Skip to main content

How to Read the Effective Executive

Good mentors and coaches ask excellent questions. The best mentors and coaches in my life spend 80% of our meetings asking and prodding and questioning and peering.

This book does just that. It gets into my business and my life and asks me the questions I should be asking myself. Good questions are mirrors to help you see your true self. The remaining 20% of the meeting is actually coaching and teaching.

Good questions are mirrors to help you see your true self.

The best part of this book is those questions hidden in long paragraphs that make you stop and think. In this book, Peter Drucker becomes what all good mentors strive to be – a master questioner. This book, and the questions therein, have the potential to reveal exactly how effective you really are as a worker or leader.

Like most personal development books, there are many anecdotes and stories to supplement his points. Those are hit-or-miss as far as how helpful they are. Ultimately, pay attention to anything that ends in a question mark. You’ll be all the better for it.

Below are some of the key questions and quotes I pulled from the book. Please take the time to go through these and evaluate your own effectiveness.

Key Questions

The main thesis of the book revolves around: “What needs to be done?” Note that the question is not “What do I want to do?”

Is this decision the right thing for the enterprise? Failure to ask this question virtually guarantees the wrong decision.

If you have anyone working under your supervision, these next series of questions are gold! It invites buy-in, gives a voice to the timid, and brings enthusiasm to the people.

For direct reports

  • What should we, at the head of this organization, know about your work?
  • What do you want to tell me regarding this organization?
  • Where do you see opportunities that we do not exploit?
  • Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind?
  • All together, what do you want to know from me about this organization?

On Time…

  • Try to identify and eliminate things that need not be done at all, the things that are purely waste of time without any results whatever. One must ask of all activities on your time-log: “What would happen if this were not done at all?” If the answer is, “Nothing would happen,” then stop doing it.

I have yet to see an executive, regardless of rank or station, who could not consign something like a quarter (25%) of the demands of his or her time to the trash without anybody’s noticing their disappearance.

  • Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?
  • What do I do that wastes others' time without contributing to their effectiveness?

On Contribution…

  • What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and results of the institution I serve?
  • What can I and no one else do which, if done really well, could make a real difference to this company?
  • Ask your colleagues, “What contribution from me do you require to make your contribution to the organization? When do you need this, how do you need it, and in what form?”
  • “What are the contributions for which this organization and I, your superior, should hold you accountable? What should we expect of you? What is the best utilization of your knowledge and your ability?”

On Strength…

Staff to exploit strengths, not avoid weaknesses. Never ask, “How does he get along with me?” The question should be, “What does he contribute?” Not “what can a man not do?” but rather, “What can he do uncommonly well?”

Rules for staffing:

  1. Be on guard against “impossible” jobs–those that look logical on paper but perhaps has defeated two or three men in succession.
  2. Make each job demanding and big. It should have a challenge to bring out whatever strength a  man may have. Jobs also change, so the “perfect fit” soon becomes the misfit.
  3. You must start with what a man can do rather than what a job requires. Arrive at an appraisal of a man before you decide whether he is the right person to fill a bigger position.
    • What has he or she done well?
    • What, therefore, is he likely to be able to do well?
    • What does he have to learn or acquire to be able to get the full benefit from his strength?
    • If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person? Why?
  4. To get strength, know you must put up with weaknesses.

On Decision Making…

  1. Is this a generic situation or an exception? Is this something that underlies a great many occurrences? Or is this occurrence a unique event that needs to be dealt with as such? (Generics always has to be answered through a rule, a principle.)
  2. Specifically, what must the decision accomplish? What are the objectives the decision has to reach? What are the minimum goals it has to attain? What are the conditions it has to satisfy?
  3. What is right, rather than what is acceptable (let alone who is right)? Someone has to compromise, but without answering #2 you’ll make the wrong compromise.
  4. Convert the decisions into actions. Who has to know of this decision? What action has to be taken? Who is to take it? What does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it and can do it?
  5. Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide continuous testing, against actual events, the expectations that underlie the decision.

The Five Pillars of the Effective Executive

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes.
  2. They focus on outward contribution.
  3. They build on strengths, not accommodate for weaknesses.
  4. They focus on areas that bring outstanding results.
  5. They make effective decisions.

Key Quotes from the Effective Executive

If one cannot increase the supply of a resource (e.g. time), one must increase its yield. And effectiveness is the one tool to make the resources of ability and knowledge yield more and better results.

The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase, “top management.” He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole.

An organization that just perpetuates today’s level of vision, excellence, and accomplishment has lost the capacity to adapt. It will not be capable of survival in a changed tomorrow. See Blockbuster, Toys R Us, etc.

To tolerate – indeed to encourage – diversity, differences in temperament and personality, relationships must be task-focused rather than personality-focused. The question should be “What is right?” not “Who is right?”

People who get nothing done often work a great deal harder.