Book Summary – The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

Work is becoming increasingly unstructured and creative in today’s knowledge-based economy. Effectiveness is hence becoming more critical to individual and organizational success. Since its publication in 1967, “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker has helped many executives to improve their effectiveness. It shows how personal effectiveness–doing the right things–can be developed through 5 key practices. In this summary, we’ll outline these 5 key practices of The Effective Executive.

For more details, do check out our full 10-page summary, or get a copy of the book online!

The Effective Executive summary_Book summary bundle

We cannot effectively manage others if we cannot first effectively manage ourselves. The good news is, effectiveness can be learned. Specifically, it is the result of learning and practicing a small number of simple practices until they become habit.

The Need for Effective Executives

Today, organizations and workers are increasingly knowledge-based. Unlike manual workers who use physical force or manual skills and need to focus on efficiency (doing things right), knowledge workers (e.g. accountants, designers) use knowledge and concepts to create ideas, solutions and new knowledge. Executives are paid to be effective, i.e. to get the right things done.

The Effective Executive summary_Overview

An “executive” may not necessarily be in a leadership position – every knowledge worker is an “executive” if his role and contributions affect the organization’s capacity to perform and obtain results.

The 5 Practices of the Effective Executive

The workplace comes with realities beyond our control; unless we make a conscious effort to be effective, we will simply be operating without real impact. To become effective, we must acquire 5 habits:
• Manage our time
• Focus on results and contribution to the organization
• Build on strengths (self, others and situation), rather with weaknesses
• Set priorities and concentrate on the few major areas that will deliver outstanding results.
• Make effective decisions

The Effective Executive summary_5 practices

1. KNOW AND MANAGE YOUR TIME

An executive “loses time” in many ways:
• Being largely self-directed; a knowledge worker must invest time to know what is expected of him and why, and also to understand how others can/ will use his knowledge output.
• Being part of a wider organization, an executive inevitably spends time on planning, discussions, reports, people-relations etc. The larger the organization, the less actual time he has.
• Many tasks require minimum chunks of time for completion, e.g. developing a strategic plan or direction or finishing a report. When done in dribs and drabs, much of the time is actually wasted.The Effective Executive summary_Know & manage time1

Everything requires time; yet, time cannot be bought, is perishable and is irreplaceable. Time is hence the key resource to be managed for effectiveness. Before moving into planning, we should start by identifying where our time actually goes, so we can organize our “discretionary time”. There are 3 steps you can use:

Record Time

Record actual time-use (using any method that works for you), so you become aware of where your time is going.

Manage Time

Identify unproductive, time-wasting activities by asking 3 diagnostic questions:
o What would happen if these were not done at all?
o Which of the activities on my time log could be done by someone else just as well, if not better?
o Ask others: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?”
Then, remove the time-wasters if possible. Time-wasters include:
o Recurrent “crises” due to lack of system or foresight
o Excessive interaction instead of real work, due to overstaffing
o Too many meetings due to mal-organization
o Malfunction due to incomplete or ineffective information

Consolidate Time

Estimate how much discretionary time you really have, then set aside continuous and uninterrupted blocks of time, with deadlines to complete your activities within the allocated time.

Digest key ideas from “The Effective Executive” in minutes with our summary and infographic.

2. FOCUS ON YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS

Constantly ask, what can I contribute?’ and take responsibility not just for your own results, but that of the organization’s – this shifts your focus away from your narrow pockets of specialized knowledge or expertise to the wider relationships, organizational purpose and the “unused potential” in your job.

The Effective Executive summary_Focus on contributionsWhen we focus on how our work contributes to others and the whole, it facilitates meaningful communications, the right human relations, and personal growth:

• Once we take responsibility for our contributions, we can demand that of our subordinates too. When a subordinate starts to think through his potential contributions, it creates a meaningful platform for two-way (rather than downward) communication. Recognizing what you can’t do and delegating with an emphasis on contribution makes others effective too.

• In the same token, communication sideways starts to open up, and real teamwork becomes possible.

• When we focus on contributions, we naturally identify areas for personal self-development. When we set high standards, ambitious goals, and aspirations for ourselves to produce impactful work, we also stimulate others to develop themselves.

Meetings, reports and presentations are essential part of an executive’s work. To conduct effective meetings, it is critical to establish and state from the outset the specific objectives and contributions of the meeting.

3. MAKE STRENGTH PRODUCTIVE

Don’t focus on problems and limitations; focus on opportunities, strengths and what you can do. The goal of organization is to use the strength of every person as a “building block for joint performance.” To achieve best results, use the strengths of everyone, including your superiors, peers, sub-ordinates, associates, and your own. Set up the work such that someone’s strength is used fully and his weakness is irrelevant.  In the book / full summary, we share more tips on how to make strength productive.

4. FIRST THINGS FIRST

There will never be enough time to do everything. When we concentrate our (and our organization’s) time, effort and resources, we complete each task faster, and hence can tackle more and greater diversity of tasks.  Get more details from the book / our complete summary on how to set the right priorities and put first things first.

5. MAKE EFFECTIVE DECISIONS

Executives have the responsibility to make decisions that have significant impact on the organization and performance. To be effective, we need to go beyond problem-solving; we need to concentrate on important, strategic decisions and be prepared to make considered or even controversial decisions. In  the book / full summary, we share more on how to make effective decision with the rules of effective decisions.

So there you are, the 5 key practices of effective executives:
• Manage your time
• Focus on results and contribution to the organization
• Build on strengths (self, others and situation), rather with weaknesses
• Set priorities and concentrate on the few major areas that will deliver outstanding results.
• Make effective decisions

Drucker subsequently published an article “What Makes an Effective Executive” in the Harvard Business Review, with updates to and expansion of his original ideas. In the book and our complete 10-page book summary, we also share these updates, which expand the 5 practices above into 8 practices that jointly achieve 3 key objectives: (i) getting the knowledge you need, (ii) converting knowledge into effective action, and (iii) making the whole organization responsible and accountable.

Other Details in “The Effective Executive”

Drucker’s insights are based on his observations and review of many organizations and successful executives, including companies that he has worked or consulted with. Along the way, he provides many examples and tips of what the companies or executives did well, though we were not able to include all these tips in our summary.

Drucker’s writing style can be a tad heavy, and his ideas at first glance may seem ordinary, given the number of personal effectiveness books available today. However, the concepts genuinely timeless, and there are many useful nuggets of information tucked away in his examples. I personally find the book useful for those who have had some working experience, as it provides a good framework to review and identify areas where we can be more effective. Get a copy of The Effective Executive from Amazon now, or get The Effective Executive summary bundle here!

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