# 76: Effectiveness and Strengths

Drucker, Peter F. (2004/1967). The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, 23–24.

Story behind the Passage

There is hardly any need to talk about Drucker when introducing my passage today. That is partly because Drucker needs no introduction and partly because I talk about him so often. Just yesterday I mentioned him to a client of mine who told me that he is studying Political Science now. He was not so sure that this would help him much in his executive position but he likes doing something that is not closely related to his day job. And that is when I mentioned Drucker to tell him that Political Science can actually help him a lot. Drucker studied Law but to me, he has always been a political scientist ‘consultant.’ The way in which he analyzed institutions always involved a political science perspective; including philosophy.

The Effective Executive might seem like the complete opposite of big-picture analysis. It probably is. Still, it is 100% Peter Drucker. The way he wrote and thought about management is so clear and concise — he is walking the talk in his writing. Yes, I know it is dangerous to praise someone so much, especially since he was considered a “guru” of management. To me, he is simply one of the greatest humanists who ever lived and worked inside and outside academia. Sure, people can argue that he never worked as a manager himself. But that exactly allowed him to make the observations he made. He could only do so, I think, because he was so fascinated by human behavior.

Instead of picking just one or three sentences to discuss in detail, I just HAVE to briefly talk about all five points mentioned above. I am so much into problem-solving and entrepreneurial learning these days that every single word resonates with me. I will limit myself to a few major points but the real point I am trying to make with all this is that effectiveness is something that is gaining so much importance again that it actually thrills me very much. There is hardly anything more exciting to me than learning how to become more effective. And there is much room for improvement, especially for people like me who still tend to think too much before taking action.

My Learnings

“1. Effective executives know where their time goes.” This might sound so managerial to some. But from my experience, it does NOT mean that effective executives automatically have little time. On the contrary, the people who are not effective and do not consider themselves executives are usually the ones who have no time. The latter group always gives me the feeling that they are being pushed to do stuff they do not really want to do. Since this stresses them so much, they have this habit of postponing conversations. Really, it is true. If I ask a very busy executive if we can briefly discuss an issue on the phone soon, that executive usually finds a slot in the current or upcoming week. If I ask a scholar or some other ‘non-executive,’ I usually get a suggestion to talk in three weeks or even a month. The difference is: knowing where your time goes really also means you are steering where your time goes. With people who actually want to get stuff done, conversations that are about specific problems to be solved or steps to be implemented often get priority.

“2. … They gear their efforts to results rather than to work.” I just wish that all my colleagues in academia read this sentence.

“3. Effective executives build on strengths….” This is THE most crucial sentence for me. It does not apply to executives only — by far not. Building on one’s strengths is a life decision to me. It is the ultimate compass to decision making, I think. Maybe I am just lazy but to me this is the only explanation why I ever got some major projects done. Actually, I chose these projects in the first place because they met my strengths. Maybe it was also because I used to be a perfectionist in the past and therefore only chose tasks that at least gave me the illusion that I could achieve my unrealistic goal. Whatever it was, I intuitively made all major decisions in my life in order to allocate more time for pursuing my strengths. At the same time, I become quite impatient, even annoyed, if some circumstances force me to do stuff that runs counter to my strengths.

“4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.” This aspect might appear so asshole-like to some. Yes, if interpreted from a sceptical position, it can be read like: “You find some big nuggets of gold, polish them and they outshine everything else. Others work hard by turning every stone, cleaning all the tiny rocks and maybe even ending up with more gold than the one with the few big nuggets. Still, the results of the first one stand out. Yes, maybe it is only me even seeing this critical perspective. Still, this statement is true. The most important confirmation that it works is that especially people who manage organizations in times of crisis get to rise. They know that there is hardly any other situation that requires such an outstanding performance with results that are immediately visible.

“5. … What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions.” Leadership is all about decision making. Even though Drucker talks about effective managers in this book, the decision-making aspect does not differ that much from leadership. Actually, for me, it was quite funny to notice in the past year how crucial decision making is as a concept. Just last week someone told me about a similar experience. I am not saying that I am the most effective person. Still, what I know from myself is that people like this often have trouble with micro decisions, e.g., which yogurt to buy or shirt to wear. But when it comes to buying a house or quitting a job, they have little trouble. This is exactly the behavior I know from myself. I know how fundamental these decisions are — in a positive sense. They really trigger tangible change.

What strikes me so much when going through all these points and all the writings of Drucker is the timeless relevance of this wisdom. I am convinced that only people who have practiced these ‘techniques’ really see how much truth there is in all of them. But again, as Drucker rightly points out on the page before, just knowing about them does not help at all. To me, this is actually the most motivating and exciting part — you can always get better without any outside pressure. If you really stick to the points above, effectiveness is joy, not struggle, because you keep building on your strengths.

“Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned. Practices are simply, deceptively so; even a seven-year-old has no difficulty in understanding a practice. But practices are always exceedingly hard to do well. They have to be acquired… Practices one learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again.” — Drucker 23

Reflection Questions

1) Do you like the term “effectiveness”? Why/not?

2) How much work time can you devote to applying and practicing your strengths?

3) Which of the five points above helps you most to become more effective?