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The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials) Paperback – January 3, 2006
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What makes an effective executive?
The measure of the executive, Peter F. 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.Drucker identifies five practices essential to business effectiveness that can, and must, be learned:
- Managing time
- Choosing what to contribute to the organization
- Knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect
- Setting the right priorities
- Knitting all of them together with effective decision-making
Ranging widely through the annals of business and government, Peter F. Drucker demonstrates the distinctive skill of the executive and offers fresh insights into old and seemingly obvious business situations.
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About the Author
Peter F. Drucker is considered the most influential management thinker ever. The author of more than twenty-five books, his ideas have had an enormous impact on shaping the modern corporation. Drucker passed away in 2005.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Effective ExecutiveThe Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things DoneBy Peter F. Drucker
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Peter F. Drucker
All right reserved.
Effectiveness Can Be Learned
To be, effective is the job of the executive. "To effect" and "to execute" are, after all, near-synonyms. Whether he works in a business or in a hospital, in a government agency or in a labor union, in a university or in the army, the executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. And this is simply that he is expected to be effective.
Yet men of high effectiveness are conspicuous by their absence in executive jobs. High intelligence is common enough among executives. Imagination is far from rare. The level of knowledge tends to be high. But there seems to be little correlation between a man's effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination or his knowledge. Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work. Conversely, in every organization there are some highly effective plodders. While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which very bright people so often confuse with "creativity," the plodder puts one foot in front of the other and gets there like the tortoise in the old fable.
Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained.
Why We Need Effective Executives
All this should be obvious. But why then has so little attention been paid to effectiveness, in an age in which there are mountains of books and articles on every other aspect of the executive's tasks?
One reason for this neglect is that effectiveness is the specific technology of the knowledge worker within an organization. Until recently, there was no more than a handful of these around.
For manual work, we need only efficiency; that is, the ability to do things right rather than the ability to get the right things done. The manual worker can always be judged in terms of the quantity and quality of a definable and discrete output, such as a pair of shoes. We have learned how to measure efficiency and how to define quality in manual work during the last hundred years-to the point where we have been able to multiply the output of the individual worker tremendously.
Formerly, the manual worker-whether machine operator or front-line soldier-predominated in an organizations. Few people of effectiveness were needed: those at the top who gave the orders that others carried out. They were so small a fraction of the total work population that we could, rightly or wrongly, take their effectiveness for granted. We could depend on the supply of "naturals," the few people in any area of human endeavor who somehow know what the rest of us have to learn the hard way.
This was true not only of business and the army. It is hard to realize today that "government" during the American Civil War a hundred years ago meant the merest handful of people. Lincoln's Secretary of War had fewer than fifty civilian subordinates, most of them not "executives' and policy-makers but telegraph clerks. The entire Washington establishment of the U.S. government in Theodore Roosevelt's time, around 1900, could be comfortably housed in any one of the government buildings along the Mall today.
The hospital of yesterday did not know any of the "health-service professionals," the X-ray and lab technicians, the dieticians and therapists, the social workers, and so on, of whom it now employs as many as two hundred and fifty for every one hundred patients. Apart from a few nurses, there were only cleaning women, cooks and maids. The physician was the knowledge worker, with the nurse as his aide.
In other words, up to recent times, the major problem o organization was efficiency in the performance of the manual worker who did what he had been told to do. Knowledge workers were not predominant in organization.
In fact, only a small fraction of the knowledge workers of earlier days were part of an organization. Most of them worked by themselves as professionals, at best with a clerk. Their effectiveness or lack of effectiveness concerned only themselves and affected only themselves.
Today, however, the large knowledge organization is the central reality. Modem society is a society of large organized institutions. In every one of them, including the armed services, the center of gravity has shifted to the knowledge worker, the man who puts to work what he has between his ears rather than the brawn of his muscles or the skill of his hands. Increasingly, the majority of people who have been schooled to use knowledge, theory, and concept rather than physical force or manual skill work in an organization and are effective insofar as they can make a contribution to the organization.
Now effectiveness can no longer be taken for granted. Now it can no longer be neglected.
Excerpted from The Effective Executiveby Peter F. Drucker Copyright © 2006 by Peter F. Drucker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
- Publisher : Harper Business; Revised edition (January 3, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060833459
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060833459
- Item Weight : 5.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.47 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #9,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #3 in Management Science
- #157 in Business Management (Books)
- #227 in Leadership & Motivation
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Reviewed in the United States on April 20, 2022
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* * *
This is the 50th anniversary edition of a book first published in 1967. Jim Collins provides the Foreword and Zachary First the Afterword. In my opinion, Peter Drucker (1909-2005) is the most influential business thinker as indicated by the endless list of other thought leaders who continue to acknowledge his value and significance to their own work. He always insisted on referring to himself as a “student” or “bystander.” With all due respect to his wishes, I have always viewed him as a pioneer who surveyed and defined dimensions of the business world that no one else had previously explored.
