The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

by Peter F. Drucker

The Effective Executive will teach you how to take responsible actions and decisions that are meant to contribute to the performance capacity of your organization or institution. The book will help you focus on the important components of effectiveness such as time management, opportunities and results rather than on problems. 

Summary Notes

Understanding the meaning of an effective executive

“Executives are doers; they execute. Knowledge is useless to executives until it has been translated into deeds.”

Many people think only leaders can be effective executives, which is not true - some of the most successful executives did not have leadership qualities. For example, Harry Truman did not have a single ounce of charisma, yet he was among the most effective chief executives in US history.

Some of the best CEOs and business owners were all over the place with their personalities, attitudes, values, strengths and weaknesses, yet they were effective. 

Executives are simply doers who require a plan of action.  To executive effectively, you need to plan your course, think about desired results, probable restraints, future revisions, as well as check-ins and implications for how you will spend your time before springing into action. 

Eight major practices can make you an effective executive;

  1. Ask what needs to be done to your organization;

  2. Find out what is right for your organization;

  3. Develop an action plan

  4. Take responsibility for decisions

  5. Take responsibility for communicating

  6. Focus on opportunities rather than on problems

  7. Run productive meetings

  8. Use “we” rather than “I.”

Actions to take

Learning effectiveness

“Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an "executive" if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results.”

An executive needs to be effective - to get the right things done. Being effective has nothing to do with intelligence because you could be intelligent but not effective in your duties. Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are essential resources, but you can only convert them to your desired results if you are effective. 

Every worker in a modern organization can be an executive by their position and knowledge, but you need to work at being effective. Otherwise, the reality of your situation will push you into futility.

Realize that effectiveness is not inborn. It’s not a gift like music or painting, but you can train yourself to become effective by making effective decisions, managing your time well and building on strengths. Indeed, effectiveness is a habit - a complex of practices that can be learned.

Effectiveness differs widely in temperaments, abilities, personalities, knowledge, interests and everything that distinguishes human beings, but what remains common amongst effective executives is their ability to get the right things done.

Actions to take

Understanding the importance of time

“Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time.”

Time is a limited and unique resource for effective executives. Unlike other resources such as money, the supply of time is inelastic - no matter how high the demand, the supply of time can not go up. There is no price for it, nor is there a marginal utility curve. Indeed, time is perishable and cannot be stored. 

The major difference between executives and effective executives lies in the ability of the latter group to manage their time effectively. As an effective executive, you need to find out where your time actually goes, so you can manage it by cutting back on unproductive demands. Your goal should be to diagnose how you spend your time. Then you proceed by using it on productive things - things that add value to your organization.

That said, you need to realize that time wasters abound in every executive's life. For example, you may find yourself spending time talking to your best customer about things that are neither connected to your organization nor add value to it. You, therefore, need to be intentional about being effective by pruning time-wasters like unnecessary meetings.

Actions to take

Contributing to your organization

“Commitment to contribution is commitment to responsible effectiveness.”

As an effective executive, you need to focus on contributing to your organization. You should be able to look at your work and ask yourself questions like, “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve. Asking yourself this question proves that you want to exploit the unused potential of your job for the betterment of your company.

To make valuable contributions to your organization, you need to focus on outward goals - results instead of being occupied with efforts. You need to think more about the client, the customer, who is the ultimate reason for whatever your organization produces.

Realize that even though contributions mean different things to different organizations, every organization needs performance in three major areas: direct results, building values and reaffirmations, and building and developing others for the future. Therefore as an effective executive, you need to build your contributions in these three areas.

Focusing on contribution also supplies the four basic requirements of effective human relationships: communication, teamwork, self-development and the development of others.

Actions to take

Making strength productive

“The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness”.

Effective executives build on strengths and not on weaknesses. Focusing on weaknesses is not only foolish but also irresponsible. To achieve results, you, therefore, need to use all the available strengths - your strengths, strengths of associates and strengths of your superiors.

As an effective executive, you are responsible for working for others. This only means you have the responsibility to make the strengths of others productive, so they can be effective and add value to the organization. That said, making your staff effective requires hard work and resources, while making your superiors effective mainly requires focusing on their strengths and what they can do.

Actions to take

First things first

“Effective executives know that they have to get many things done - and done effectively. Therefore, they concentrate their own time and energy as well as that of their organization on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first”.

One of the major secrets of effectiveness is concentration - doing first things first and one step at a time. As an executive, you always face so many tasks clamouring to be done, so you need to concentrate your time, effort and resources to handle them. 

The secret to doing many difficult things is to do one thing at a time - to prioritize and focus on the most rewarding things first before moving to the others. For example, you could decide to focus exclusively on research in your first year as an executive before focusing the subsequent years on improving sales and on other important issues. By following this approach, you will end up using considerably less time than those who try doing many difficult things simultaneously. 

Unfortunately, you will always suffer from a time deficit as an executive because no matter how much you manage your time, it will still never be yours. Thus, you need self-discipline and an iron determination to do things at the right time.

Actions to take

The elements in decision-making

“Effective executives, therefore, make effective decisions. They make these decisions as a systematic process with clearly defined elements and in a distinct sequence of steps”.

Decision-making is only one of the tasks of an effective executive. As simple as it may sound, decision-making is complex because it involves making decisions that significantly impact the entire organization.

The performance and results of decisions define you as an executive and that’s why It’s of the utmost importance for you to make effective decisions. The best way to make effective decisions is by working out a systematic process with clearly defined elements and a distinct sequence of steps. 

You do not need to make many great decisions, but rather, you need to concentrate on the important ones - thinking through what is strategic and generic rather than solving problems. Your goal should be to make a few important decisions on the highest level of conceptual understanding.

You also need to realize that the most time-consuming step in the process of decision-making is not the decision itself but putting it into effect. Unless a decision has degenerated into work, it's not a decision but, at best, a good intention.

Now, it is one thing to follow the right decision-making process and another to make effective decisions. As an effective executive, you need to make effective decisions that bring valuable contributions to your organization. An effective decision is often a choice between alternatives and rarely a choice between right and wrong. That is why effective decisions start with opinions that can be tested rather than facts.

Actions to take

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