5 Habits of Effective Executives

Peter Drucker is widely regarded as the most influential writers on the subject of management theory and practice. He correctly advocated that the foundation of effective management is the management of oneself. One of his most influential books on the topic is “The Effective Executive” in which Drucker discusses the five essential practices that are hallmarks of effective executives. The book was first published in 1967 and has been in print ever since.

Effectiveness is about getting the right things done. Effectiveness is about organising your life so that you accomplish those things that are important.

In The Effective Executive Drucker argues that effectiveness is a skill that can be learned. Effectiveness is not style or personality, rather a set of practices. These practices can be learnt, just like riding a bike. No one is born learning to ride a bike, but through practice and perseverance its a skill that can be learnt by all. Drucker notes that all effective executives had to learn to be effective and had to practice effectiveness until it became a habit.

This is a powerful book on what makes an effective executive, one I highly recommend. The most important five habits of effective executives are are discussed below.

1. Effective executives know where their time goes

“Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.” – Peter Drucker

The first step to becoming effective is to know how we spend our time. We become effective by valuing and managing our time. Time is our scarcest resource, not money, people or ideas, but time. We can choose to spend our time in a manner that gets results or we can waste it away.

“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.“ – Peter Drucker

Effective executives don’t start planing without first understanding how their time is being spent. Understanding how executives spend their time helps to know where to reduce the amount to unproductive activities and demands of their time. This frees up time to focus on creating blocks of discretionary time for focused work on strategic concerns.

Effective executives carefully and continuously analyse and manage how they spend their time. Time is a scarce resource and unless this resource is effectively managed nothing else can be effectively managed. The following four steps provide an approach to help getting your time under control:

1. Track how you are actually spending your time. It’s not important what method you use, the important aspect is understanding how your time is being invested. No one knows where their time really goes until they write it down. What do you do that consumes your time without producing results? Executive time is often wasted in the following ways:

  • Lack of planning
  • Lack of a system to deal with reoccurring issues
  • Too many meetings and unnecessary discussions
  • Lack of information or information is in the wrong format
  • Over staffing causing things to take longer than is necessary

2. Eliminate those activities that are not delivering results, those things that do not need to be done and are merely wasting time.

3. Delegate those tasks on your time log that can be done better by someone else.

4. Consolidate time by carving our chunks of uninterrupted time to work on important concerns that cannot be done by anyone else.

Effective executives know where there time goes and work to ensure their time is spend in accordance with their top priorities.

2. Effective executives focus on contribution and results

“Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?’” – Peter Drucker

Effective executives focus on results, not activities and effort. It’s easy to get bogged down with the daily flow of events that we forgot why we are doing what we’re doing. They ask what their contribution and results should be. What can you do to contribute to the organisation and make it more successful? Executives have clarity concerning their contribution and results.

With clarity concerning contribution allow executive to focus on those few things that produce the greatest results. They don’t react to the work in from of them, they don’t allow the flow of event to determine their agenda, instead  effective executives set priorities and do first things first and second things not at all. They focus on what’s really important, that is their contribution and results.

3. Effective executives build on strengths

“Effective executives build on strengths – their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that on what they can do. They do not build on weaknesses. They  do not start out with the things they cannot do.” – Peter Drucker

Organisations and teams are more effective when people contribute according to their strengths. Don’t worry about a persons weaknesses, unless they are negatively impacting results, weaknesses are largely irrelevant. Effective executives use peoples’ strengths and don’t worry about their weaknesses. We all have weaknesses, people with great strengths tend to have great weaknesses. To get strengths requires we manage and work around weaknesses.

Organisations are created to amplify and utilise strengths of people to compete in the marketplace. Weaknesses are only of consequence if they hinder you from exercising your strengths.

Effective executives build on the strengths of their leaders, peers and their teams. This means that they judge people according to their strengths and what they do well. A focus on trying to get people to to many things well results in mediocrity. The goal is not to develop generalists. Rather it’s to develop and leverage the strengths within a team.

Effective executives know how to identify the strengths of people and apply them effectively within the team and organisation. This requires matching the job to the strengths of the team. Guiding team members in the use of their strengths to make the best contribution to the organisation. This requires executives to hire for great strengths and not to hire for lack of weaknesses. Hire people with the goal maximising an organisation or teams strengths.

We all have a few things that we are great at doing and when we focus on improving what we are already great at we become more effective, this increases our impact. Don’t turn yourself into a mediocre generalist, trying to be all things to all people, instead, delegate what you’re not good as and focus on your attention on what you are good at.

4. Effective executives concentrate on 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.” – Peter Drucker

Getting things done is not sufficient instead executives must focus on getting the right things done. They understand what’s important and focus on getting that done. Effective executives focus on doing first things first. They concentrate on one thing at a time with discipline and focus. Effective executives prioritise and focus on a few major areas that will produce significant results. Executives are expected to get the right things done. They focus on first things first and not do second things at all. The executive asks what needs to get done and in what order of importance.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organisation, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.” – Peter Drucker

Solving problems is a never ending endeavour, just when you’ve solved one problem another raises its head seeking attention. Soon we find ourselves stuck in a never ending loop of problem solving and this is not an effective way to go about delivering results. A focus on solving problems is a great way to maintain the status quo and a blunt instrument in supporting the creation of results. Executives need to shift their focus to opportunities as a way to create a new future. A focus on opportunities is the only way to contribute and drive results. The organisation and teams biggest strengths must be focused on major opportunities this is the best way to generate results.

The effective executive strives for that which will make a difference rather than that which is safe. Effective executives focus on opportunities rather than the problems. They think about what opportunities you can leverage to shape the future rather than solving a problem rooted in the past.

5. Effective executives make effective decisions

“Effective executives, finally, make 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 judgement based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts”. And they know 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 the razzle-dazzle tactics.” – Peter Drucker

Effective executives consider the following guidelines when making effective decisions:

  • Seeking dissenting opinion. Effective executives approach decisions by seeking dissenting opinions rather than seeking consensus. This is because fast decisions are the quickest route to poor decisions. The best decisions are made after full consideration of multiple viewpoints.
  • Make decisions actionable. The toughest part of making a decision is getting it implemented. Until decisions are acted upon, it’s not a decision, merely a good intention. Effective decisions build in the actions required for the decision to be executed. This means decisions require an owner, a deadline, an understanding of those affected by the decision, who needs to approve the decision and who needs to be informed.
  • Set decision boundary conditions. Do not make decision based on what is acceptable. You will need to compromise in the end. Don’t start with the compromise, start with what’s right. Effective executives clearly define the principles or boundary conditions that the decision must satisfy. Boundary conditions and principles helps the executive think through what is right, before making any compromises to get the decision accepted and implemented.
  • Effective decisions are based on facts. When making a decision you’re making a judgement call not a choice between right and wrong. It’s a judgement call on different courses of action. This requires decisions to be supported by facts rather than opinions.

In Summary

The first step on the road to effective leadership is the decision to take responsibility for managing oneself. This book provides an excellent foundation for leadership effectiveness – to help focus on doing the right things. Effectiveness is a habit that we all need to learn and the above five practices described by Peter Drucker provide a base set of practices that underpin leadership effectiveness.

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