The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker — A Book Summary

Ravi Kumar
Dec 25, 2017 · 19 min read

Rating: 4/5

Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive was one of my top picks for 2018. I would recommend it strongly to all working professionals (knowledge workers as Peter calls them in the book) no matter where they are on the totem pole of their organization. I would not hesitate to say that if you apply the principles laid out in the book with discipline, this would elevate your effectiveness to many notches higher. I am going to revisit the book many times over in my career.

Hope you enjoy the summary:

The book has seven chapters:

  1. Effectiveness Can Be Learnt

Chapter 1: Effectiveness Can Be Learnt

  • The subject of the book is managing oneself for effectiveness.

Who is an executive?

  • Every knowledge worker — managers or individual professionals — in modern organisation is an executive if they are expected by the 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.

There are five habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive:

  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.

Chapter 2: Know Thy Time

  • Effective executives do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes.
  1. Time-wastes often result from overstaffing.
  • There is a fairly reliable symptom of overstaffing. If the senior people in the group spend more than one-tenth of their time on problems of human relations, on feuds and frictions, on jurisdictional disputes, then the workforce is almost certainly too large.

2. Another common time-waster is malorganization.

  • It’s symptom is an excess of meetings. We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. We meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the experience and knowledge of several people. Every meeting generates a host of little follow-up meetings — some formal, some informal, but both stretching out for hours. Meetings therefore need to be purposefully directed. An undirected meeting is not just a nuisance, but a danger. Meetings have to be an exception rather than the rule.

3. The last major time-waster is malfunction in information.

  • Always be thoroughly prepared for meetings and do your homework.

Chapter 3: What can I contribute?

  • The effective executive focusses on contribution. He asks: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”. His stress is on responsibility.
  1. It needs direct results: They play the role calories play in the nutrition of the human body.
  • All the above three have to built into the contribution of every executive.

The Right Human Relations

  • Executives in an organization do not have good human relations because they have a “talent for people”. They have good human relations because they focus on contribution in their own work and in their relationships for others.

The Effective Meeting

  • The meeting, the report, or the presentation are the typical work situation of the executive. They are his specific, everyday tools. They also make great demands on his time.
  1. Communications
  • The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely it is that the subordinate will mishear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.

2. Teamwork

  • The focus on contribution leads to communication sideways and thereby making teamwork possible. These people have to work together voluntarily and according to the logic of the situation and the demands of the task, rather than according to a formal jurisdictional structure.

3. Self-development

  • The man who asks of himself, “What is the most important contribution I can make to the performance of this organisation?” Asks in effect, “What self-development do I need? What knowledge and skill do I need to acquire to make the contribution I should be making?” “What standards do I have to set myself?” “What strengths should I put to work?”

4. Development of others

  • The executive who focuses on contribution also stimulates others to develop themselves, whether they are subordinates, colleagues or superiors. He sets standards that are demands for excellence.They are demands for high aspiration, for ambitious goals, and for work of great impact.

Chapter 4: Making strength productive

  • The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness.

How do effective executives staff for strength ?

  • The effective executive first makes sure that the job is well designed. And if experience tells him otherwise, he does not hunt for genius to do the impossible. He redesigns the job. He knows that the test of the organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.

How do I manage my boss?

  • The effective executive tries to make fully productive the strengths of his superior.

Chapter 5: First things first:

  • The one secret of effectiveness is concentration.

Priorities and Posteriorities

  • Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:

Chapter 6: The elements of decision making

  • Decision making is one of the tasks of an executive.

The Five Elements of the Decision Process:

  1. The first question an effective decision maker asks : “Is this a generic situation or an exception?””Is this something that underlies a great many occurrences? Or is the occurrence a unique event that needs to be dealt as such? The generic always has to be answered through a rule, a principle.
  • The more concisely boundary conditions are stated, the greater the likelihood that the decisions will be effective.

3. One has to start with what is right rather than what is acceptable- precisely because one always has to compromise at the end. But if one does not know what is right to satisfy the specifications and boundary conditions, one cannot distinguish between the right compromise and the wrong compromise.

4. Converting the decision into action is the fourth major element in the decision process. Decision will not become effective unless the action committments have been built into the decision from the start.

5. Finally, a feedback has to be built into a decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision. One needs reports and figures. But unless one builds one’s feedback around direct exposure to reality, one condemns oneself to a sterile dogmatism and with it to ineffectiveness.

Chapter 7: Effective Decisions

  • A decision is a judgement. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong.
  1. It is the only safeguard against the decision maker’s becoming the prisoner of the organisation. The only way to break out of the prison of preconceived notions is to make sure of argued, documented, thought — through disagreements.
  • The effective executive uses conflict of opinion as a tool to make sure all major aspects of an important matter are looked at carefully.

Conclusion : Effectivness must be learned

The book rests on two premises:

  • The executive’s job is to be effective

Effectiveness is not a “subject”, but a self-discipline.

Steps:

  1. Recording where the time goes. If done with continuity, recording one’s time will nudge a man towards next steps for greater effectiveness.

Self development of the effective executive is central to the development of the organization. As executives work towards becoming effective, they raise the performance level of the whole organization.

Key takeaways from the book that I am going to apply to my own life and work:

  • I promise to be more effective at work after reading this book. I want to take pride in being an effective executive.

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