The Employee Engagement Network

The Effective Executive: A book review by Bob Morris

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
Peter Drucker
HarperBusiness/A HarperCollins Imprint (2006)

"The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question."

Note: The title of this review is a portion of one of Peter Drucker’s most important insights: "The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question."

*     *     *

I first read this book when it was originally published in 1967 and have since re-read it several times because, in my opinion, it provides some of Peter Drucker’s most important insights on how to “get the right work done and done the right way.” By nature an “executive” is one who “executes,” producing a desired result (an “effect”) that has both impact and value. As Drucker once observed in an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review at least 40 years ago, "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Therefore, the effective executive must develop sound judgment. Difficult – sometimes immensely difficult – decisions must be made. Here are eight practices that Drucker recommended 45 years ago:

o  Ask, “what needs to be done?”
o  Ask, “What is right for the enterprise?”
o  Develop an action plan
o  Take responsibility for decisions.
o  Take responsibility for communications.
o  Focus on opportunities rather than on problems.
o  Conduct productive meetings.
o Think in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns (“We” rather than “I”).

The first two practices give executives the knowledge they need; the next four help them convert this knowledge into effective action; the last two ensure that the entire organization feels responsible and accountable, and will thus be more willing to become engaged. “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: [begin italics] Listen first, speak last.” [end italics]

This volume consists of eight separate but interdependent essays that begin with “Effectiveness Can Be Learned” and conclude with “Effective Decisions.” Actually, there is a “Conclusion” in which Drucker asserts that “Effectiveness Must Be Learned.” I agree. The essays are arranged in a sequence that parallels a learning process that prepares an executive to “assume responsibility, rather than to act the subordinate, satisfied only if he ‘pleases the boss.’ In focusing himself and his vision on contribution the executive, in other words, has to think through purposes and ends rather than means alone.”

I highly recommend this book to all executives who need an easy-to-read collection of reminders of several basic but essential insights from one of the most important business thinkers, Peter Drucker. I also presume to suggest that they, in turn, urge each of their direct reports to obtain a copy and read it. The last time I checked, Amazon sells a paperbound edition for only $11.55. Its potential value is incalculable.

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