The Effective Executive
by Peter Drucker

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The Effective Executive


The Effective Executive – by Peter Drucker

The Effective Executive is a new favorite of ours. It was written in 1967, so the world is very different today, but the principles in this book still hold strong. Simple ideas presented in this book can have a substantial impact on your effectiveness, like focusing on results and contribution, managing your time before managing your tasks, and focusing on opportunities rather than problems.

The 8 questions or practices of an Effective Executive:

  1. ask, ‘What needs to be done?’
  2. ask, ‘What is right for the enterprise?’
  3. develop action plans
  4. take responsibility for their decisions
  5. take responsibility for communicating
  6. focus on opportunities rather than problems
  7. run productive meetings
  8. think and say “we” rather than “I”

The 5 Habits of an Effective Executive:

  1. Know where your time goes
  2. Focus on outward contribution
  3. Build on strengths
  4. Concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results

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The Effective Executive Summary


Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.”
Peter Drucker is highly regarded as one of the ultimate thought leaders, particularly when it comes to management. He has even been described as “the founder of modern management”. This book was first published in 1967. It has certainly stood the test of time, and is just as applicable today as it was in 1967 (if not more so!). If you have any control over your time and output at work, then this book is pretty much a must-read.

In the past, we only required a few people to be Effective Executives. Given most workers were manual labourers working in factories or on farms, we only needed a few effective people at the top to organise the labour. There is always a ‘base level’ supply of effective people that could fill these roles, so it was clear who would be in management and who would be on the factory floor. But today, the world has shifted. Almost everyone at every level of every organisation needs to use their brain and be more effective. We have moved from ‘manual workers’ to ‘knowledge workers’. It’s easy to measure the manual works (how many widgets did you churn in per hour), but measuring the output of a knowledge worker is far more difficult. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much work you do and how many hours you put in. All that matters is how much you achieve and how much you contribute. “Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is knowledge work defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its results”. 

Effectiveness can be learned. “There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination, or his knowledge”. It is a set of skills, practices and habits that we can improve upon. This book goes through ‘8 practices’ and ‘5 habits’ that are all vital tools for anyone who wants to do important work. It’s well worth reading the full book for yourself, and in the early days of the What You Will Learn podcast we even turned this into a 45-page summary with some more modern language, which you can access for free at 

Ask ‘what needs to be done?’

Do not ask ‘What do want to do?’. There is almost no correlation between what you want to do and what needs to be done. You want to do the small, easy task at the bottom of your to-do list, but you need to the big, uncomfortable, difficult task at the top of the list instead. If you focus only on what you want to do you may get a lot done, but it’s almost certain that these won’t be the right things that were needed. In essence, you may be ‘efficient’, but not ‘effective’. 


Develop action plans

Executives are doers, they execute… Knowledge is useless to executives until it has been translated into deeds“. You can’t possibly make the perfect plan and stick to it without deviation. As the cliché goes, ‘no plan ever survives contact with the battlefield’. But you must take the time to make the plan in the first place. It means you’re carefully considering everything that needs to be done, by when, and in what order. The plan will change based on learnings and new developments that pop up along the way, but at least you’re starting from a strong base. 

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events”. Without a plan, you have no choice but to be REactive to things that go on around you. By taking time to plan, you can regain some control and become more PROactive. 


Focus on opportunities, rather than problems

Of course problems must be taken care of and you need to deal with them as they arise. But problem solving doesn’t produce direct results, it just gets you back to the equilibrium you were at yesterday. It’s more productive to convert an opportunity into a result. ‘Opportunities’ are where untapped potential or value lies, so Effective Executive are the ones who are focusing their attention on these opportunities. They’re not just looking for problems or fires to put out, they’re constantly scanning for new ways to create value.


Know where your time goes

The output limits of any process are set by the scarcest resource. In the process that we call ‘accomplishment’, the scarcest resource is time.

A lot of productivity advice is around being more organised with how you do your work – making checklists, organising different trays and folders, mindmapping your projects, and so on. But Drucker goes one step back and says that if we want to achieve more by doing more, we first need to understand where our time goes. Effective Executives know that time is their limiting factor, so they need to optimise their time as best as possible. By planning their time first, they can better plan their tasks second. 

RECORD TIME – find out where your time actually goes right now. If you keep a good calendar then you can just look back at your past few weeks, or if you don’t, start to note down what you’re doing at different points throughout the day. Look at the different ‘buckets’ you spend time on – emails, phone calls, meetings, writing reports, working on projects, planning big tasks, executing smaller ones. Try to get as objective as possible in your recordings. Write things down as you’re doing them – if we just rely on memory, you’ll notice that when you look back on your day you grossly exaggerate how much time was productive and underestimate how much time was wasted on useless, ineffectual, meaningless tasks. 


MANAGE TIME – prune the time wasters. Looking at your recorded time, some big time wasters will start to jump out at you. Attempt to cut back on these unproductive demands on your time. Eliminate the things that do not need to be done at all. Ask yourself ‘what would happen if this did not get done?’, and if the answer is ‘nothing would happen’, then don’t do it! Drucker says “it is amazing how many things busy people are doing that will never be missed”. Maybe it’s the monthly report that no one reads, or the weekly catch up that doesn’t need to happen, or the back-and-forth email chains that could be solved with one quick phone call. After eliminating the things do not need to be done, ask yourself ‘which of these activities could done by someone else just as well, if not better?’. Delegating the tasks that you’re not directly adding unique value to frees you up to do more important things instead. 


CONSOLIDATE TIME – get your discretionary chunks of time into the largest possible continuous units. All of the most important and most valuable things you can do to create results are going to take time. More so, they’re going to take large chunks of focused, uninterrupted time. Try to shuffle all of your meetings and phone calls to the afternoon so that you can focus a few solid hours in the morning on getting down and deep with your most important project for the day.

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