The Effective Executive


“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”  – Peter F. Drucker


Lessons learned: Time is our most limited resource. Search for strength, not the absence of weakness. Do the first things first.


To become an effective executive one has to look no further, The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker is a timeless masterpiece that perfectly describes the key components to becoming an effective executive. The first lesson may be the most important, that anyone can become an effective executive. Becoming one is not reserved for the few people who seem to have a tendency to lead, it is a skill that can be learned to anyone willing to learn it. Throughout his seminal book, Drucker uses plain language and simple & elegant rules of thumb to learn these skills to you – the reader. He ends the book with the conclusion that everyone should learn effectiveness, the book is highly recommended.

After explaining why effectiveness can be learned (and stating that it has little to do with intelligence or knowledge), the book focuses on time. Here Drucker proposes three steps to effective time management:

  1. Record time
  2. Manage time
  3. Consolidate time

The first states that we should record our time (or let your secretary do it for you). You will be surprised to find out where you are spending your time and how much of your agenda is dictated by others. Time is our most unique resource and managing it is, therefore, the second step. Think of where you can best spend your time (urgency versus importance – Eisenhower Matrix) and which activities you can best eliminate. Step three is to consolidate time, to set aside large, continuous, and uninterrupted units of time. This allows you to study a problem, to go through a large document, to work on a presentation – i.e. to really think! Using these three steps you can make sure that every minute counts!

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


Latter chapters are concerned with contributing to the right things. The first question you need to ask yourself is “Where can I contribute?”, where it is that you can be the most effective. In working with other people you have to ask where they can best contribute, i.e. “What are my colleagues’ strengths?”. In the fifth chapter Drucker explains a lesson (repeated endlessly by management guru’s and alike), to put the first things first. As an executive you will be asked to make decisions, this is, in essence, the thing that separates you from ‘non-executives’. The book offers you five elements of effective decision making:

  1. See that the problem is generic and can be solved by a principle
  2. Defining the specifications the problem needs to satisfy, the boundary conditions
  3. Before thinking about compromises, adaptations, etc., think first of what is right
  4. Build into the decision the actions needed to carry it out
  5. Test the validity and effectiveness of the decision with feedback

After reading The Effective Executive you should be convinced that effectiveness can be learned. Although the lessons are simple and the examples seem to speak for themselves, applying them will prove to be difficult. This is not because of any hidden complexity, it is because of the ‘lazy’ nature of us humans. Recording your time is as easy as it gets, sticking to it for months and analysing it, very difficult to maintain (see Triggers). Whilst The Effective Executive lacks advice in this area (try The Power of Habit) it does deliver what it promises. If you are serious about becoming an effective executive, this should be next on your list!



The Book:

The Effective Executive – Peter F. Drucker – ISBN-10: 0060833459 – ISBN-13: 978-0060833459

More on The Effective Executive – Lessons from The Effective Executive – HBR article by Peter F. Drucker – Quotes from The Effective Executive