Book Summary: “The Effective Executive” By Peter Drucker

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. The definitive guide to getting the right things done.

The Effective Executive, first published in 1966, by Peter Drucker confronts the myriad of challenges a knowledge worker faced as society transitioned away from the industrial revolution that are still relevant today. In today’s world, the book would probably be more appropriately named “the effective knowledge worker” as you do not need to be a “chief” level executive to get something out of this book. This book had been on my list for a number of years as Tim Ferriss consistently raved about it as a book that was instrumental in the early days of his career. It is to the point, and draws on many business and government examples from that time period which was an unexpected but well-received history lesson at times.

Here are some of the big ideas that have stuck with me two months after reading this book:

  1. Start by knowing where your time is going: know thy time.
    • Effectiveness can be learned, but first we need to understand where we are. Start by recording where your time is going. Move toward a “time blocking” method where you can assign each minute of your work-day a job. 
  2. Focusing on contribution can help eliminate the myopia of the day-to-day work. 
    • By asking yourself, “what can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?” you look outward towards larger goals and put a stress on responsibility. A focus on contribution is a focus on results.
  3. Concentration is the secret to effectiveness.
    • Concentration was the secret to effectiveness for the 1966 knowledge worker who had many tasks to choose from. Concentration is the secret to effectiveness for the 2020 knowledge worker who has tasks clamouring for attention, plus highly addictively-engineered technologies an arms reach away throughout the workday. Focus on one thing at a time.

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All the above notes were taken from memory to solidify the concepts and retain the information. Below are general notes taken directly from the book.

  • Brilliant people 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. Conversely, in every organization there are some highly effective plodders. While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which very bright people so often confuse with “creativity”, the plodder puts one foot in front of the other and gets there first, like the tortoise in the old fable. 
  • The most subordinate manager may do the same kind of work as the president of the company; that is, plan, organize, integrate, motivate, and measure. 
  • Five habits to be effective:
    • Know where your time goes. Work systematically at managing the little time that can be brought under control. 
    • Focus on contribution. Gear efforts towards results rather than busy work. Start with the question, “what results are expected of me?”
    • Build on strengths, not on weakness. Do not start with things you, or your teammates cannot do. Start with what they can do. 
    • Concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. Set priorities and stay with them. Do first things first. 
    • Make effective decisions systematically. Know that effective decisions are always a judgement based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus of facts”
  • Every organization needs to perform in three major areas: results, building of values, and building and developing people for tomorrow. 
  • The worker who sets their sights on contribution, raises the sights and standards of everyone around them. 
  • There is nothing quite as conducive to success as a successful and rapidly promoted superior. Make your superior look so good they get promoted; this creates a need for a replacement. 
  • Elements of the decision process:
    • The clear realization that the problem was generic and could only be solved through a decision;
    • The definition and specification of the problem, and what the answer has to satisfy;
    • Define what the perfect solution would look like before attention is given to compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable. 
    • Taking action;
    • A feedback loop to test the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events. 
  • The military learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the most reliable feedback. 

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