The Effective Executive – by Peter Drucker

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The Effective Executive – by Peter Drucker

‘The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done’


A new favourite 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
  5. Make effective decisions


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All effective executives have to learn to be effective




What makes an effective executive?



What is right for the enterprise? Asking the question doesn’t guarantee that the right decision will be made. But failure to ask the question virtually guarantees the wrong decision


Write an action plan

  • Executives are doers, they execute. Knowledge is useless until it has been transferred into deeds
  • Action plan is a statement of intentions rather than commitment. It must not become a strait jacket
  • Every success creates new opportunities – so does failure
  • A written plan should anticipate the need for flexibility
  • The action plan needs to become the basis of the executives time management
  • Time is an executives scarcest and most precious resource
  • An action plan is useless – unless it’s allowed to determine how an executive spends his or her time
  • Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events
  • Without the plan, there is no way of knowing which events matter or which are only noise


Napoleon said that no successful battle ever followed a plan. Yet Napoleon also planned every battle, far more meticulously than any general had ever done



Take responsibility for decisions

A decision has not been made until people know

  • The name of the person carrying it out
  • The deadline
  • The names of the people affected by the decision
  • Names of the people who have to be informed by the decision


Executives also owe it to the organisation and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs


Take responsibility for communicating

  • Effective executives make sure that both their action plans and their information is understood
  • Specifically, this means they share there plans and ask for comments


Focus on opportunities

  • Good executives focus on opportunities rather than problems
  • Put their best people on opportunities rather than problems


Make meetings productive


Think and Say We

  • They think of the needs and opportunities of the organisation before they think of their own needs and opportunites
  • Listen first, speak last


Ch1 – Effectiveness can be learned

  • There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and intelligence, his imagination or his knowledge
  • Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual, they fail to realise brilliant insight is not by itself an achievement
  • Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be obtained


In every organisation there are some highly effective ‘plodders’

  • While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness, which very bright people confuse with ‘creativity’
  • The plodder puts one foot forward, then the other, and gets their first, like the tortoise in the fable


Knowledge vs Manual Work

  • For manual work, we need only efficiency, the ability to do things right, rather than get the right things done
  • Today, the large knowledge organisation is the central reality
  • The knowledge worker has shifted the center of gravity to what is between his ears, rather than the brawn of his muscles or skill of his hands


Wrong thing

  • There are few things less pleasing, and less productive, than an engineering department that rapidly turns out beautiful blueprints for the wrong product
  • Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective


Whether a knowledge worker is an executive does not depend on whether he manages people or not

  • 200 people can do a great deal more work than one man
  • But it does not follow that they produce and contribute more


Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is knowledge work defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its results


These 4 realities cannot change and contribute to ineffectiveness

  1. Executive’s time tends to belong to everyone else
  2. Executives are governed by events ??? AA

-Events rarely tell executive anything.

  1. He is in an organisation, reliant on others. Others need to make use of what he contributes
  2. He is within an organisation, only sees the outside through thick lenses
  • Decision maker/customer is outside the organisation


Weakness in specialisation

  • One weakness of young highly educated people is they are only versed in a narrow specialty. One need not know the detail of accounting/human relations, but one has a responsibility to at least know what these areas are about


To learn effectiveness, there are 5 habits that need to be acquired


Ch 2- Know thy time

Habit 1 – Know thy time

  • Effective executives do not start with their tasks, they start with their time
  • They do not start out with planning, they start by finding where their time actually goes, in a 3 step process


  1. Record time
  2. Managing time
  3. Consolidating time


  • Time is a unique resource. Other major resources are plentiful , like money
  • People is an adequate resource
  • But one cannot rent, hire, buy or otherwise obtain more time
  • There is no substitute for time, it is one truly universal condition


-Most people grossly underrate time spent. If we rely on our memory, therefore we do not know how much time has been spent

  • To manage our time, we need to know where it actually goes


Time wasters abound in the life of every executive


To write a report, may take 6-8  hours of uninterrupted time. It is pointless spending 15 minutes a day on it. But if one can lock the door, turn the telephone off and have 0 interruption, one has a good chance of coming up with a zero draft.


Time for decisions

  • Time in large continuous, and uninterrupted units is needed for decisions, as whom to put on a task force set up to study a specific problem; what responsibilities to entrust of a new manager; who to promote etc


Time diagnosis

  • Record the time usage in ‘real time’ (time logs etc)


Step 2 – Manage time

  1. Eliminate things that do not need to be done. All of the things that are a pure waste of time without any results

Ask – what would happen if this were not done at all?