Consider this passage in the Foreword: “Here are ten lessons I learned from Peter Drucker and this book, and that I offer as a small portal of entry into the mind of the greatest management thinker off all time.” These are the lessons that Collins cites and discusses:
1. First, manage thyself.
2. Do what you’re made for.
3. Work how you work best (and let others do the same).
4. Count your time, and make it count.
5. Prepare better meetings.
6. Don’t make a hundred decisions when one will do.
7. Find your one big distinctive impact.
8. Stop what you would not start.
9. Run lean.
10. Be useful.
“He was in the end, Collins adds, "the highest level of what a teacher can be: a role model of the very ideas he taught, a walking testament to his teachings in the tremendous lasting effect of his own life.”
As was true of Collins and will be true 0f everyone else who reads one of the several editions, they will have their own take-aways. Drucker provides a framework in the Introduction, stressing while discussing the importance of eight specific practices that all great business and non-profit CEOs are committed to, such as asking “What needs to be done?” and “What is right for the enterprise?” The first two enable them to obtain the information they need.
The next four help them to convert this knowledge into effective action:
3. Develop action plans.
4. Take responsibility for decisions [and their consequences].
5. Take responsibility for communicating.
6. Are focused on opportunities rather on problems.
The last two ensure that the entire organization feels responsible and accountable
7. Run productive meetings.
8. Think and feel “we” rather than “I.”
Yes, these are basic and obvious practices but they were not five decades ago. Until Drucker, thinking about management lacked order, structure, clarity, and focus. Borrowing a phrase from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Drucker developed thinking about management to “the other side of complexity.” To paraphrase, Albert Einstein, Drucker made management “as simple as possible but no simpler.”
In the Introduction Peter Drucker concludes, “We’ve just covered eight practices of effective executives. I’m going to throw in one final, bonus practice. This one’s so important that I’ll elevate it to the level of a rule: [begin italics] Listen first, speak last [end italics]”...And, like every discipline, effectiveness [begin italics] can [end italics] and [begin italics] must [end italics] be earned.”
The title of this review is a portion of one of Peter Drucker's most important insights: "The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question."
* * *
I first read this book when it was originally published in 1967 and have since re-read it several times because, in my opinion, it provides some of Peter Drucker's most important insights on how to "get the right work done and done the right way." By nature an "executive" is one who "executes," producing a desired result (an "effect") that has both impact and value. As Drucker once observed in an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review at least 40 years ago, "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Therefore, the effective executive must develop sound judgment. Difficult - sometimes immensely difficult - decisions must be made. Here are eight practices that Drucker recommended 45 years ago:
o Ask, "what needs to be done?"
o Ask, "What is right for the enterprise?"
o Develop an action plan
o Take responsibility for decisions.
o Take responsibility for communications.
o Focus on opportunities rather than on problems.
o Conduct productive meetings.
o Think in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns ("We" rather than "I").
The first two practices give executives the knowledge they need; the next four help them convert this knowledge into effective action; the last two ensure that the entire organization feels responsible and accountable, and will thus be more willing to become engaged. "I'm going to throw in one final, bonus practice. This one's so important that I'll elevate it to the level of a rule: [begin italics] Listen first, speak last." [end italics]
This volume consists of eight separate but interdependent essays that begin with "Effectiveness Can Be Learned" and conclude with "Effective Decisions." Actually, there is a "Conclusion" in which Drucker asserts that "Effectiveness Must Be Learned." I agree. The essays are arranged in a sequence that parallels a learning process that prepares an executive to "assume responsibility, rather than to act the subordinate, satisfied only if he `pleases the boss.' In focusing himself and his vision on contribution the executive, in other words, has to think through purposes and ends rather than means alone."
I highly recommend this to all executives who need an easy-to-read collection of reminders of several basic but essential insights from one of the most important business thinkers, Peter Drucker. I also presume to suggest that they, in turn, urge each of their direct reports to obtain a copy and read it. The last time I checked, Amazon sells a paperbound edition for only $11.55. Its potential value is incalculable.
Dated: Points are made using anecdotes referring to products and companies that may not be familiar to modern readers.
If you can get past the above, there's a lot of value in the ideas themselves. The last chapter, on the role of computers, is positively prescient.
Some notes from early in the book (I ended up skimming much of the rest):
0 – Preface
Defining "executive" as knowledge worker in an org.
