Book Review: “The Effective Executive”

Peter Drucker (1909-2005) wrote close to 40 books in his very long career. Most of them focus on organization management, some though focus on the individual within the organization. This book is one of them.

The premise of the book is that some executives are more effective than others. Drucker’s contention is that this effectiveness is not the product of intelligence, hard work or even imagination. Effectiveness is due to a set of practices used by the effective executive.

Drucker goes over these practices in this book. He does so with great clarity and with ample examples of how these are implemented. Due to Peter Drucker’s reach and longevity, he has ample executives to choose from.

The result is an amazing book that may change how you see your position within an organization. If you are like me and want to improve your productivity, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

After reading “The effective executive”, I added two more books into my book buffer:


I took a lot of notes while reading the book. Here are some of those:

Chapter 1 Effectiveness can be learned

  • Effectiveness is not intelligence, imagination or knowledge. It is a set of practices that can be learned.
  • Five practices of effective executives:
    • Know how you spend your time
    • Focus on results, not work
    • Build on strength, not weaknesses
    • Concentrate on areas where superior performance brings the greatest results
    • Make effective decisions
  • Knowledge workers are executive in that they are responsible for contributions that affect an organization’s result.
  • Realities of executives:
    • Their time belongs to others
    • They are forced to keep on operating unless they change things themselves
    • They are within an organization and depend on people above and below
    • They are within an organization and get their data filtered.

Chapter 2 Know thy time

  • To do anything, you first need time. Money is elastic, time isn’t. It’s your most precious resource. Manage it wisely.
  • We’re bad at keeping track of how we spend our time. Keep a log.
  • After having measure time do the following:
    • Eliminate things that should not be done (“What would happen if I wouldn’t do this?”)
    • Delegate (“Which of these activities could be done by somebody else?”)
    • Stop wasting other people’s time yourself.
    • You cannot do all the work in small blocks. You need some uninterrupted time:
    • Block 0.5 day or day(s) from your calendar
    • Work from home

Chapter 3 What can I contribute?

  • It’s not the effort, it’s the contribution. Ask yourself: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”
  • Effective executives will focus outwards. He will focus on the relationships (organization, clients, etc)
  • Organizations need performance in three areas:
    • direct results (e.g. sales)
    • the building of values and reaffirmation
    • building/developing people for tomorrow
  • If you focus on contributions, good meaningful human relationships will follow.
  • A few notes on meetings:
  • Always know the purpose (“Why are we having this meeting?”)
  • In a meeting, you do one of these two (NEVER BOTH):
    • Direct and listen
    • Take an active part in discussions

Chapter 4 Making strength productive

  • Effective Executives make strength productive.
  • The purpose of an organization is to make strength productive. You should, therefore, staff to MAXIMIZE strength, NOT to minimize weaknesses
  • The idea of a “well rounded” person is a prescription for mediocrity.
  • DON’T ASK “How does he get along with me?” ASK “What does he contribute?”
  • DON’T ASK “What can a man do?” ASK “What can he do uncommonly well?”
  • To focus on strength is to make demands for performance.
  • Staffing is difficult. Executives tend to fill jobs by looking for best fit (i.e. least misfit). This leads to mediocrity.
  • If you redesign a job to fit a person, you are restructuring the company. It also leads to favoritism.
  • How do you staff for strength without building job to suit personality:
    • A job must be well designed (if 3 people were defeated by the job, it needs to be redesigned)
    • Make sure the job is demanding. It should challenge the man.
    • Start with what a man can do
      • What has he done well
      • What, therefore, is he likely to do well
      • What does he need to acquire to best use his strength
      • If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?
  • To get strengths, one has to put up with weaknesses
  • ASK “Does this man have strength in one major area? And is this strength relevant to the task? If he achieves excellence in this one area, will it make a significant difference? And if the answer is yes, he will go ahead and appoint the man.”
  • General Marshall is a good example of how to make strength productive.

Chapter 5 First thing first

  • The secret of effectiveness is concentration:
    • Do first thing first
    • Do one thing at a time
  • The executive requires fairly big chunks of time. This is difficult to get when you are interrupt driven. Learn to say no.
  • It is difficult to do one thing at a time, let alone two. The people who can do two things at a time make sure they allocate enough time the minimum allowed to get something meaningful done.
  • Ask “If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?” If the answer is not an unconditional yes then drop it.
  • There’s always a lot of decisions to be made. Either the executive or pressures will make them.
  • If pressures make them, important tasks will be dropped
  • No task is completed until it becomes part of organizational action and behavior. In other words, no task is done unless somebody else has taken it has their own.
  • Rules to decide on priorities:
    • Pick future against past
    • Focus on opportunities rather than problems
    • Choose your own direction
    • Aim high, make a difference
  • “Concentration – that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what matters and comes first – is the executive’s only hope of becoming the master of time and events instead of their whipping boy.”

Chapter 6 The elements of decision making

  • Effective executives make decisions through a systematic process with clearly defined elements and in a distinct sequence of steps.
  • Effective executives do not make many decisions. The concentrate on the important ones (be strategic and generic).
  • Decision process:
    • Find out if the problem is generic or exceptional
    • Specify what the decision has to accomplish (define boundary conditions)
    • Find out the right solution (don’t compromise at the start)
    • Convert the decision to actions:
      • Who has to know about the decision?
      • What actions need to be taken?
      • Who takes given action?
      • What does the action look like so that it is truly actionable?
    • Feedback is required to ensure continuous testing of decision.

Chapter 7 Effective decisions

  • A decision is a judgement.
  • You don’t start with facts, you start with opinions. (opinions == untested hypotheses)
  • An opinion is worthless unless tested against reality
  • The effective executive expects that traditional measurement is not correct. If it was, there would be no need for a decision. Traditional measurements reflect yesterday’s decision.
  • You should have alternatives for measurements.
  • Decisions are made from clash of opinions and ideas. When discussing problems and possible decisions, insist on disagreement. Here’s why:
    • Prevents decision make becoming prisoner of organization
    • Provides alternatives
    • Stimulates imagination
  • The effective executive encourages opinions but will ask for experiments to validate.
  • A decision is like surgery. It carries risks. Make a decision when:
    • current condition is likely to degenerate if nothing is done.
    • opportunity is important and will vanish if not acted upon
  • When deciding:
    • Act if on balance the benefits greatly outweighs cost and risk
    • Act or do not act, no compromise.

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