Book Summary & Highlights: Effective Executive

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What makes an effective executive?

For decades Peter F. Drucker was widely regarded as "the dean of this country's business and management philosophers" (Wall Street Journal). In this concise and brilliant work, he looks to the most influential position in management - the executive.

The measure of the executive, 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 mastered:

  • 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 across the annals of business and government, Drucker demonstrates the distinctive skill of the executive and offers fresh insights into old and seemingly obvious business situations.

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Michael Highlights

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The idea here is that workers are given as much autonomy as practically possible, so that they can use the most appropriate approaches for the situation at hand. (Reflect here on your own experience – are you happier and more motivated when you're following tightly controlled procedures, or when you're working using your own judgment?) What's more, front line workers need to show this sort of flexibility in a rapidly-changing environment. Rigid, rules-driven organizations really struggle to adapt in these situations.

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1. Track your time 2. Understand how your make a contribution 3. Make your strengths productive 4. First things first 5. Make effective decisions 6. Learn

  1. The first step toward effectiveness is a procedure: recording where the time goes. This is mechanical if not mechanistic. The executive need not even do this himself; it is better done by a secretary or assistant. Yet if this is all the executive ever does, he will reap a substantial improvement. The results should be fast, if not immediate. If done with any continuity, recording one’s time will also prod and nudge a man toward the next steps for greater effectiveness. The analysis of the executive’s time, the elimination of the unnecessary time-wasters, already requires some action. It requires some elementary decisions. It requires some changes in a man’s behavior, his relationships, and his concerns. It raises searching questions regarding the relative importance of different uses of time, of different activities and of their goals. It should affect the level and the quality of a good deal of work done. Yet this can perhaps still be done by going down a checklist every few months, that is, by following a form. It still concerns itself only with efficiency in the utilization of a scarce resource—namely, time.
  2. The next step, however, in which the executive is asked to focus his vision on contribution advances from the procedural to the conceptual, from mechanics to analysis, and from efficiencies to concern with results. In this step the executive disciplines himself to think through the reason why he is on the payroll and the contribution he ought to make. There is nothing very complicated about this. The questions the executive asks himself about his contribution are still straight-forward and more or less schematic. But the answers to these questions should lead to high demands on himself, to thinking about his own goals and those of the organization, and to concern with values. They should lead to demands on himself for high standards. Above all, these questions ask the executive to assume responsibility, rather than to act the subordinate, satisfied if he only “pleases the boss.” In focusing himself and his vision on contribution the executive, in other words, has to think through purpose and ends rather than means alone.
  3. Making strengths productive is fundamentally an attitude expressed in behavior. It is fundamentally respect for the person—one’s own as well as others. It is a value system in action. But it is again “learning through doing” and self-development through practice. In making strengths productive, the executive integrates individual purpose and organization needs, individual capacity and organization results, individual achievement and organization opportunity.
  4. Chapter 5, “First Things First,” serves as antiphon to the earlier chapter, “Know Thy Time.” These two chapters might be called the twin pillars between which executive effectiveness is suspended and on which it rests. But the procedure here no longer deals with a resource, time, but with the end product, the performance of organization and executive. What is being recorded and analyzed is no longer what happens to us but what we should try to make happen in the environment around us. And what is being developed here is not information, but character: foresight, self-reliance, courage. What is being developed here, in other words, is leadership—not the leadership of brilliance and genius, to be sure, but the much more modest yet more enduring leadership of dedication, determination, and serious purpose.
  5. The effective decision, which the final chapters discuss, is concerned with rational action. There is no longer a broad and clearly marked path which the executive only has to walk down to gain effectiveness. But there are still clear surveyor’s benchmarks to give orientation and guidance how to get from one to the next. How the executive, for instance, is to move from identifying a pattern of events as constituting a generic problem to the setting of the boundary conditions which the decision has to satisfy, is not spelled out. This has to be done according to the specific situation encountered. But what needs to be done and in what sequence should be clear enough. In following these benchmarks, the executive, it is expected, will develop and train himself in responsible judgment. Effective decision-making requires both procedure and analysis, but its essence is an ethics of action.
  6. He has to acquire knowledges and skills. He has to learn a good many new work habits as he proceeds along his career, and he will occasionally have to unlearn some old work habits. But knowledges, skills, and habits, no matter how accomplished, will avail the executive little unless he first develops himself in effectiveness.