Book Review


effective-executivePeter F. Drucker’s The Effective Executive is one of the best-known, oft-cited books on management ever written.  Since it’s publication in 1967, it has transformed regular managers into effective executives by answering the question, “What makes an effective executive?” The book is filled with insights and perspective and is still just as applicable today, 40 years later.

Here are 12 lessons in effectiveness I learned from The Effective Executive.

1. Do What Needs to Be Done

“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?'” (page XII)

It’s not good enough for you, the effective executive, to get things done. You must also get the right things done.  By looking at the needs of the business, you have to determine where your contributions will make the largest impact, and  then execute, delivering for the business what needed to be delivered.

The truly fortunate, and effective executives are those who can answer both of the above questions with the same answer.  If what needs to be done matches what you want to do, you’ve found the work that is right for you.

2. Exploit Opportunities

“Problem solving does not produce results.  It prevents damage.  Exploiting opportunities produces results.” (page XVIII)

When you are trying to determine what needs to be done, you should look for opportunities, not problems.  Problems can usually be solved through delegation, but opportunities require the know-how of the effective executive to be fully leveraged.

The key is often to be able to distinguish between a true opportunity and a problem that through corporate speak is being called an “opportunity.”  A broken copier is not an “opportunity” to get a new copier, it’s a problem to be solved.  Creating a new part that prevents the copier from breaking down is an opportunity (if you work in the copier-making business) that could be exploited to create a new, more durable copier.

3. Direct Yourself

“The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail.  He can only be helped.  But he must direct himself, and he must direct himself toward performance and contribution, that is, toward effectiveness.” (page 4)

If you are an executive, you can’t be told what to do.  If you can be, the person telling you what to do is an executive, not you. You can only be assisted in finding out what needs to be done; everything else is up to you.

That is why it’s so important you are effective, because it is your job to be and no one can do it for you.  Take ownership of your work and direct yourself to success by focusing on opportunities and doing what needs to be done.

4. Develop Practices for Effectiveness

“Effectiveness is a habit.” (page 23)

The ability to be effective is really just the use of efficient practices.  Consistent use of these practices become habits, and these habits lead to effectiveness.

That means there’s no massive undertaking you must complete in order to be effective, just small, daily practices that when added up over time equal being effective.  “You are what you repeatedly do…”

5.Manage Your Time

“Everything requires time.  It is the one truly universal condition.” (page 26)

The most important thing you can manage is not people or budgets, but time.  Depending on your role, you may need to manage people or budgets, but you will always have to manage your time.  And what you do with that time determines how effective you are.

Time management must be conscious for time is a non-renewable resource.  You must make choices about what you will and won’t do, knowing that every decision you make has the cost of time associated with it.

6. Focus on Contribution

“The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness.” (page 52)

To be effective, get in the habit of asking yourself “What can I contribute?”  Whether it’s in a meeting, during a crisis, or when responding to email, ask yourself this question and you’ll be working as effectively as possible.

By focusing on the work you can do, and not the power you’re supposed to have, or whether or not it’s in your job description, you weed out the unnecessary and make room for the effective.  You also recognize what you can’t do, and through delegation with an emphasis on contribution, you make others effective with you.  It’s not about getting something done, it’s about getting the right things done.

7. Organize for Excellence

“The test of organization is not genius.  It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.” (page 80)

As an executive, you are part of an organization, either as a leader or an integral part of it.  That organization’s task is to help ordinary individuals achieve extraordinary results.

To achieve excellence, you must look to leverage people’s strengths, not try to fix their weaknesses.  You could try to teach Joe Montana to throw left-handed, but why? Staffing from strength is taking advantage of the talent you have to build an effective organization.

8. Desire Greatness

“To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.” (page 87)

Having confidence in yourself and your decisions is vital to becoming an effective executive.  An unsure person wavers on decisions and second-guesses their actions, but an effective executive is constantly moving forward.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be humble or admit mistakes, but that you focus on what you can actually change or do.  Dwelling on past mistakes is not actionable.  And you know that even if you have made mistakes in the past, you have the know-how and capacity to make up for them and still obtain incredible results.

