The foundation of effectiveness

Before there was Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there was Peter Drucker’s five habits of The Effective Executive. It is a brilliant book on a problem that will never go away: how to get the right things done. True to his word, Chapter 1: Effectiveness Can Be Learned addresses anything one might initially ask about being effective - and little else.

What does it mean to be effective?

  • “To effect” and “to execute” are, after all, near-synonymous.
  • The executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done.

Is it about being smart?

  • There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination, or his knowledge. Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

Acquiring knowledge is not enough?

I. Why we need effectiveness

  • The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behaviour is meaningless data.

Am I really an ‘executive’?

II. Who is an executive?

  • For the knowledge organization… needs both ‘managers’ and ‘individual professional contributors’ in positions of responsibility, decision-making, and authority.
In a guerrilla war, every man is an ‘executive’.
  • I have called ‘executives’ those knowledge workers, managers, or individual professionals, who are expected, by virtue of their position or their knowledge, to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have significant impact on the performance and results of the whole. [i.e. measurement and leverage]

Maybe I’m already pretty effective?

III. Executive Realities

  • The realities of the executives situation both demand effectiveness from him and make effectiveness exceedingly difficult to achieve. Indeed, unless executives work at becoming effective, the realities of their situation will push them into futility
These four realities the executive cannot change. They are necessary conditions of his existence. But he must therefore assume that he will be ineffectual unless he makes special efforts to learn to be effective.


  1. The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else.

2. Executives are forced to keep on ‘operating’ unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work.

3. He is within an organization. This means that he is effective only if and when other people make use of what he contributes.

  • Organization is a means of multiplying the strength of an individual.

4. The executive is within an organization. He sees the inside, the organization, as close and immediate reality. He sees the outside only through thick and distorting lenses, if at all. What goes on outside is usually not even known first-hand.

  • There are no results within the organization. All the results are on the outside.
  • The truly important events on the outside are not the trends. They are the changes in the trends. These determine, ultimately, the success or failure of an organization and its efforts. Such changes, however, can only be perceived.

Do I have to be ‘well-rounded’ to be effective?

IV. The Promise of Effectiveness

  • We cannot expect to get executive performance we need by hoping for the universally gifted man.
  • We will have to learn to build organizations in such a manner that any man who has strength in one important area is capable of putting it to work.

Is ‘effectiveness’ something anybody can do?

V. But can effectiveness be learned?

  • There is no ‘effective personality’… All they have in common is the ability to get the right things done.
  • These practices are the same, whether the effective executive works in a business or in a government agency, as a hospital administrator or as a university dean
Effectiveness, in other words is a habit, that is a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned.

The Five Essential Habits:

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.
  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?’ rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths — their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they can’t do.
  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay within their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
  5. Effective executives make effective decisions. They know that this is, above all, a matter of system — of the right steps in the right sequence… What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions.

These are the elements of executive effectiveness.