A Founder's Notebook

Five key takeaways from Peter Drucker’s “How To Be An Effective Executive”

In his book How To Be An Effective Executive, Peter Drucker identifies five key habits of effective executives:

1. Manage time. Use a three-step process: (i) Track your time use, and eliminate time wasters. (ii) Delegate by identifying tasks which can be done equally well by someone else. (iii) Don’t waste the time of those who work for you or with you. Ask: “What do I do which wastes your time?”.

2. Focus on contribution. Ask yourself what you can contribute that will significantly affect the performance of your company. If you don’t ask this, you’ll aim too low or at the wrong things. Look to contribute in three areas: (i) Direct results. (ii) Building and re-affirming values. (iii) Building and developing people for tomorrow.

3. Build on strengths. To “staff for strength”: (i) Make sure all jobs are designed well. Identify any job that has defeated two or three people in succession and get rid of it. (ii) Make each job demanding and big, as a challenge brings out strengths. (iii) Start with what a person can do, rather than what a job requires. Ask what a person has done well, and therefore what they are likely to do well in future. That includes yourself. (iv) Tolerate weaknesses.

4. Concentrate time, effort and resources. Do first things first, and only one thing at a time. Embrace the opposite of multi-tasking. Allow a fair margin of time over what you think you’ll need, and don’t race. Say “no” due to courage, not analysis, by picking the future over the past, focusing on opportunities not problems, choosing your own direction rather than the norm, and aiming high.

5. Make effective decisions. Decisions are made well when based on the clash of conflicting views. Encourage opinions rather than seeking out facts, as those who give you opinions should provide the facts. Know what you need to know to test the validity of a hypothesis. Organize disagreement, for example by identifying why people disagree.

(1) Here’s an excellent video review of the book which presents these points. And here’s another written summary.
(2) On time management, see: Do the most important stuff first thing in the morning.
(3) On “build on strengths”, see: The two factors which determine how successful and happy you will be at work.