Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive


The subject of this book is managing oneself for effectiveness. That one can truly manage other people is by no means adequately proven. But one can always manage oneself.

Effectiveness can be learned—and it also has to be learned.

What makes an executive effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

  • They asked “What needs to be done?
  • They asked “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I”.

Effective executives (henceforth “EEs” do not splinter themselves. They concentrate on one task if at all possible.
Other tasks no matter how important or appealing are postponed. After completing the original top-priority task, the executive resets priorities rather than moving on to number two from the original list. He asks “What must be done now?” This generally results in new and different priorities. [Prioritize and Execute]

EEs try to focus on jobs they’ll do especially well.

EEs are doers; they execute. Knowledge is useless to EEs until it has been translated into deeds. But before springing into action, he needs to plan his course. He needs to think about desired results, probable restraints, future revisions, check-in points, and implications for how he’ll spend his time.

A written plan should anticipate the need for flexibility. In addition, the action plan needs to create a system for checking the results against the expectations. EEs usually build two such checks into their action plans. The first check comes halfway through the plan’s time period. The second occurs at the end, before the next action plan is drawn up.

Problem solving, however necessary, does not produce results. It prevents damage. Exploiting opportunities produces results.

Above all, EEs treat change as an opportunity rather than a threat. They ask “How can we exploit this change as an opportunity for our enterprise?” [Stoicism]

Unless there is a true catastrophe, problems are not discussed in management meetings until opportunities have been analyzed and properly dealt with.

EEs put their best people on opportunities rather than on problems.

Do not think or say “I”. Think and say “we”.

Listen first, speak last.

On Time Management

The EE knows that to manage his time, he first has to know where it actually goes.

To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours. [Deep Work]
This is particularly true with respect to time working with people.

First one trues to identify and eliminate the things that need not be done at all… One asks of all activities: “What would happen if this were not done at all?”
The next question is “Which of the activities on my time could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?”
EEs ask: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?”

On Focusing on Contribution

EEs ask: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and results of the institution I serve?”

People adjust to the level of demands made on them. The executive who sets his sights on contribution, raises the sights and standards of everyone with whom he works.

Executives who take responsibility for contribution in their own work will as a rule demand that their subordinates take responsibility too. They will ask their men: “What are the contributions for which this organization and I, your superior, should hold you accountable? What should we expect of you? What is the best utilization of your knowledge and ability?” And then communication becomes possible, becomes indeed easy. [Extreme Ownership]

The objectives set by subordinates for themselves are almost never what the superior thought they should be. [Finger-tip feeling]

On Maximizing Strengths

The EE does not make staffing decisions to minimize weakness, but to maximize strength.

Strong people always have strong weaknesses too. Where there are peaks, there are valleys.

EEs never ask “Does he get along with me?” Their question is “What does he contribute?” Their question is never “What can a man not do?” Their question is always “What can he do uncommonly well?” In staffing, they look for excellence in one major area, and not for performance that gets by all around.

To try and build against weakness frustrates the purpose of organization. Organization is the specific instrument to make human strength redound to performance while weakness is neutralized and largely rendered harmless. The very strong neither need nor desire organization. They are much better off working on their own. The rest of us, however, the great majority, do not have so much strength that by itself would become effective despite our limitations… In an organization, one can makes his strength effective and his weakness irrelevant.

Make each job demanding and big. It should have challenge to bring out whatever strength a man may have. It should have scope so that any strength that is relevant to the task can produce significant results.

The young knowledge worker should ask himself early: “Am I in the right work and in the right place for my strengths to tell?”

By themselves, character and integrity do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else.

EEs are intolerant of the argument: “I can’t spare this man; I’d be in trouble without him.” They have learned that there are only three explanations for an “indispensable man”: he is actually incompetent and can only sur ive is carefully shielded from demands; his strength is misused to bolster a weak superior who cannot stand on his own two feet; or his strength is misused to delay tackling a serious problem if not to conceal its existence.
In every one of these situations, the “indispensable man” should be moved anyhow—and soon.

It is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone—and especially any manager—who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupt the others.

Above all, the EE tries to make fully productive the strengths of his own superior… There is nothing quite as conducive to success, as a successful and rapidly promoted superior.
The EE asks: “What can my boss do really well?” “What has he done really well?” “What does he need to know to use his strength?” “What does he need to get from me to perform?” He does not worry too much over what the boss cannot do.

The adaptation needed to think through the strengths of the boss and to try to make them productive always affects the how rather than the what. It concerns the order in which different areas, all of them relevant, are presented, rather than what is important or right.

The EE tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else. He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern. “What are the things that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?”

On Prioritization

If there is any one “secret” to effectiveness, it is concentration. EEs do first things first and they do one thing at a time.

The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder.

EEs allow a fair margin of time beyond what is actually needed [because nothing ever goes right.]

“If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?” Unless the answer is an unconditional “yes”, they drop the activity or curtail it sharply.

Nothing new is easy. The only effective means for bailing out the new are people who have already proven their capacity to perform. Such people are already busier than they should be. Unless one relieves them of his present burden, one cannot expect him to take on the new task.
The alternative—to hire in new people for new tasks—is too risky. One hires new people to expand on already established and smoothly running activities.

Putting all programs and activities regularly on trial for their lives and getting rid of those that cannot prove their productivity works wonders in stimulating creativity even in the most hidebound bureaucracies.

The reason why so few executives concentrate is the difficulty of setting “posteriorities”—that is, deciding what tasks to not tackle—and of sticking to the decision.
It is much easier to draw up a nice list of top priorities and then to hedge by trying to do “just a little bit” of everything else as well. This makes everybody happen. The only drawback is, of course, that nothing whatever gets done.

The EE does not truly commit himself beyond the one task he concentrates on right now. Then he reviews the situation and picks the next one task that now comes first.
Concentration—that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what really matters and comes first—is the executives only hope of becoming the master of time and events instead of their whipping boy.

On Decision Making

The effective decision maker always assume initially that the problem is generic.
He looks for the true problem. He is not content with doctoring the symptom alone.
And if the event is truly unique, the experienced decision maker suspects that this heralds a new underlying problem and that what appears to as unique will turn out to have been simply the first manifestation of a new generic solution.

“If I had to live with his for a long time, would I be willing to?” If the answer is “no” he keeps working to find a more general, more conceptual, more comprehensive solution—one that establishes the right principle.

The effective decision maker defines clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish. What are the objectives the decision has to reach? What are the minimum goals it has to attain? What the conditions it has to satisfy? [What is being optimized and what the constraints?]

No decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility. Until then, there are only good intentions.
Converting a decision into action requires answering several distinct questions: Who has to know of this decision? What action has to be taken? Who is to take it? What does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it?

If the greatest rewards are given for behavior contrary to that which the new course of action requires, then everyone will conclude that this contrary behavior is what the people at the top really want.

A feedback has to be built into the decision to provide continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision.

The effective decision does not flow from a consensus on the facts. It grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.

The EE asks: “What do we have to know to test the validity of this hypothesis?” “What would the facts have to be to make this opinion tenable?”

Effective decision makers create dissension and disagreement, rather than consensus.

The effective decision maker asks “Is a decision really necessary?” One alternative is always that of doing nothing.
One does not make unnecessary decisions any more than a good surgeon does unnecessary surgery.
One has to make a decision when a condition is likely to degenerate if nothing is done.