The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker

Summary

  1. Most management books deal with how to manage others but this one deals with how to manage oneself; how to lead by example. Effectiveness is not natural and has to be learned and practiced deliberately. Being effective means doing the right things well

Key Takeaways

  1. Jim Collins did the foreword to this edition and highlights his 10 Key Lessons
    1. First, manage thyself 
    2. Do what you’re made for what you can be world class at. To work on exclusively what you’re bad at is foolish and irresponsible but you must address weaknesses which stand in the way of maximizing your strengths and achieving your full potential 
    3. Work how you work best and let others do the same
      1. You must focus on people’s strengths and build around that and not on their weaknesses. Find people who are better than you and who can deliver in specific areas bring them into your fold
    4. Count your time and make it count. This requires the discipline to schedule your time into blocks. The most effective people do one big thing at a time and don’t let distractions seep in. Create unbroken ‘think time’ blocks during your most lucid time of day and do them with regularity. Create chunks for people and random tasks which must get done. Attend only meetings that matter 
    5. Prepare better meetings by having clear reasons for the meeting and having disciplined follow ups. 
    6. Don’t make 100 decisions when one will do. Inactivity can be very intelligent behavior
    7. Determine what your distinctive impact can be in an organization – the one decision, behavior, or action that might not have happened if you were not there
    8. Stop what you would not start. Most people are too busy to work on truly important things so you must have a stop doing list and refine and rethink your daily tasks and objectives
    9. Run lean. An organization is like a biological organism in that the internal mass grows faster than what shows externally – the volume increases as a cube of the linear dimension but the surface area only as the square. You must fight and hold back internal growth which doesn’t help drive profits and goals.
    10. Be useful. Over success. Over wealth. Over fame. Be useful. 
  2. The best executives have personalities all over the map but Drucker found 9 shared traits
    1. They ask what needs to be done.
      1. You must prioritize this list every couple years. Once you tackle the biggest priority, you must redo the process. Can only focus on a maximum of two at any given time
    2. They ask what is right for the enterprise
    3. They make an action plan.
      1. This must include the name of the person who is accountable, the deadline, who this effects directly and must be made aware, who should be told even if they’re not effected 
    4. They take responsibility for the decisions
    5. They take responsibility for communicating the decisions
    6. They are focused on opportunities rather than problems
    7. They run effective and productive meetings
      1. End once the purpose has been accomplished. Announce the purpose of the meeting at the beginning. Sum up what happened, action items, who is accountable, deadlines, send to everyone involved
    8. They thought and said “we” rather than “I”
    9. Listen first, speak last
  3. The shift from manual labor and work to knowledge work is why the demands of executives today is so different than before
  4. Effectiveness is so important and must be learned. Especially in today’s knowledge-based economy. Knowledge work is not graded on costs or quantity but on results. Managers in the knowledge based field are those whose decisions have an outsized impact
  5. Hindrances towards effectiveness include being part of the system itself and not having enough perspective, not being willing to give up a lifetime of habits and work, not letting others step up, and not delegating enough.
  6. Events should not drive what an executive does. Rather, key criteria which help inform results and contributions should be his main focus. The truly important things are not the trends – they are what cause the trends and is why you should never focus on the events but on what lies behind them
  7. Effective executives have these skilsl
    1. They know where their time goes 
      1. Effective executives start with their time not with tasks because they know time is a limiting factor
      2. They record their time, they manage their time, and then they consolidate their time into long chunks.
      3. What can you do away with totally, what can you delegate?
      4. Don’t waste others’ time
      5. Reduce recurrent and predictable decisions
      6. Avoid overstaffing
      7. Reduce poor organization such as too many meetings
      8. Reduce poor information (wrong form or just wrong)
      9. Consolidated time is the key. Most executives don’t have more than 25% of their time at their disposal but if they come in chunks, it’s usually enough. Even if it was 75% but broken up, you’d never get anything done. 
      10. It is hard and rare to over-prune
    2. They focus on results rather than effort
      1. The focus on contribution over effort is the key to this whole book. This is what drives how you spend your time and the decisions you make. As a leader you must make a focus on contribution rather than effort the norm. This helps with communication, getting people to go all-in
    3. They understand what is expected of them and how they can get there
    4. They focus on and build on strengths not weaknesses – both theirs and others’
    5. They focus exclusively on areas where their focus will have outsized returns.
    6. They know that they have to do the most difficult and important things first and that there’s no time for the second things
    7. They make effective decisions and know that a few, big important decisions are the way to go. Many, rushed decisions lead to mistakes
  8. Although there are very many personalities, the one thing they had in common when making decisions was that they were slow and deliberate in personnel decisions
