Book notes: The Effective Executive

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker book summary.

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The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker

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Synopsis: “What makes an effective executive?

For decades Peter F. Drucker was widely regarded as “the dean of this country’s business and management philosophers” (Wall Street Journal). In this concise and brilliant work, he looks to the most influential position in management – the executive.

The measure of the executive, Drucker reminds us, is the ability to “get the right things done”. This usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that mold them into results.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

Again, another book that I found through Audible suggestions and ratings. As a manager myself, I figured it would be good to pick up a book about being an effective leader within an organization. This seemed like the perfect book. Also because it would be a good compliment to my next book, Winning by Jack Welch. Lastly, the three books I chose all have yellow covers, and I do enjoy consistency and the aesthetics once I put them in a collage together.

Key notes:

  • Introduction: what makes an effective executive
  • Effective executive listen first and speak last
  • Chapter 1: effectiveness can be learned
  • Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources but only effectiveness can perch them into results
  • The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless dated.
    • The knowledge worker must do something which a manual worker need not do, he must provide effectiveness
    • Knowledge work is defined by its results
  • Executives are those knowledge workers, managers, or individual professionals who are expected by virtue of their position or knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have significant impact on the performance and results of the whole
  • There are four major realities over which the executive has no control
    1. The executives time tends to belong to everyone else
    2. Executives are forced to keep on operating unless they take on positive action to change the reality in which they live and work
    3. The third reality pushing an executive towards ineffectiveness is that he is within an organization. This means he’s only effective if and when other people make use of what he contributes
  • There’s no reason why anyone with normal endowment shouldn’t acquire competence in any practice. Mastery might be elusive but to be effective one needs competence
  • Five practices/habits of the mind that must be acquired to become an effective executive:
    • Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts towards results rather than to work. They start out with the question, what results are expected of me, rather than the work to be done let alone with its techniques and tools
    • Effective executives build on strengths. Their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates, and on the strengths in the situation, that is on what they can do. They don’t build on weaknesses
    • Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first
    • Effective executives finally make effective decisions. They know that this is above all a matter of System of the right steps in the right sequence. They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on dissenting opinions rather than on consensus of the facts. What’s needed is the right strategy
  • Chapter 2: know thy time
  • The foundation of executive effectiveness:  recording time, managing time, and consolidating time
  • Time is always in exceedingly short supply and cannot be replaced or recovered
    • Everything requires time as it is the one truly universal condition. Nothing else perhaps distinguishes effective executives as much as they’re tender loving care of time
  • The effective executive knows that in order to manage his time, he has to know where it actually goes
  • The knowledge worker must be focused on the results and performance goals of the entire organization to have any results and performance at all
  • All effective executive have learned that they have to give several hours of continuous and uninterrupted thought to decisions on people if they hope to come up with the right answer
  • Asking diagnostic questions in regards to time:
    1. Try to identify and eliminate things that need not be done at all
    2. Which of the activities on my time block could be done by somebody else just as well if not better?
    3. The common causes of time waste is largely under the control of the executive, and that is the time of others that he himself wastes
  • Time wasters: overstaffing and mal-organization
    • Too many meetings bespeak poor structure of jobs and organizational components
    • It means that work that should be in one job or in one component is spread over several jobs or several components.
    • They signify that responsibility is diffused and that information isn’t addressed to the people who need it
  • The last major time waster is malfunction in information
  • For a banking executive, his sessions were always 1.5 hours. He said it was because longer than that and he would lose his focus and the limits of his attention, and any shorter he felt wasn’t long enough to really get in depth to understand
  • The higher up the executive the larger the proportion of his time that is not under his control, and yet not spent on contribution
    • The larger the organization, the more time will be needed to keep the organization together and running rather than to make it function and produce
  • Chapter 3: what can I contribute?
  • Top management always holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole
  • To ask what can I contribute is to look for the unused potential in a job
    • And what’s considered excellent performance in a good many positions he’s often but a pale shadow of the jobs full potential of contribution
  • Commitment to contribution is commitment to responsible effectiveness
  • Get executives have good human relations because they focus on contribution in their own work and in their relationship with others. As a result, their relationships are productive
  • Four basic requirements of effective human relations:
    • Communications
    • Teamwork
    • Self-development
    • Development of others
  • Chapter 4: making strength productive
  • The idea of the well-rounded man who is a generalist is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence. Strong people always have strong weaknesses too
  • The executive who’s concern for what a man can’t do rather than what he can do, and who therefore tries to avoid weakness rather than make strength effective, is a weak man himself