  1. Which activities on my time log could be done by someone else just as well, if not better?

For example – in a research lab a senior physicist might need to write a popular news article. Yet there are plenty of people around with enough science to understand what he is trying to say, and who can write in better English, where the physicist only speaks mathematics

  1. The time waste under the executives control.


Pruning the time wasters

  1. Identify the time wasters which follow lack of foresight. The symptom is the recurrent ‘crisis’ that comes back year after year


  1. Time wasters often result often from overstaffing

First grade arithmetic question

“If it takes 2 ditch diggers two days to dig a ditch? How long will it take 4 ditch diggers? In first grade, the answer is one day. But in work which executives are concerned, the right answer is 4 days , if not forever”

  • In a lean organisation, people have room to move without colliding with one another, and can do work without explaining it all of the time


  1. Malorganisation . Symptom is an excess of meetings
  • Meetings should never be allowed to become the main demand of an executives time. Too many meetings bespoke poor structure


  1. Malfunction in information


Step 3 – Consolidating “discretionary time”

  • Effective executive records and analyses his time and determines how much is ‘discretionary’
  • How much time is allowed for the important tasks?
  • Work from home, out of the office etc
  • Estimate how much time you can realistically call your own


Ch3 – What can I contribute?

Habit 2 

  • The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness
  • Great majority of executives focus downwards, occupied with efforts rather than results


  • The man who focuses efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate, no matter how exalted his title or rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense “top management”


There has to be something the organisation ‘stands for’

Or else it degenerates into disorganisation, confusion and paralysis


  • Commitment to contribution is commitment to responsible effectiveness. Without it, the man short changes himself, deprives his organisation and cheats the people he works with
  • The most common executive failure is inability or unwillingness to change with the demands of a new position


How to make the specialist effective?

  • Knowledge workers produce ideas, information, concepts and is usually a specialist
  • As a rule needs to do that one things very well. By itself however, a specialty is a fragment and sterile. Its output has to be put together with the output of other specialists before it can produce results
  • The man who takes responsibility for his own contribution will relate his narrow area to a genuine whole.


Focus on contribution has 4 requirements


  1. Communications
  • Communications are practically impossible if based on the downward relationship
  • Executives who take responsibility in their own work should demand the same from their subordinates


  1. Teamwork
  • Focus on contribution leads to communications that make teamwork possible, AA?


  1. Individuals self development largely depends on the focus on contributions
  • The one who asks, “what is the most important contribution I can make?” in effect is asking “what self development do I need? What knowledge and skill do I need to acquire to make the contribution I should be making?”


  1. The executive who focuses on contribution also stimulates others to develop themselves
  • If they demand little of themselves they will remain stunted. If they demand a great deal of themselves, they will grow in stature


The effective meeting

  • The effective man always states at the outset of a meeting the specific purpose and contribution it is to achieve. He makes sure that the meeting addresses itself to this purpose
  • He does not let it degenerate into a bull session, where everyone has bright ideas



Ch4 – Making strength productive

Habit 3 – Making strength productive

One cannot build on weakness

  • To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior and one’s own strengths
  • These strengths are true opportunities


Staffing from strength

  • The effective executive fills positions and promotes on the basis of what a man can do
  • He does not make staffing decisions to minimize weaknesses, but to maximise strengths
  • Whoever tries to place a man or staff an organisation to avoid weakness will at best, end up with mediocrity.
  • The ‘well adjusted generalist’ is a prescription for mediocrity or incompetence
  • Strong people always have strong weaknesses too



  • A man who tries to avoid weakness and make strength effective is a weak man himself. He probably sees strength as a threat to himself
  • But no executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective


The question isn’t “What can a man not do” but… “what can he do uncommonly well?”

  • Human excellence can only be achieved in one area or at best a few areas


Personality focus vs task focus

  • To tolerate diversity, relationships must be task focused rather than personality focused
  • Structuring jobs to fit personality is a bad idea. It will lead to favoritism and conformity. No organisation can afford either


How to structure staff to make strength productive? 4 rules

  1. Jobs are not created by god, but by highly fallible men. Any job that has defeated 2 or 3 men in succession, even though each performed well in previous assignments, must be assumed unfit for humans
  • Make sure that the job is well designed
  1. Make each job demanding and big. It should bring out whatever strength they may have. Only if it is big and demanding, it will enable a man to rise to the new situation
  • Find out early as possible whether it is the right kind of work for him
  • Or ask yourself “am I in the right place for my strengths to tell?”
  • Young knowledge worker whose job is too small to challenge his ability , declines rapidly into premature middle age, soured , cynical and unproductive
  1. Effective executives start with what a man can do – rather than what a job requires
  2. The effective executive knows, to get strength, one has to put up with weakness


How do I manage my boss?

  • Contrary to popular legend, subordinates do not rise over the prostrate bodies of incompetent bosses
  • If their boss is not promoted, they will be bottled up behind him. If the boss is relieved for incompetence or failure, then usually someone from the outside is brought in
  • Making the boss productive is key to the subordinate’s effectiveness
  • The effective executive asks, “what can my boss do really well?” “What does he need to know to perform?”


