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Reviewed - The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

I'm always slightly sceptical of the phrase 'timeless' when it comes to management literature, given the infinite variance of people and the situations we find ourselves in. The Effective Executive was described as exactly that by the excellent Manager Tools podcast and I found myself in front of a well know online store ordering a copy.

Overall, it struck me immediately the sparseness and matter of fact nature of the language used by Drucker, although that sparseness expresses the practical nature of the guidance given, starting with managing one's time.

The reality of time is that it is the one thing (on an individual level at least) that you cannot gain more of. Drucker's message is quite bleak at first but the reality of it I will not contest, most executives I know will admit to rarely being able to focus on the critical issues as they are drawn in varied directions to tend to the issues of today, where they may be better served focusing on tomorrow. Indeed that is their primary function. Tracking time to a micro level, I find, is not natural to most. I am vaguely aware of where my time goes on macro level, although I can imagine areas of ineffectiveness lurk which could be righted. Drucker's advice here is well founded, although I believe ideas of slack and long leash learning would be a welcome addition to his time model, even for executives.

It is in the focus on contribution where Drucker's text begins to come alive. Whereas I see most executives focusing on the mechanical process of delivery and management with the  goal of efficiency in mind, Drucker posits that this is sub-optimal. Instead, key concepts and principles should be the domain of the executive, aided by analysis of domain and problem with the aim of results in mind. In particular the question of whether of not an event or problem is a paradigm shift for the organisations, focusing on root causes rather than symptoms.

Another idea which spoke strongly to me is that an executive should seek to utilise a person's strengths, rather than focus on their weakness. As in if a person who has been hired in a management capacity but has a natural aptitude for sales, then use them in that capacity rather than bemoaning their operational shortfalls. As a person with a predominantly practical aspect their personality this appeals to me, as opposed to the long drawn out process of the maintaining the status quo.

Reality (as I in a reality painted by Drucker which I subscribe to) is prevalent within the text. None more so than in its description of enduring leadership, as opposed to the flash of genius leadership. Effective leadership is grounded in determination as few of us possess the brilliance required to effect significant change instantly. Some may see this as another bleak message in a world where we are told anyone can do anything. It is not delivered as such, only the austere thought that if genius were needed everywhere, progress would be slow indeed! Encourage effectiveness so the ordinary can produce extraordinary results was the message I took away. 

Effective decision making is covered in some depth, with a great many useful techniques to take note of and use. The area that struck me most was disagreement. In most organisations, everyone needs to be 'on board' or 'on the same page.' Disagreement is needed to be effective, otherwise we have a danger of making decisions of shallow agreement which do not stand up to serious scrutiny. I have noted that many executive relationships I observe appear to be brittle and don't welcome constructive challenges (not withstanding the non constructive challenges of course). Drucker's argument here resonates in the software development world, where challenge is seen as blockage and being 'the guy that asks awkward questions' is a lonely, lonely place.

All of Drucker's arguments are based on the principle that self-development is the path to effectiveness. Some lessons are learnt easy, others hard but I am in agreement that effectiveness comes from more from within than without. I feel (like Weinberg's Secrets of Consulting), I will learn more from this book with experience, as my own self-development progresses. Lets see how I feel about it in a few years......


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