  • Jobs in an organization are interdependent and interlocked
  • The effective executive first makes sure that the job as well designed, and if experience tells him otherwise, he doesn’t hunt for genius or do the impossible. He redesigns the job
  • He knows that the test of organization isn’t genius, it is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance
  • The second rule for staffing for strength is to make each job demanding and big
    • It should have challenged to bring out any strength a man may have, and it should have scope so that any strength relevant to the task at hand can produce significant results
  • Only if the job is big and demanding to begin with will it enable a man to rise to the new demands of a changed situation
  • Effective executives know they have to start with what a man can do rather than what a job requires
  • Performance evaluation questions:
    • A. What has he done well?
    • B. What is he therefore likely to do well?
    • C. What does he have to learn or two acquired to be able to get the full benefits of his strength?
    • D. If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to let them work underneath this person?
  • To get strength you have to be able to put up with weakness
  • Three situations where a person is labeled indispensable:
    • 1. He’s actually incompetent and can only survive if carefully shielded
    • 2. His strength is missed use to bolster a week superior Who can’t stand on his own 2 feet
    • 3. His strength is missed use to delay tackling A serious problem if not to conceal its existence
  • Making strengths productive is more than just effectiveness, it is a moral imperative. To focus and weakness isn’t only foolish, it is irresponsible
  • There is nothing quite as conducive to success as a successful and rapidly promoted superior
    • Making the strength of the boss productive is key to the subordinates own effectiveness
    • Making strength productive is as much an attitude as it is a practice, but it can be improved with practice
  • In human affairs, the distance between the leaders and the average is a constant
    • If leadership performance is high, the average will go up. The effective executive knows that it is easier to raise the performance of a leader than it is to raise the performance of a whole mass. The leader has the pacesetting job
  • Chapter 5: first things first
  • Effective executives no they have to get many things done and done effectively
    • Therefore they concentrate there on time and energy as well as that of their organization on doing one thing at a time and on doing first things first
  • Above all, the affected executive well cut off an old activity before be he starts off a new one. This is necessary to keep organizational weight control
  • An organization needs to bring in fresh people with fresh points of view fairly often
    • If it only promotes from within and eventually becomes inbred and sterile. Bring them into a task that is already defined and reasonably well understood, not at the top and not in a new activity
  • Studies show that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunities
  • Decision making is one of the tasks of an executive and takes a fraction of his time. But to make decisions is the specific executive task
    • Only executives make decisions, indeed to be expected by virtue of position or knowledge, to make decisions that have significant impact on the entire organization, it’s performance, and results define executive
  • It’s not the decision that is difficult, it is putting it into effect that is the hardest and most important
  • The elements of the decision process:
    • The definition of the specifications which the answer of the problem had to satisfy, that is of the boundary conditions
    • The thinking through that is right, that is the solution which will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable
    • The feedback which tests the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events
    • The building into the decision of the action to carry it out
  • Chapter 7: effective decisions
  • That effective decision does not flow from a consensus of the facts. The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives
  • Effective executive starts out with the commitment to find out why people disagree, not that one person is right and another person is wrong, or that he himself is right and everyone else is wrong
  • An effective executive is concerned first with understanding. Only then does he think about who is right and who is wrong
  • The effective executive uses conflict of opinion as a tool to make sure all major aspects of an important matter are looked at carefully
  • The last question to ask is if a decision is even necessary. One alternative is always the alternative of doing nothing
  • The effect of decision-maker either acts or he doesn’t act, and he doesn’t take half action
  • Conclusion: effectiveness must be learned
    • This book rests on to premises: The executive’s job is to be effective, and effectiveness can be learned
    • Effectiveness can be learned, but not taught. Effectiveness is not a subject but a self-discipline
  • 1. The first step towards effectiveness is procedure: Recording where the time goes
  • 2. Focusing himself on vision and contribution, the executive has to think through purpose and ends rather than means
  • 3. Making strengths productive is fundamentally an attitude expressed in behavior
  • Organizations, as well as executives, need to work systematically on effectiveness and need to acquire the habit of effectiveness
    • They need to learn to feed their opportunities and star of their problems
    • They need to work on making strength productive. They need to concentrate and set priorities instead of trying to do a little bit of everything
  • For the effective executive, gain and glory are only ever the side effects of doing the right things well
  • Analysis can’t provide the initial spark required to create action. Without courage, and executive in possession of the most brilliant idea in history can only ponder what might be. With courage, knowledge becomes productive

Closing thoughts:

Fantastic book that every manager should read. I’m a strong believer in leaders leading from the front, taking responsibility, and empowering others. The focus of any effective executive is the courage to make the right decisions and executing them. He or she also sets the pace and focuses on people’s strengths to get the job done.

Nutshell: The effective executive focuses on strength, getting the right things done, and cultivates the habit of effectiveness through courage and self-discipline.

Rating: 4/5

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