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Littler Books cover of The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done Summary

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done Book Summary, Notes, and Quotes

Peter F. Drucker

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What it's about in a one sentence summary:

A seminal management book that provides strategies for managing time, leveraging strengths, and making decisions to become a more impactful professional.

Bullet Point Summary, Notes, and Quotes

  1. The executive's job is to be effective. Being effective means getting the right things done.
  2. Any knowledge worker (whose work primarily requires using their brain, not their body) can become an effective executive, regardless of their title. If you make decisions that impact the organization, then you're an executive.
  3. Leaders need to be effective to set the right example for their teams.
  4. The effectiveness of knowledge workers is measured by results, not by hours or quantity.
  5. Effectiveness is like a habit, it can be practiced and learned.
  6. “Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.”
  7. There are five habits/practices of an effective executive:
    1. Know thy time: “They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.”
    2. What can I contribute: “They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, 'What results are expected of me?' rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.”
    3. Making strengths productive: “Effective executives build on strengths -- their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.”
    4. First things first: “Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first -- and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.”
    5. Effective decisions: “They know that this is, above all, a matter of system -- of the right steps in the right sequence. They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on 'dissenting opinions' rather than on 'consensus on the facts.' And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.”
  8. Know thy time. Time is a limiting factor. Unlike other resources, you cannot buy more time.
  9. To be more effective with your time:
    1. Record where your time actually goes.
    2. Cut unproductive demands on your time
    3. Consolidate your discretionary time into the largest possible continuing units.
  10. Prolonged, uninterrupted periods of discretionary time are much more productive than shorter, sporadic periods of time, even if the total duration of the shorter periods is longer.
  11. Eliminate tasks that do not need to be done. Ask “What would happen if this were not done at all?”
  12. Delegate where possible. Ask “Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?”
  13. Avoid wasting others' time. Ask others “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?”
  14. Organizational time-loss often occurs from:
    1. Lack of system or foresight. A symptom of this is when the same crisis repeats.
    2. Overstaffing. If the organization is too big, people spend more time “interacting” rather than working.
    3. Malorganization. Its symptom is too many meetings. Meetings should never be the main demand of an executive's time.
    4. Bad or ineffective information transfer. Communication needs to be improved.
  15. “A well-managed factory is boring. Nothing exciting happens in it because the crises have been anticipated and have been converted into routine.”
  16. “Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization for one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”
  17. Try consolidating more discretionary time by:
    1. Working at home one day a week
    2. Set mornings aside for important work
  18. Effective executives continuously estimate their discretionary time and refine their time management periodically.
  19. Effective executives set deadlines.
  20. What can I contribute? Concentrate on results, not on effort. Take responsibility for the results.
  21. Every organization needs performance in results, values (and their reaffirmation), and the development of its future members.
  22. Executives have strong human relation skills not due to innate talent, but because they focus on making productive contributions through their work and relationships. True "good human relations" is defined by emphasis on productivity, not surface-level warmth. Substantive achievements, not just pleasant words, are what truly matter in these work-focused relationships.
  23. Set high demands of yourself and your team.
    1. “People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves.”
  24. To have an effective meeting, be prepared. Know its purpose and have an expected result. At the end of the meeting, return to the purpose and state the conclusion.
  25. “The oft-repeated quip, 'I'm sorry to write you a long letter, as I did not have time to write a short one,' could be applied to meetings: 'I'm sorry to imprison you in this long meeting, as I did not have time to prepare a short one.'”
  26. Making strengths productive. Hire people based on their strengths, not on their lack of weaknesses. To hire based on strength means you need to tolerate weaknesses.
  27. Cultivate an attitude and culture to perform, not just to please superiors.
  28. Staff for opportunities, not problems. This creates the most effective organization, it also creates enthusiasm and dedication.
  29. Executives must make personnel decisions based on objective measures of performance and contribution, rather than personality, as this impersonal fairness is essential for retaining top talent.
  30. “There is no such thing as a ‘good man.' Good for what? is the question.”
  31. A job should be:
    1. Well designed. Redesign if it defeats two or three competent employees in succession.
