The Effective Executive (1967) by Peter Drucker summarizes the author’s experiences and observations as a time management and team dynamics consultant. Drucker considers everyone who manages his or her personal time to be an executive, and he believes anyone can learn to be an effective executive. This 50th-anniversary republication of a management classic makes for a timely and effective read.
Effectiveness is a habit developed through practice. To be effective, people must monitor their use of time. If individuals track in real time what they accomplish throughout the day, they can identify their most productive hours and the things on which they waste the most time. The key for executives is to compare the reality of how much time they spend on different priorities to how they would prefer to spend their time. Once people identify and remove the most wasteful practices, they can create blocks of uninterrupted productive time.
In addition to looking for wastes of their own time, executives should ask how they waste their employees’ time. They may waste time by failing to anticipate known recurrent problems, by including too many people in a simple task, or by failing to prepare for predictable events like meetings.
Effective people decide how to spend time by looking for ways that they are uniquely capable of contributing to the organization’s purpose. Everyone in an organization can be a knowledge worker who specializes in a vital contribution. Finding one’s contribution involves asking superiors and colleagues what would be most beneficial. Executives make clear to others what contributions they expect.
No organization succeeds in making hiring decisions that avoid employees with weaknesses. Effective people are defined by their strengths and the contributions that can come from those strengths. They will have natural weaknesses, which can be mitigated by organizational structure. Job descriptions should be written to provide people with opportunities to accomplish important things with their strengths, and they can be paired with others who have strengths that complement their weaknesses. Anyone who demonstrates mediocrity ceases to contribute, or depends too much on the contributions of others should be removed from the job.
Executives should set priorities according to where effort creates the most benefit and should not divide attention between more than two tasks. This requires turning down some opportunities and ruthlessly dropping any task that the executive would not in retrospect have taken on again. The best way to set priorities is not to prioritize the tasks that are simply the most urgent. Instead, effective people focus on what will prevent urgent, high-pressure tasks in the future.
Executives are often defined by their authority to make decisions. An executive should consider any problem as a generic issue and should establish a rule or principle that will suffice if the problem arises again. Before developing any solution to a problem, the most effective people decide what criteria a good solution will meet. Then, they decide what the best outcome would be before considering the costs and compromises required to make it happen. A decision must include an action plan and tests that can determine whether the solution worked or was correctly implemented.
The decision process should resemble a scientific experiment in which initial assumptions are tested with facts. It should encourage disagreement among decision-makers, which will generate better and more creative solutions. An executive should never put the energy into making a decision when the subject of the decision will resolve itself.
The computer as a technological development has the potential to make executives feel more insulated within their companies. This generates inefficiency, so the executive is responsible for avoiding insular thinking by gaining a perspective of what is happening outside the business. However, a computer can be harnessed to speed up predetermined decisions and could give executives more time to develop their understanding of the qualitative or unknown factors outside the organization.
The Key Insights for this book is:
- Every person who manages his or her own time is an executive, and an executive can learn to be effective through practice.
- Effective people monitor their time for waste and reorganize their schedule to ensure that it is being spent on the things that create the most benefit.
- To create blocks of time for uninterrupted, concentrated work, effective people eliminate any task that does not produce a benefit, that could be done as well or better by someone else, or that causes wasted time for other people.
- Effective workers focus on the contributions they are uniquely positioned and capable of making rather than on the people they are responsible for managing.
- Executives should make their emphasis on personal contributions known to superiors and colleagues so that they can hold each other accountable. Likewise, they should hold employees accountable for the contributions they should make.
- Jobs should be designed based on the strengths needed to complete them and the ambitious goals that can be accomplished with those strengths. They should not be designed for a person with the fewest weaknesses.
- An employee with a significant strength alongside a significant weakness can be placed in an organizational structure that can tolerate or mitigate that weakness.
- An effective person focuses at a given time on only one or two tasks: the most important and beneficial tasks available at the moment.
- Executives should place an emphasis on tasks that prevent crises in the future and put an end to any project that has ceased to provide benefits in the present.
- Executives should make decisions based on the assumption that the problem they seek to solve is a generic one that they will encounter again and devise a rule or principle for handling such problems in the future.
- A decision will not be successful if it is not accompanied by a plan for implementation and ways to test its effects.
- A decision begins with assumptions and proceeds to exploration with facts.
- Decision-makers should never agree from the start on the proper course of action but should encourage an adversarial style of teamwork.