9. Concentrate Your Efforts

“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.” (page 100)

Multi-tasking may be the norm these days, but it is single-tasking that makes you effective.  You have far more to-do than can reasonably be done, and the fastest way to get from one task to another is to focus on that one thing until it is completed.

By setting priorities, as well consciously choosing what not to do, you’ll also know that the single item you are working on is the most important contribution you can be making right now.

10. Be Courageous

“Scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.” (page 111)

When you are deciding on which tasks to focus, choose the one that will have the biggest impact and will make a difference.  Often times this will take courage as the biggest opportunities come with the biggest perceived risk.  But your job as an effective executive is not to play it safe or maintain the status quo, it is to strive for excellence.

Concentrating your contributions to those opportunities that can make a difference makes all the difference in your level of effectiveness.  The Fortune 500 favors the bold.

11. Decide Sparingly

“An executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.” (page 129)

Well managed organizations are “boring” because few crises occur and “fire drills” are limited to actual test of a building’s fire system.  That’s because as an effective executive, you have to create a set of rules or processes that manages for the predictable occurrences.  If you are constantly making decisions, it’s because you haven’t looked at the big picture and established guidelines.

If something out of the ordinary does arise, or circumstances change, you should make the decision that is both best for the situation and that can be reapplied again if necessary.  Making the same decision twice is redundant, inefficient and redundant.

12. Learn to be Effective

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.” (page 166)

Effectiveness is not like a subject in school that can be taught from a textbook.  It is a self-discipline that must be learned over time and through experience.  The guidelines provided by Drucker certainly help you in the right direction, but you must ultimately direct yourself.

You will make mistakes.  There will be things you could do better.  But if you follow these guidelines you’ll be on the path towards success, and to becoming an effective executive.

Let me know what you learned The Effective Executive.  Still haven’t read the “definitive guide to getting the right things done?” Pick it up at The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.

7_habits The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey has become one of the best selling books in the realm of Personal Development.  With over 15 million copies sold, the seven habits (be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win/win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw) have helped many people focus on what’s most important to them.  Though not directly pertaining to humor in the workplace, the book does help you understand how to create a sense of work/life balance.

Buy It Now

Stephen R. Covey gives us The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Well I give you 7 Things I Learned from 7 Habits (that aren’t just the 7 habits).  If you can, try to read this post in 7 minutes, then share it with 7 friends and drink a 7-up.

1. “To know and not to do is really not to know.”
Knowledge is useless until you act on it.  It’s not enough to know something, you have to turn that knowledge into action.

2. “We are responsible for our own lives.”
What a scary thought, huh?  We are the ones responsible for how our lives turn out, we determine what we do and how we act, so why not make it more fun and exciting?

3. “It is possible to be busy–very busy–without being very effective.”
Or as Peter Drucker said in The Effective Executive: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”  We need to be effective.

4. “If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.”
In improv this is known as “Yes And,” but it applies in business as well.  When you work to make sure that both sides win in any arrangement, you not only have the short-term victory, but you’re also setting yourself up for success in the future.

5. “When you listen, you learn.”
The key to effective communication is not telling people everything that you know, but everything that they need to hear.  And the only way to know what they need is to listen.

6. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Mathematically this isn’t true, but in terms of productivity and effectiveness it certainly is.  We can accomplish more together than we ever could separately, after all H.E. Luccock quipped “No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes an orchestra to play it.”

7. “The greatest asset you have [is] you.”
At the end of day–actually during the entire day, and night too, all you have and can control is you.  Your ability to be effective rests on you.  Taking the time to improve your skills, maintain your health, keep your sanity, and “sharpen the saw” will help in all other aspects of work and life.  Luckily for us, humor can provide many of those benefits.

    For more, check out our other Recommended Reading.

    inner game of tennisThe Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey is, at the basic level, a book about mastering the mental side of peak performance, specifically in the field of tennis.  However the book explores more than just ways to perfect your backhand, as it dives into areas of conscious and unconscious habits that can relate to anything from tennis to stand-up comedy to giving a presentation.