    2. Big and demanding. It should be challenging to bring out the best in people and produce significant results.
    3. Be what one can do rather than the job requirements.
  32. To appraise someone, try asking the following:
    1. “What has she done well? What, therefore, is she likely to be able to do well?”
    2. “What does she have to learn or to acquire to be able to get the full benefit from her strength?”
    3. “If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person? Why or why not?”
  33. Executives must remove any underperforming employees, especially managers, as their continued presence corrupts and demoralizes the entire organization. Allowing inadequate individuals to remain is not only unfair to the team and the company, but also cruel to the employee themselves, who inevitably suffers under the strain of a role they cannot fulfill.
  34. The effective executive focuses on leveraging the strengths of their boss, rather than dwelling on their limitations. They ask of their superiors:
    1. “What can my boss do really well? What has he done really well?”
    2. “What does he need to know to use his strength?”
    3. “What does he need to get from me to perform?”
  35. The effective executive recognizes their own unique strengths, and builds on them to maximize their personal productivity and impact, rather than trying to be someone they're not.
    1. Ask “What are the things that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?”
  36. First things first. The secret to effectiveness is concentration.
    1. “Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”
  37. Constantly ask of all activities, “Is this still worth doing?” Eliminate everything that's not an unequivocal “yes.”
  38. “The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder.”
  39. “DuPont has been doing so much better than any other of the world's large chemical companies largely because it abandons a product or a process before it begins to decline.”
  40. The rules for picking priorities are more based on courage than on analysis:
    1. “Pick the future as against the past.”
    2. “Focus on opportunity rather than on problem.”
    3. Choose your own direction, don't just follow.
    4. Aim high to make a difference, don't just do things that are safe.
  41. “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem -- which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.”
  42. Effective executives do not make a large number of decisions, but rather focus on a few critical, high-impact decisions. They make these decisions on the highest level of conceptual understanding.
  43. Speed in decision-making is not as important as diligence and soundness.
  44. The elements of the effective decision process:
    1. Determine if a situation is generic, requiring a principle or rule based response, or exceptional, requiring a unique response.
    2. Clearly defining the objectives, minimum goals, and the conditions a decision must satisfy (boundary conditions).
    3. Decisions should be based on what is truly right, not just what is acceptable. Compromises are inevitable but the right compromise must be identified.
    4. Converting a decision into specific, assigned action steps is essential, as a decision is not truly made until it has become someone's responsibility to carry it out.
    5. Feedback mechanisms must be built in to continuously test decisions against reality (with data), as even the best decisions can be fallible or become obsolete over time.
  45. “Converting a decision into action requires answering several distinct questions: Who has to know of this decision? What action has to be taken? Who is to take it? And what does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it? The first and the last of these are too often overlooked -- with dire results.”
  46. “All military services have long ago learned that the officer who has given an order goes out and sees for himself whether it has been carried out… Not that he distrusts the subordinate; he has learned from experience to distrust communications.”
  47. An example of how boundary conditions help to make tough decisions: The New York Times once delayed distribution for nearly an hour arguing over the proper hyphenation of a single word, as upholding their strict standards of grammatical perfection was a non-negotiable boundary condition. While seemingly trivial, this decision was justified because it aligned with their established and respected editorial guidelines, even if it came at the cost of getting fewer copies to market on time.
  48. Effective executives recognize that decision-making begins with opinions, not facts. They then guide the group to identify the key information required to rigorously test the validity of these hypotheses/opinions, ensuring the people who proposed the initial opinions also take responsibility for gathering the necessary supporting evidence.
  49. Effective decision-making requires disagreements, as good decisions are made when based on the choice between alternative judgments.
  50. Successful executives do not rely on intuition, but rather emphasize testing opinions against facts, and intentionally cultivate disagreement to ensure they fully understand the decision at hand.
  51. Disagreements help to avoid being trapped by organizational biases, ensure viable alternatives are considered, and stimulate creative thinking.
  52. The effective executive first considers whether a decision is actually necessary, as the alternative of doing nothing can sometimes be the right choice.
  53. For decisions that fall between action or inaction, of which there will be many, the executive should:
    1. “Act if on balance the benefits greatly outweigh cost and risk.”
    2. “Act or do not act; but do not 'hedge' or compromise.”

The Effective Executive: Resources