  • All in all, effective executive tries to be himself


  • In human affairs, the distance between leaders and the average is constant
  • If leadership performance is high, then the average will go up


Ch 5 – First things first

Habit 4

  • If there is any secret, effective executives do first things first and they do them one thing at a time
  • This is the secret of those who do so many things. They do things only one at a time
  • The people who get nothing done usually work harder
  • Executives do not race, they set an easy pace and go steadily


  • “If we did not already do this. Then would we do it now? Endowment effect
  • Is this still worth doing? If it isn’t he gets rid of it


  • A decision needs to be made on what tasks deserve priority and which are of less importance
  • The tasks will somehow be adjusted to the available time
  • If the pressures rather than the executive are allowed to make the decision, the important tasks will predictably be sacrificed
  • Typically there will be no time for the most time consuming part. The conversion of organisational action into behaviour


  • Most executives have learned, that what one postponses one actually abandons.

Analysis of priorities

The most important thing about analysis of priorities, is not intelligent analysis, but courage

  • Pick the future against the past
  • Focus on opportunity rather than problem
  • Choose your own direction, rather than the bandwagon
  • Aim high and for something that will make a difference


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


Ch6 – The elements of decision making

Habit 5

  • Effective executives do not make many decisions. They focus and concentrate on important ones
  • They want impact rather than technique. They want to be sound rather than clever


Elements of the decision process

  1. The clear realization that if the problem is generic, then you can establish a rule or a principle

Ask “Is this a generic situation or an exception?”

  • Most problems that come up in an effective executives work are of this nature


4 Types of events that require decisions

Type 1 – Individual occurrence or situation is only a symptom (of a bigger problem)

Type 2 – Unique event for the institution but is actually generic (merger of companies)

For this, look to the experience of others

Type 3 – Truly unique event

Type 4 – Unique event that might become more common


  • Effective decision maker spends time to categorise problem into these 4. Knowing he will make the wrong decision if he classifies it wrong
  • Effective decision maker always assumes initially that the problem is generic


  1. Clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish
  • What are the objective decisions that the decisions needs to reach
  • What are the minimum goals it needs to obtain, the boundary condiations
  • “What is the minimum to resolve this problem” is the form which the boundary conditions are usually probed
  • The effective executive knows that a decision that does not satisfy the boundary conditions is ineffectual and inappropriate



  1. One has to start out with what is right, rather than what is acceptable

“Old story, half a loaf is better than no bread. But ‘Half a baby is worse than no baby at all”. In the first instance the boundary conditions are still being satisfied. The purpose of bread is food

Half a baby doesn’t satisfy the boundary conditions. Half a baby is not a human


  1. Converting the decision into action
  • Thinking through the boundary conditions is the most difficult step in decision making. Converting decision into effective action is usually the most time consuming one
  • Yet a decision will not become effective unless the action commitments have been built into the decision from the start


  1. Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underly the decision
  • All military services have long learned that the officer who has given an order goes out and sees for himself whether it has been carried out. He never relies on what he is told by the subordinate to whom the order was given. Not that he distrusts the subordinate, he has learned from experience to distrust the communications



Ch7 – Effective decisions

Habit 5

  • when: the scientific secrets of perfect timing
  • It is at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong’


Most say “start with the facts”

  • But executives know one starts with opinions
  • These are nothing but untested hypothesis and as such worthless against tested reality
  • To determine a fact requires first a decision on the criteria of relevance
  • In physics the taste is not a fact, but in cooking it is
  • But painting the colour matters
  • Physics , cooking and painting consider different things as relevant


  • People start out with an opinion; to ask them to search for facts first is undesirable.
  • They will simply do what everyone is prone to do anyway, look for the facts for the conclusion they have already reached
  • With a hypothesis, one does not argue them. We test them
  • The effective executive therefore asks, ‘what do we have to know to test the validity of this hypothesis?’
  • What facts do we need to obtain to make this opinion tenable?


Organised disagreement 

  • Safeguard against the decision makers becoming the prisoner of the organisation. Everyone sucks up to the decision maker
  • Is the best thought through, documented most effective stimulus of testing we know
  • The effective decision maker doesn’t start with the assumption I am right and he is wrong. He starts out with the commitment to why people disagree
  • Executive asks, ‘what does this fellow have to see if his position were tenable, rational and intelligent?’
  • Most people instead start with certainty and what they see is the only way to see it


  • Executive uses conflict as the tool to make sure all major aspects of an important matter are looked at carefully


Conclusion : effectiveness must be learned

  • Self development of the executive towards effectiveness is the only answer
  • It is the only way an organisation and individuals goals come together


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