The Effective Executive

By Barclay Briggs - June 23, 2020

Our Intern Barclay Briggs was assigned to read Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive and to write a brief summary of what he read. The goal for his task was to expose him to some literary versions of what Company Executives look like, and what types of qualities make them an “effective” leader within the company. Below is his summary and insights into the book. If you have read this book previously, do you agree with his assessment?  

Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive is full of wisdom every executive would benefit from adhering to, but there are several takeaways that stood out to me above the rest. 

The first of these nuggets of wisdom debunked my previous perception of executives: to be an effective executive, one doesn’t necessarily have to be the stereotypically charismatic and commanding ‘boss’ figure. An effective executive can be this way, of course, but he can also be meek and, as Drucker says, “nearly reclusive” (xi). Even if the personalities of effective executives can be all over the map, there are, according to Drucker, several traits all effective executives possess.  

An effective executive knows his own strengths and exploits them, and he only focuses on one task at a time with a well-defined plan. Napoleon asserted that no successful battle ever went according to plan, but he made sure he meticulously planned every one of his battles. Similarly, an effective executive must be ready to act on the fly, but he also must not approach a situation without a plan. As this plan unfolds (or falls apart, lending the opportunity for a new plan to be implemented), it is important for an executive to systematically review his performance and the performance of his fellow workers, with a strong stance against nonperformance. 

Perhaps one of the most striking pieces of wisdom Drucker has to offer, one that is applicable far beyond the scope of just business, is to focus much more heavily on opportunities than problems; focus more intently on strengths than weaknesses. When an effective executive is making a personnel decision, he must focus on what a candidate excels at, not where he is lacking. Everyone has weaknesses, and if we focus on those rather than strengths, we will never get anywhere. World War II General George Marshall constantly asked what a man could do rather than what he couldn’t do, and, if he was capable of performing the task at hand, his shortcomings were of little importance. The only way to effectively produce results is by capitalizing on strengths. Conversely, thinking too much about weakness produces nothing but worry and anxiety. 

Drucker makes certain to emphasize the fact that effectiveness must be learned, as humans are not born with the gift of effectiveness or universal genius. Because of this, an effective executive must take a holistic approach to try to learn and understand, at least at a very basic level, many different fields of study. According to Drucker, “there is no reason why anyone with normal endowment should not acquire competence in any practice” (23), suggesting the effective executive would be prudent to take a ‘liberal arts’ approach to leadership and become conversant in many different topics. 

Time is the most valuable resource an executive possesses, and the thing that most prominently distinguishes an effective executive from an ineffective one is how they use their time. An effective executive must know where his time is going, and, to maximize productiveness, he must be willing to dedicate large chunks of continuous, uninterrupted time to his work. Time management is key, but this task is impossible if one doesn’t know what his time is going to. Included in time management is the skill of eliminating all unnecessary items from one’s schedule, as well as being able to identify tasks which someone else could do just as well and delegating it to others. 

Anyone can be top management, regardless of his job title, as long as he focuses on contribution and taking responsibility for results. Considering the fact that “direct results always come first” (56), the junior employee who seeks to contribute will be far more effective than the senior employee who sits back and watches, despite the difference in seniority and rank. Doing everything in one’s power to contribute is the greatest commitment one can make to responsible effectiveness, and, on the contrary, failing to contribute is the opposite of effectiveness. 

Interestingly enough, Drucker takes an entire chapter to discuss the importance of approaching one task at a time. He argues if one thing is done at a time, time will be saved in the long run, and jobs will be done more effectively. Just as importantly, it is crucial to actually begin work on task, as the ideas by themselves produce nothing. If a project halts after a solution has been decided upon, it is not solved. The solution has to be acted upon as well. Once a project is postponed, it is abandoned; it is unlikely a project will be brought back to the forefront after it has been dismissed. 

In making a decision, it is important to always consider what Drucker calls “boundary conditions.” These are the goals the decision must attain, and it is the guiding principle in making any decision. It is important to ensure any potential solution stays within these conditions so that the goal is always in sight. Decisions are rarely a ‘yes or no’ or ‘good or bad,’ but they are frequently ‘likely good or maybe bad.’ If the boundary conditions are kept in mind, it will allow for clearer discernment between which of these somewhat ambiguous choices is the right one. 

Ultimately, as Drucker so heavily stresses, I think the biggest takeaway from this book is that effectiveness is not a gift. It is an acquired skill that one must practice in order to master, and the only way to practice is to do. As I am going completing my internship with Golden Section Technology. I am personally seeing the results of completing the task and trying it in r


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