JackNotes: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker Summary

When reading up on management, you can’t help but come across the name of Peter F. Drucker.  

He wrote 30+ books on the topic and his teachings are integrated deep within business practices many are familiar with today. 

Not only did he coin the term, “knowledge worker,” but many of the quotes being thrown around the web today came from him or his books as well:

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

It isn’t enough for an executive nowadays to simply get things done. It’s more important to know how to get the right things done and to prioritize effectiveness, not just efficiency. As with productivity, find out where your time goes, focus on contribution, and put first things first. 


The Summary

Effective executives follow the same 8 practices:

  1. Ask “What needs to be done?”
  2. Ask “What is right for the enterprise?”
  3. Develop action plans
  4. Take responsibility for decisions
  5. Take responsibility for communicating
  6. Focus on opportunities rather than problems
  7. Run productive meetings
  8. Think and say “we” rather than “I”

The 5 habits of an effective executive:

  1. Know Thy Time
  2. Focus on Contribution
  3. Make Strengths Productive
  4. First Things First
  5. Effective Decisions

The 5 habits of an effective executive:

  1. Know Thy Time. Effective executives know where their time goes and work systematically at managing it
  2. What Can I Contribute? Effective executives focus on outward contribution
  3. Making Strengths Productive.Effective executives build on strengths—their own, their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do
  4. First Things First. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results
  5. Effective Decisions. They know that this is a matter of system, the right steps in the right sequence

Effective executives know that time is the limiting factor.

To be effective, every knowledge worker needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.

The 3-step process to manage time:

  1. Record. Find out where your time actually goes
  2. Manage. Cut back unproductive demands on your time
  3. Consolidate. “Discretionary” time into the largest possible continuing units

Every organization needs performance in 3 major areas:

  • Direct results
  • The building of values and their reaffirmation
  • Building and developing people for tomorrow

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

How to have an Effective Meeting:

  • Know what to expect to get out of a meeting and what the purpose of the occasion is or should be
  • State at the outset of a meeting the specific purpose and contribution it is to achieve
  • At the end of the meeting, always go back to the opening statement and relate the final conclusions to the original intent

Staffing from Strength

Fill positions and promote on the basis of what a person can do. Do not make staffing decisions to minimize weaknesses but to maximize strength.

Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform and not to please their superiors.

The 4 rules to staff for strength:

  1. Any job that has defeated two or three men in succession, even though each had performed well in his previous assignments, must be redesigned
  2. Make each job demanding and big
  3. Start with what a man can do rather than with what a job requires
  4. To get strength, one has to put up with weaknesses

Staffing the opportunities instead of the problems not only creates the most effective organization, it also creates enthusiasm and dedication.

Conversely, it is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone—and especially any manager—who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupts the others.

Effective executives periodically review their work programs—and those of their associates—and ask: “If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?” And unless the answer is an unconditional Yes, they drop the activity or curtail it sharply.

The executive who wants to be effective and who wants his organization to be effective polices all programs, all activities, all tasks. He always asks: “Is this still worth doing?”

And if it isn’t, he gets rid of it so as to be able to concentrate on the few tasks that, if done with excellence, will really make a difference in the results of his own job and in the performance of his organization. 

Systematic sloughing off of the old is the one and only way to force the new.

Priorities and Posteriorities

There are always more productive tasks for tomorrow than there is time to do them and more opportunities than there are capable people to take care of them—not to mention the always abundant problems and crises.

A decision has to be made as to which tasks deserve priority and which are of less importance. The only question is which will make the decision—the executive or the pressures.

If the pressures rather than the executive are allowed to make the decision, the important tasks will predictably be sacrificed.

The job is, however, not to set priorities. That is easy. Everybody can do it. The reason why so few executives concentrate is the difficulty of setting “posteriorities”—that is, deciding what tasks not to tackle—and of sticking to the decision.

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

  • Pick the future as against the past
  • Focus on opportunity rather than on the problem
  • Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon
  • Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do

The 5 Elements of the Decision Process:

  1. Ask if it’s a generic situation or an exception
  2. Clear “boundary conditions” as to what the decision has to accomplish
  3. Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable
  4. Convert the decision into action
  5. Build feedback into the decision

Effective Decisions

A decision is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong.

Executives who make effective decisions know that one does not start with facts. One starts with opinions.

People inevitably start out with an opinion; to ask them to search for the facts first is even undesirable. They will simply look for the facts that fit the conclusion they have already reached. And no one has ever failed to find the facts he is looking for.

The effective executive encourages opinions. He then asks: “What do we have to know to test the validity of this hypothesis?” The people who voice an opinion also need to take responsibility for fact-finding.

“What is the criterion of relevance?”This turns on the measurement appropriate to the matter under discussion and to the decision to be reached.

The best way to find the appropriate measurement is again to go out and look for the “feedback” —only this is “feedback” before the decision.

The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

The executive who wants to make the right decision forces himself to see opposition as his means to think through the alternatives.

The final question the effective decision-maker asks: “Is a decision really necessary?” There’s always the alternative of doing nothing.

If the answer to “What will happen if we do nothing?” is “It will take care of itself,” one does not interfere.


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