than working. Drucker explains that senior people spending more than one-tenth on human relations problems is a sign you are over-staffed. You should only have individuals in your team whose knowledge and skills are required for day-to-day work. Any extra work can be dealt with through short-term contracts. Thirdly, an excess of meetings will mean that work never gets done. Meetings are often associated with follow-up meetings and further discussions about the meeting. Hence, meetings should be an exception rather than a rule. Finally, poor communication facilitates malfunction in information. Therefore, Drucker suggests you are always well-prepared for a meeting.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
Step 3 – Consolidating Time
After effectively managing your time, you need to consolidate the time when you can be most productive. These time frames should be readily available and under the executive’s control. Drucker offers multiple tips for consolidating your discretionary time:
· Work at home one day a week.
· Schedule all operating work into two days a week. Then, set aside the mornings of the remaining days for major issues.
· Schedule a daily work period at home in the morning.
Lesson #3: What Can I Contribute?
For a company to be successful, it needs to perform well in three major areas. Firstly, the organization must obtain direct results. Many executives focus downward. Essentially, they are more occupied with effort rather than results. Hence, executives fall into the trap of worrying about what others owe them. Stressing downward authority will make you the subordinate. Secondly, the organization must effectively build values and their affirmation among the workforce. If your organization doesn’t stand for anything, then you are encouraging disorganization and paralysis. Finally, a willingness to build and develop people for the future. Your decisions today need to renew your human capital.
One way that effective executives harness the right human relations is through their contribution. Effective human relations are less to do with having a talent for people. Instead, it is more to do with focusing on their contributions to their own work and their work relationships. Drucker outlines four factors that characterize human relations.
1. Communications – Subordinates are less likely to take in information if their superior is trying too hard to get the point across. In these instances, the subordinate will hear what they expect to hear rather than the reality. Instead, allow your subordinates to fill in the gaps and take responsibility.
2. Teamwork – Focusing on contribution allows your communication to become horizontal rather than vertical. This makes teamwork far easier.
3. Self-development – Focusing on contribution will allow you to consider how you can improve.
4. Development of others – Executives who focus on contribution will encourage others to develop themselves. This is because effective executives set standards that demand excellence.
Even when you have maximized your time, meetings will remain a substantial portion of an effective executive’s work time. As an effective executive, you should understand what the purpose of the meeting should be. This purpose should be relayed to the staff before the meetings to prepare the workforce for a specific topic. Effective executives keep meetings structured and do not use this time as an opportunity to brainstorm alongside colleagues. You should conclude effective meetings by relating the meeting’s findings to the initial purpose of the meeting.
Lesson #4: Making Strength Productive
Build on Strengths
Productivity and results cannot be built upon weaknesses. Therefore, effective executives have to make use of all available strengths. This includes the strengths of your associates and superiors. Strengths offer genuine opportunities and can make your team’s weaknesses irrelevant. Therefore, aim to maximize your team’s strengths rather than minimizing its weaknesses. Avoiding weakness will only leave you with mediocre results as the most successful often have strong weaknesses too. To be truly successful, you must become extremely strong in one area to the detriment of other less critical areas.
Generally, the most impactful effective executives build teams where they are not close to their immediate colleagues. You should be choosing your colleagues based on what they can do rather than their likes and dislikes. Drucker describes this as seeking performance rather than conformance. Despite this, you should not be hoping to find a genius for every position. Often this is impossible, and a better alternative is to make common people achieve uncommon performance. Therefore, as with oneself, you should be willing to accept colleagues with weaknesses. As long as they have strengths in the desirable areas, they are a satisfactory option for the job. Similarly, individuals who are consistently underperforming should be let go. You must be ruthless to maintain the effectiveness of your team.
Peter Drucker offers four rules for staffing with strength in mind:
1. A job that has defeated two or three men in succession should be redesigned.
2. Make all your organization’s jobs demanding.
3. Hire individuals based on what they can do rather than what the job requires.
4. Accept people’s weaknesses to harness their strengths.
As well as being accepting of those you staff, you must also be accepting of yourself. Try to be yourself within the workplace. Additionally, look at your own performance and identify patterns underlying success and failure. Double-down on the areas you have been performing well and delegate more of the work where you seem to fail.
Lesson #5: First Things First
Effective executives concentrate on the most critical tasks first. Plus, they only do one thing at a time. Ask yourself, ‘If we did not already do this, would we go into it now’? If your answer to this question isn’t a clear yes, then you should quickly drop or delay this activity.
There will always be more productive tasks for tomorrow than time to do them. Additionally, there will always be more opportunities than there are capable people to grasp them. Therefore, you must learn how to prioritize so you can complete tasks that have the greatest impact. You need to prevent the pressures of work from choosing the tasks you prioritize and make the decision as an executive.
Peter Drucker does not recommend setting priorities, though. A more difficult, yet more rewarding, approach is to set posterior ties. Essentially, you should decide which tasks not to tackle.
· Pick the future as against the past.
· Focus on opportunity rather than on the problem.
· Choose your own direction rather than climbing on the bandwagon.
· Aim high for something that will make a difference rather than being safe.
Lesson #6: The Elements of Decision-Making
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”
Effective executives attempt to make just a few essential decisions on the highest level of conceptual understanding.
Five elements of an effective executive’s decision process:
1. First, you must identify if the situation is common or a unique event. If the situation is familiar, you should be dealing with it based on a set of company rules or principles.
2. Decide what your decisions aim to accomplish. Additionally, consider the conditions your decisions have to satisfy to reach these outcomes. These conditions are called boundary conditions. The more concisely boundary conditions are defined; the more likely your decisions will be effective.
3. You will often have to compromise when making decisions. Therefore, ensure you start the decision process by considering what is right rather than what is acceptable. Starting with what is right will allow you to identify the right and wrong compromise when it comes to it.
4. Convert your decision to action by building commitments into your decision-making process.
5. Incorporate feedback into your decision-making process. For example, Peter Drucker recommends continuous testing accompanied by reports and figures.
Lesson #7: Effective Decisions
A decision is always a choice between alternatives. Most people use opinions as their starting point. Therefore, they then ask them to search for facts as they will search for those supporting their opinion. As you have to adopt this approach, you should encourage opinions. Force those who voice an opinion to take responsibility for identifying the level of evidence required to support this claim. Then, factual findings should be searched to see if this level of evidence can be obtained.
As an effective executive, you should not make a decision if there has been no disagreement. Effective decisions are made when conflicting views have clashed, and the alternatives have been weighed up against each other. In this way, effective executives should never be intuitive decision-makers. On top of this, before making a decision, you should always question whether the decision is necessary. Sometimes the alternative, doing nothing, is a more viable option.