The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker is a book about making the most of your abilities as a knowledge worker cum executive in a modern organization. It is the first of management guru Peter Drucker's books that I have been fortunate enough to read. The book starts out by establishing that effectiveness in an organisation is a skill that can and should be learned. And then it spends most of the remaining 6 chapters explaining just how one can go about doing that.
Know Thy Time
Just after Drucker establishes that "Effectiveness Can Be Learned" in chapter one, he makes the point that in order to be effective, one must first know how they are spending their time. He says that many executives think that they know how their time is spent, but upon closer inspection find the facts to be entirely different. Thus, he advises, one should first make a careful study of how their time is spent - and upon discovering the facts, they are likely to also discover a number of areas where their time could be put to better use
What Can I Contribute?
Next, Drucker advises that all knowledge workers (aka executives) should make a paradigm shift in how they approach their work. Thinking not just of themselves and their daily responsibilities but taking a broader outlook of how they can contribute to their organizations. Such a view, he points out, not only opens doors to other ways you can work in your organization, it also makes for more effective contributions in your current work.
Making Strength Productive
Then, instead of speaking about how to shore up our weaknesses, Drucker advocates for focusing on our Strengths. Through a number of examples, he highlights how some of the greatest people were great not because they had few weaknesses but rather, because they had such exemplary strengths. He says that one of the purposes of an organization is to build on the strengths of its staff in a way that makes their weaknesses irrelevant. He even faults the Western approach to company appraisals which he says serve to fish out weaknesses instead of promote strengths. He advises the quick identification of a knowledge worker's strengths so that they can be developed further, and put to use in service of their organizations.
First Things First
After discussing the tactics above, Drucker acknowledges that executives following his recommendations will soon find themselves with a lot of work to do and a need to make the time to do it. So he introduces the topic of prioritization.
Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time
With this quote, Peter Drucker begins the chapter on concentration and prioritization. He asserts that if there is any one "secret" of effectiveness, it is concentration - and to concentrate, an executive needs "chunks" of contiguous time to work singularly on his individual tasks.
The Elements of Decision-Making
With all these tips on the table, Drucker then moves on to discuss what he calls "the specific task of the executive" Decision-Making. Even though it is just one of the many tasks of an Executive, and it usually takes only a little time, Drucker sets a whole chapter aside to discuss it because it is the one task that only Executives do. And to be an effective executive, you must therefore know how to make effective decisions.
While this chapter contains 2 in-depth case studies and lots of examples about decision-making in business, what I remember most from the chapter is that most decisions in business, are made to solve a problem - and many problems in business are generic. So when you’re taking a decision around such a problem, you have to be careful to make sure the your solution isn't too narrow otherwise the problem may continue to pop-up in other forms which your decision didn’t account for.
The chapter on effective decisions it could be argued, is what the chapter on decision-making was building up to. This chapter argues (rightly or wrongly) that every decision is a judgement. A choice between alternatives. Neither inherently right or wrong but perhaps more or less right in context. Drucker argues that decisions do not begin with facts (because facts are relative) but rather, with opinions - and this is perhaps how it should be. For when we have opinions, we know that like hypotheses they can be tested - and so the burden of proof should be put on those holding an opinion to think it through.
So the effective executive can encourage opinions, but insist that these opinions be thought through carefully. What would the "facts" have to be for opinion X to hold true? Drucker goes ahead to state that most "truly effective" decisions are based on a measurement. And when a new decision has to be made it suggests that the traditional measurement is no longer right. Thus, choosing the new right measurement becomes the job of the effective executive. For this, Drucker encourages dialogue and a clash of conflicting views. Only out of this, he believes, can a decision be made - and he gives his reasons for this:
- It is the only safeguard against the decision-maker becoming the prisoner of the organization. Because everybody wants something from the decision-maker and the only way to break free of their special pleadings and preconceived notions is to make sure of well argued, documented, and thought through disagreements.
- Disagreement alone can provide alternatives to a decision which are useful to have in case the decision you do make ends up being wrong.
- Disagreements can stimulate the imagination which can lead to more creative thinking about the problem, its solution, and the decision to be made.
Conclusion: Effectiveness Must Be Learned
Finally, the book concludes with a chapter on why effectiveness must be learned. Not just because it can be, or because every executive owes it to their organization to be effective. Or even because that's what the executive is getting paid for. But because effectiveness in and of itself, is a self-discipline worth learning.
A self-discipline that can open doors personally and professionally. A self-discipline that can lead to opportunity, achievement, and fulfillment in the workplace. And a self-discipline that by bettering the life of the learner, betters the effectiveness of the organization, and of the world 🌎