Asks: "What needs to be done?" "What's best for the org?"; Thinks and says "we".
Develops action plans, sticks to the top of it, then re-evaluates.
Take responsibility for decisions and communicating those decisions appropriately.
Name accountable participants (to do), those affected (to consult), and followers (to inform).
Set a deadline.
Focus on opportunities, rather than problems, even in people-management.
Run effective meetings.
To prepare a document: make draft before, appoint a finalizer.
To announce: just announce and discuss the announcement.
To report in depth: discuss nothing else.
To gather all reports: timebox each report; either pre-report in writing or allow clarifications only, leaving questions to post-report in writing.
To inform an executive: executive should listen, ask questions, and sum up.
Aura of the executive: cannot be effective, but may yield opportunities.
Always set agenda and meeting type, and always follow up in summary and next steps.
1 – Effectiveness can be Learned
For skilled/routine work, need efficiency, responsiveness. Not enough for executive.
"Executive" is anyone who "is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and obtain results" (5).
Time belongs to everyone else, always in meetings
Strong temptation to react, to "operate", rather than envision and direct.
Effective only when others use their contributions; must communicate.
Org-goggles skew the realities of the outside world that the org operates in.
"The danger is that executives will become contemptuous of information and stimulus that cannot be reduced to computer logic … may become blind to everything that is perception (event), rather than fact (after the event). The tremendous amount of computer information [in 1967!] may thus shut out access to reality. Eventually the computer should make executives aware of their insulation and free them for more time on the outside. In the short run, however, there is a danger of acute 'computeritis'." (17)
Promise: you don't have to become smarter or learn more specialties or get a different personality, just acquire the habits of effectiveness:
Know where their time goes and manage it.
Focus on outward contribution, rather than work to be done.
Prioritize! First things first and second things not at all.
Strategic decisions, not tactics; judgment based on "dissenting opinions", not "consensus on the facts".
2 – Know Thy Time
Do not start with tasks and plans. Instead:
Measure where your time goes. (Profiling before optimization, in cs terms)
Manage it to reduce unproductive efforts.
Consolidate discretionary time into larger chunks.
Time is extremely scarce, inelastic (no price/marginal utility curve), perishable.
Interaction necessitates human trust and contact, which takes time; Interaction is the basis for much of knowledge and executive work; Interaction is slow and very human, at the basis with sitting down with everyone, having lunch/tea, answering questions, talking about other things, asking their view of the organization, its interactions with the world, what needs to be done; .: In ever larger organizations, ever more time is needed for such interactions. One can try to isolate with "spans of control" so it's not quite quadratic, but it's still bad.
Eliminate activities without impact. "What would happen if this didn't?"
Delegate Shun not one's own work, but whatever doesn't *have to be* one's work.
[I might add: shed responsibilities for which one does not have authority and vv.]
Ask: "What do I do that wastes your time, without contributing to your effectiveness?"
Pruning too much is a mistake that squeaks, and so is easily corrected.
Fix "crises" that require "heroism": after the second time, it should be planned.
Fix "drama" into routine "boring" by crystallizing lessons learned into practice.
"Interaction" as above, can waste time in overstaffed situations. Symptom: manager spends time on feuds, interpersonal problems.
Excess of meetings — due to ineffective meetings? Better organize offline.
Fix poor flows of information: those in charge of resources should be aware of their availability, get the tools to profile performance for each need, etc.
Spend long enough, not too long, and during that time, focus attention ruthlessly.
Example: [1.5h mtg w/o interruptions, 0.5h reactive/messages/etc.] repeat.
Many try to consolidate secondary matters and leave the rest of the time for primary ones. Instead, estimate time for primaries, allocate it, stick to it, and care less about the secondary ones. Urgent/unpleasant matters should encroach on those, not on primary.
Deadlines serve as indicators when time is getting away from you, that you need to better track yourself, and better prune and consolidate.
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Very interesting for me was how Mr Drucker views competition as a critical component for ideation, and how he relates all his ideas to examples, often with own experiences in high profile situations.
Sometimes it feels a little naive, when the text gives no hint at the value of complexity and chaos in certain phases of org internal strive, and therefore the text sometimes doesn’t reach a depth that is necessary for such ideas to be useful. For instance, a seemingly meaningless task might not be avoidable if it is used by a competitor to derail ones efforts. Also I was missing the part where the results are sold to different audiences. Rarely, results sell themselves.
Altogether, it’s a great entry point to this area of personal development, and even the experienced knowledge worker can gain a few novel insights. Through its optimistic approach and motivating examples, I can also imagine that it enables a returning reader to work through some creation problems they are currently facing in their work.