The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials)
Publisher: Harper Business
Published: 1/24/2017
The measure of the executive, Drucker reminds us, is the ability to "get the right things done." This usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that mold them into results.

The Effective Executive

Key Insights

Many of us work for big corporations today, where it’s easy to get lost in a pool of nameless co-workers.

So, how do you make yourself stand out?

How do you find success as a small fish in a big pond?

In “The Effective Executive” Peter F. Drucker will help you to navigate your way to success within a big company and become an effective executive.

He will explain how the effective executive works to support his team, encourages the development of skills among employees, and how that benefits the entire team.

“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”- Peter F. Drucker

Get ready to become the most effective executive with Drucker’s advice.

Key Points

  • The Road to Being an Effective Executive

First things first, effective executives are made not born. Though it might look like they’re naturally good at what they do, it took a lot of work to get there. So, you can do it too!

If you have a management position, you must start to think of it from a different perspective. These positions are not about transforming others, it’s really about transforming yourself, which will then result in you leading by example. Your employees will see what you are doing and mirror it to gain respect and improve their skills.

An effective executive sees the overall picture of what needs to happen in order to be more productive and successful. He also encourages accountability amongst his employees and makes sure that everyone feels a responsibility to the company and to each other.

For example, if an employee makes a mistake, they will own up to it and feel the responsibility to fix it for the sake of the team.

President Harry Truman is a superb effective executive example. When he began his term in 1945, though he wanted to put attention to the issues of the US, he understood that issues oversea needed attention from him more. Truman knew that he had the responsibility to interfere. By, paying attention to the chaos that was happening in Europe, he became known for his effective decisions regarding foreign policy.

But, these decisions only result in outcomes like Truman’s if you are consciously making an effort to improve. You must want to do good for your company and be a role model for your employees.

Performance reviews are a good tool to help you decipher where your downfalls are. For example, you may have a decision bias, which is the habit of taking the loudest and most-discussed option within a decision, rather than looking at the facts and delving deep into the issue.

When you discover your weaknesses during performance reviews, it will help you to delegate jobs to different employees. If you know you are not good with something, it’s best to hand it over to someone who is.

  • Plotting Your Path

Our world is full of organizations. And, learning how to navigate them is the only way we can become successful. It doesn’t matter if you are in an entry-level position or the top of the chain, learning how to be effective is essential.

A lot of people are considered knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are people who are considered specialists. These people work with their minds.

Several examples are…


  1. Marketers
  2. Scientists
  3. Journalists
  4. Teachers
  5. CEOs


Then, there are manual workers. These are people who instead of working with their minds, work with their hands and produce goods.

Several examples are…


  1. Plumbers
  2. Mechanics
  3. Warehouse Workers
  4. Jewelry Makers
  5. Fast Food Workers


Knowledge workers are almost always considered executives. This is because they use their minds to make decisions that ultimately affect a whole company, whether they are on the top of the ladder or not. Making decisions is what being an executive is all about, even if that isn’t your designated title.

It is easier to critique a manual worker’s job because they are creating something that can be easily measured up against a prototype. For example, if a man is building a table, you would easily be able to tell if one of the legs was shorter than the others; the table would lean.

Critiquing an executive’s job is hard. You could count the hours they spent in their office over the week, but you could not tell how effective they really were. It’s harder to measure compared to the table maker who made 50 tables in one week.

Therefore, executives can only be critiqued based on their end results. For example, a marketing campaign; was it successful or wasn’t it? How many people did it draw?

But, it gets even stickier when you add a group of executives together. Most executives, such as a marketing team or an operations team work together. They do not work singly. This is because teams are created to incorporate people with different skills all working toward one objective. This helps to balance the team, as well as, make sure all bases are covered.

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”- Peter F. Drucker

Communication among teams is essential for the success of the company. And, effective executives understand how to properly guide that essential communication throughout the team.

For example, a school needs communication between the different teams in order for the students to get the safe and secure learning environment they deserve. The teachers must talk with the counselors, the principal, and other administration when a child needs extra help.

  • Stand By Your Decisions

Executives are the ones who make decisions in a company. But, before you make a decision, you must ask yourself if this is a decision worth making.

To answer this question, you must first ask yourself two other questions:


  1. What would happen if you didn’t make a decision and you just did nothing?
  2. Would the outcome of your decision outweigh the risk and costs?


