The Effective Executive: A book review by Bob Morris

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
Peter F. Drucker
HarperBusiness (January 2017)

How and why, “like every other discipline, effectiveness can be learned and must be earned”

This is the 50th anniversary edition of a book first published in 1967. Jim Collins provides the Foreword and Zachary First the Afterword. In my opinion, Peter Drucker (1909-2005) is the most influential business thinker as indicated by the endless list of other thought leaders who continue to acknowledge his value and significance to their own work. He always insisted on referring to himself as a “student” or “bystander.” With all due respect to his wishes, I have always viewed him as a pioneer who surveyed and defined dimensions of the business world that no one else had previously explored.

Consider this passage in the Foreword: “Here are ten lessons I learned from Peter Drucker and this book, and that I offer as a small portal of entry into the mind of the greatest management thinker off all time.” These are the lessons that Collins cites and discusses

1. First, manage thyself.
2. Do what you’re made for.
3. Work how you work best (and let others do the same).
4. Count your time, and make it count.
5. Prepare better meetings.
6. Don’t make a hundred decisions when one will do.
7. Find your one big distinctive impact.
8. Stop what you would not start.
9. Run lean.
10. Be useful.

“He was in the end, Collins adds, “the highest level of what a teacher can be: a role model of the very ideas he taught, a walking testament to his teachings in the tremendous lasting effect of his own life.”

As was true of Collins and will be true 0f everyone else who reads one of the several editions, they will have their own take-aways. Drucker provides a framework in the Introduction, stressing while discussing the importance of eight specific practices that all great business and non-profit CEOs are committed to, such as asking “What needs to be done?” and “What is right for the enterprise?” The first two enable them to obtain the information they need.

The next four help them to convert this knowledge into effective action:

3. Develop action plans.
4. Take responsibility for decisions [and their consequences].
5. Take responsibility for communicating.
6. Are focused on opportunities rather on problems.

The last two ensure that the entire organization feels responsible and accountable

7. Run productive meetings.
8. Think and feel “we” rather than “I.”

Yes, these are basic and obvious practices but they were not five decades ago. Until Drucker, thinking about management lacked order, structure, clarity, and focus. Borrowing a phrase from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Drucker developed thinking about management to “the other side of complexity.” To paraphrase, Albert Einstein, Drucker made management “as simple as possible but no simpler.”

In the Introduction Peter Drucker concludes, “We’ve just covered eight practices of effective executives. I’m going to throw in one final, bonus practice. This one’s so important that I’ll elevate it to the level of a rule: Listen first, speak last”…And, like every discipline, effectiveness can and must be earned.”

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