  9. Well managed business are boring and quiet. Crises have been anticipated and routinized. 
  10. Try to contribute in 3 areas: direct results, adding to culture and values, building the next generation 
  11. You must be able to see through the eyes of others and understand how they will use your output. This will help you use common language, put information in a usable form, etc. A generalist is simply a specialist who can translate their knowledge to a universal audience 
  12. You must always think and put tasks first and not personnel or else you will get politicking clash of personalities
  13. Jobs must be big and demanding for executives to see how they live up to it. You must judge the people you are considering by their strengths and what they would need to reasonably fulfill this job and you must have clear expectations and definitions of success
  14. With every strength comes a weakness so you must focus on and understand how does a person’s strength translate to a weakness 
  15. Staff for opportunities and not for problems
  16. You should remove incompetent men. Not only because of their lack of results, but because if they stayed on, it would hurt the rest of the culture. This is not a slight on the man but a slight on the leader who put him in the position to begin with
  17. George Marshall focused on strengths but also on weaknesses. He put Eisenhower in a position to learn about strategy and, even though he was never great, he was able to appreciate its importance later on
  18. Managing upwards is as important as managing downwards. You must make the strengths of your boss productive as their success and promotions will help you as well. Knowing yourself, and your strengths and weaknesses, and how to make your strengths productive is equally as important.  This is an attitude as much as a skill 
  19. The key skill is concentration on the first and most important things first and only doing one thing at a time. Effective executives also make sure that the organization as a whole focuses on one thing at a time. They review the past and anything which isn’t an emphatic yes, is curtailed or done away with completely, leaving time to focus on the most important things. Organizations need to stay lean and muscular just as biological organisms do
  20. Fresh eyes which give fresh perspective is vital 
  21. Setting priorities and posteriorities (a list of what not to do) is more about courage than knowing what to focus on. You must be future-focused – rather than looking at the past, you must look at opportunities rather than problems, you must be willing to set your own agenda and make your own decisions rather than relying on others, and aim high for things which will truly make a difference rather than playing it safe
  22. Effective executives ultimately make effective decisions. They take their time, know what’s truly important, focus on a few things at any one time, and know that quick decisions are sloppy and not impressive
  23. Effective decisions have these common traits
    1. Is this a generic or a specific situation and problem?
      1. As generic problems can have rules and principles to deal with where a specific problem must be dealt with individually.
      2. Executive executives don’t make many decisions because they don’t have to they figure out which problems are generic and through their rules and principles are able to adapt to situations quickly and effectively 
    2. They asked themselves if they would be able to live with the decision for a long time. If not, they keep on working on the solution
    3. They asked them selves, “what are the specifications of the problem they are trying to solve, what are the objectives, and how will they know if their decision has been a good one?” These are the boundary conditions – the minimum results necessary that must be achieved
    4. They ask what is right rather than what is acceptable
    5. They ask and figure out how to turn the solution and question into action. Asking who has to know is as important as understanding the capacity of the people involved in acting out the decision. You must build the execution of the decision into the decision itself which is very difficult
    6. There has to be a feedback loop. This has to be built into the decision to continuously test the assumptions and the actions as they face reality. You cannot get too removed from the process. You must touch the medium and see if yourself how the actions are being carried out and the reactions to it
  24. What is the criteria necessary to determine success and how do you measure that? The effective executive assumes that the traditional measure is wrong otherwise they probably wouldn’t be in this predicament. 
  25. The best executives consider alternatives and this causes dissension and disagreements which is very healthy and can lead to the better decisions and outcomes
  26. You must begin with trying to understand and only then trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong. Like a first-year lawyer is assigned to argue the other side’s case before they’re allowed to think about their own, we must truly understand all sides before making a decision
  27. The last question an effective decision maker asks is, “is the decision even necessary?” Better to not act at all if not needed. Act or don’t act. Don’t hedge or go halfway. Only act if your decisions and your actions are needed and important – if things will work out without your involvement, leave them be
  28. Above all, what is needed is courage. Courage to focus on what you think is right and ignore what you don’t believe will make a difference
  29. Don’t just say this was a great book figure out how it will change how you act and behave. That is the sign of a great book

What I got out of it

  1. Loved this book. So much to gain from reading and re-reading – focus on where your time goes, manage yourself first, know how you work best, focus on contributions rather than effort, know what your role is and how you can most impact the organization, few and deliberate decisions, have the courage to not follow the crowd, encourage dissension and sharing of opinions…