It is important to pause on that decision if the answer to the second question is “no” because there would be no point in going forward with a decision if it’ll only make things worse. However, if you answered “yes” feel free to proceed onward with your decision-making.

Effective executives have to pay attention to boundary conditions. These are the conditions that form the decision.

Another great president example is President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. In his campaign, he promised to repair the economy after the Great Depression by using the existing balanced budget. So, the balanced budget was his boundary condition.

But, by the time FDR made it to the presidency the balanced budget had evaporated. He saw his boundary condition disappear before his eyes, so as a superb decision-maker, he made the executive decision to move forward with economic reform, as that was the most feasible plan of action for the country.

Making a decision is difficult. But, moving forward with it is even harder. It takes a lot of courage to follow through with your decision despite criticism from the masses.

Ineffective decisions happen all too often. There are many policies that don’t have actions attached to them. There is no plan. And, as a result, the policy doesn’t go into effect until someone enforces the regulations of the policy.

As an effective executive, you must enforce these new decisions and make sure they are put into action. You must be the one to delegate roles to different employees to help drive out the policy. And, you must take responsibility for the whole decision.

  • How To Make the Right Decisions

Executives are judged by their results. And, that can be a lot of pressure put onto a person.

It’s impossible to predict the outcome, even with your best decision. All you can do is hope that the decision you made is the best solution to the problem at hand.

To help you make the right decision, it is helpful to consider other people’s opinions in comparison to yours. This will help you to become more open-minded and less biased. That’s why it is also helpful to work with all different kinds of people so that you have a pool of differing opinions.

In exchange for their opinions, it’s important to help your employees with their professional development. Great employees are not born, they are made. Companies that encourage self-development in their employees are the most successful.

You must also work to develop yourself, as an executive. And, when making a decision as an effective executive, it’s important to look at your failures and triumphs regarding the outcomes of your past decisions. Feedback is not only essential for your employees but for you, as well.

For example, decisions that take place in big corporations, such as Macy’s or Apple are constantly being reviewed and critiqued. That is how these companies keep being successful.

  • Time is Valuable

There are restraints for every executive, whether it be budget, the number of employees, or rules they must follow. But, there are things you can adjust to help solve issues, such as raising profits in order to be able to hire more employees.

The only thing you can’t change is time. That is why it’s important to use your time efficiently.

Keeping a time diary can help you to understand how much time you are wasting. For example, spending more time making a decision might be valuable because it will outweigh the time needed to clean up the mess of a wrong decision.

It is important to cut out things that kill time. No more executive dinners or obligatory meetings. These are not productive.

Meetings are essential in the workplace, but as an executive, make sure you are only inviting the people who need to be in attendance. You don’t want to waste employee’s time when they could be getting something else done.

Short meetings are sometimes good meetings because they are focused and to the point. Of course, you shouldn’t rush, but long meetings don’t necessarily equal productivity.

  • Focus on Strengths

As an executive, you are not working alone. You must depend on others in the company. This is why it’s essential to tap into your employee’s strengths in order to properly delegate responsibilities.

However, you shouldn’t delegate a job onto another person, unless they are better at the job than you and they have the time and the tools to get it done efficiently. A general rule to follow is, if you are good at the job, do it yourself.

As an effective executive, you have a job too. And, it’s not just to dole out roles to your employees. As an executive, you must find what you can offer to the company and focus on that.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”- Peter F. Drucker

An executive knows that it’s important to have proper communication and cooperation with their boss. Tending to that relationship will only help the company to work as a more productive team.

If your boss doesn’t have to take the time to closely manage you, then time is saved! And, the work environment feels more collaborative to its employees.

A collaborative work environment has its benefits because it clouds individual weaknesses and showcases strengths within the team.

  • New Hires

When looking to hire new people, it’s important that the job descriptions are written clearly. This will help you to attract the right people to your company.

Instead of trying to find one “perfect” employee, you should set your sights on someone who has a flexible skillset who can easily fit in numerous roles.

Understand what exactly it is you need before you send out a job description. You don’t want to end up with someone who fits the description but does not function well within the company.

The most important thing to consider with a new hire is if they can meet the results you need, not if they have a degree behind them.

And, when you find the perfect hire for your company, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and help them to develop further.

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”- Peter F. Drucker

The Main Take-Away

To become an effective leader you must look at your own strengths and weaknesses, delegate roles to employees based on their skills, and work effectively with others in a collaborative environment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *