I recently finished Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. It was a great read that provided a rigorous and well-reasoned understanding of knowledge work, which comprises the majority of new careers today.

Several things I took away from this book:

1. Five key habits of effective executives:


  1. Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.
  2. 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?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths — their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.” And they know that 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 razzle-dazzle tactics.

2. Knowledge work as differentiated from manufacturing work


Moreover, because knowledge work cannot be measured the way manual work can, one cannot tell a knowledge worker in a few simple words whether he is doing the right job and how well he is doing it. One can say to a manual worker, “our work standard calls for fifty pieces an hour, and you are only turning out forty-two.” One has to sit down with a knowledge worker and think through with him what should be done and why, before one can even know whether he is doing a satisfactory job or not. And this is time-consuming.

They do not come in the proper size and shape for the tasks that have to be done in organization — and they cannot be machined down or recast for these tasks. People are always “almost fits” at best. To get the work done with people (and no other resource is available) therefore requires lots of time, thought, and judgment.

3. Who is an executive?


  • Every knowledge worker — managers or individual professionals — in modern organisation is an executive if they are expected by the virtue of their position or their knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have significant impact on the performance and results of the whole.
  • He must take responsibility for his contribution.
  • He is supposed, by virtue of his knowledge, to be better equipped to make the right decision than any one else.
  • Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is defined by its costs. It is defined by its results.

4. Elements of executing a good decision


Converting the decision into action is the fifth major element in the decision process… Converting a decision into action requires answering several distinct questions:

  1. Who has to know of this decision?
  2. What action has to be taken?
  3. Who is to take it?
  4. What does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it?.. The action must also be appropriate to the capacities of the people who have to carry it out…This action commitment becomes doubly important when people have to change their behavior, habits, or attitudes if a decision is to become effective. Here, the executive must make sure not only that the responsibility for the action is clearly assigned, but that the people assigned are capable of carrying it out. Thus the decision maker has to make sure that the measurements, the standards for accomplishment, and the incentives of those charged with the action responsibility are changed simultaneously. Otherwise, the organization people will get caught in a paralyzing internal emotional conflict.
  5. The first and the last of these questions are too often overlooked—with dire results. A story that has become a legend among operations researchers illustrates the importance of the question, “Who has to know?”

5. What can I uniquely contribute?


In this case, I realized that the vast majority of notes in this book have been taken down, commented on, and organized by several other excellent readers. My focus then is to highlight my emphases, and applications. Reading is the leading indicator, and action the lagging indicator, but ultimately the lagging indicator is the only thing that matters.