Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: The Effective Executive

I read The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker because it was highly recommend on the Manager Tools podcast.  Despite what its name may imply, it isn’t written to company executives.  Instead, Drucker defines an executive as anyone with decision making ability.  This certainly includes all managers within a modern technology company and most of the frontline staff as well.  Drucker outlines 4 major areas of concentration for becoming more effective.

The first is your time.  Here the advice boils down to measuring where you spend it.  Time is the one thing everyone has in the same quantity and you can’t get any more of it.  If you want to make effective use of your time, know where you spend it.

Once you know where you spend your time, how do you decide where to apply it?  The next piece of advice involves making a contribution.  Determine where you can most make a unique contribution to the organization and spend your time there.  Ask yourself, “What can I contribute?”  For the rest, try to delegate to others.  Set the bar high and determine what active contribution the position should be making.

Next up is building on your strengths.  This is very similar to Now, Discover Your Strengths.  Drucker advocates hiring and rewarding people for their strengths, not their weaknesses.  I think he dismisses weaknesses a bit too cavalierly.  A significant weakness can overwhelm someone’s strengths.  It can make others view them negatively which can create a negative feedback loop.  However, his advice to focus hiring on strengths instead of a lack of weakness is on point.  People will accomplish a lot more in their area of strength than in a place where they are merely not weak.

Finally, Drucker talks about making effective decisions.  Toward this end he recommends concentrating on only one thing.  Have one focused initiative at a time.  Clearly define what the “boundary conditions” are.  By this he means understanding the specifications the decision must satisfy.  Build action into the decision.  A decision without action has no impact.  Measure the effectiveness of the decision.  This ensures not only that the decision was right, but that it stays right.  He also dedicates a whole chapter to making decisions not between right and wrong but between two courses of action neither of which is clearly right or wrong.  His advice here is essentially, argue both sides.  Don’t make the mistake of jumping on an early decision.  Instead, thoroughly vet each of the alternatives.

Overall I found this a good book.  Perhaps not as good as the hype, but useful.  I found myself doubting the reviews during the first part of the book.  The advice seemed solid, but obvious.  The second part which discussed decision making, however, was much more useful.  I truly enjoy the last three chapters.

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