    Buy It Now


    The Inner Game of Tennis is subtitled as ‘the classic guide to the mental side of peak performance.” It has been in publication for more than 30 years and has been followed by a number of highly successful professionals in the tennis, football, music, and corporate worlds. I decided to read this book for two reasons: 1) A good friend gave me the book and spoke of it highly, and 2) Improving mental performance would seem to be beneficial in any activity, whether it’s tennis, work presentations or stand-up comedy.

    Selfish Thinking

    The entire book is based on the premise that there are two “selves.” Gallwey names them Self 1 and Self 2, where Self 1 is the ego-mind or “teller” (“Hit the ball like this”) and Self 2 is natural ability or the “doer” (the actual movement of the muscles to hit the ball). In order to achieve peak performance, one must “quiet the mind” (Self 1) and let Self 2 do what it knows how to do.

    At a high-level, this makes sense–stop thinking so much and just do it. In improv, you’re forced into situations where you don’t have time to think,  you just have to open your mouth and hope a logical sentence comes out. Think back to the last interview you saw of someone doing something incredible such as saving a child from a fire or helping a drowning man. Some reporter inevitably asks them “what was going through your mind?” and the typical “boring” response is “I don’t remember. I just reacted.”

    Sure, stop thinking, just do it, sounds easy enough right? Go ahead and try it now. Stop thinking”¦. I said stop. You can’t do it. The brain naturally thinks of something (such as the Stay-Puft Marshmallows).  So Mr. Gallwey, how are we supposed to quiet Self 1 if it’s impossible to stop thinking?

    “The best way to quiet the mind is not by telling it to shut up, or by arguing with it, or criticizing it for criticizing you. What works best is learning to focus it.”(pg 82) Ah, so “to still the mind, one must learn to put it somewhere.” (pg 83) But what does it mean to focus the mind? Focus means picking up only “those aspects of a situation that are needed to accomplish the task at hand.” (pg 84) So if you’re hitting a tennis ball, all you really need to focus on is the ball. That’s it.


    Getting out of the way of Self 2 makes a lot of sense–if Self 2 knows the right thing to do. When you present in front of a client, you don’t consciously tell yourself to look down while talking, or to say “uh” to fill pauses. You just do it. Neither are particularly beneficial to your presentation, but how can they be corrected if Self 1 has to stay out of it? How do you fix a bad habit if you can’t tell yourself what to do?

    “There is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones.” (pg 74) In order to “fix” a bad habit, you don’t actually have to fix the habit. Instead just start working on a good one. The bad habit doesn’t necessarily disappear, you just stop doing it. Gallwey edifies this point with the analogy of babies: just because they learn to walk doesn’t mean they forget how to crawl.

    Theoretically this makes sense. Hey stop doing A and start doing B. Magically, A disappears, hooray. But we return to the above problem: how do you start doing B if you can’t tell Self 2 what it means to do B (doo bee doo)?

    A Thousand Words

    The trick is that you can communicate with Self 2, just not in the traditional sense of “Hey head. Yeah, you up at the top. Don’t look down while presenting to clients.” But in the sense of imagery, or rather sensory images. Gallwey refers to this as heightening awareness. Become “aware” of important aspects of whatever you are working to improve, get an accurate image of the correct action, imagine you doing that action, and then let Self 2 do the action.

    Suppose you could use some improvement in your typing ability. You always seem to struggle to find the ‘.’ key quickly and it slows down your typing when writing multiple sentences. You know from your study of the “home row” that the ‘.’ key rests on the lower right of the keyboard, next to the ‘,’ and ‘/’, and that you’re supposed to hit the key with your ring finger on your right hand. How would you fix this?

    Gallwey’s four step process is defined as:

    1. Nonjudgmental observation
    2. Picture the desired outcome
    3. Trust Self 2
    4. Nonjudgmental observation of change and results.

    It’s important to note his use of the word “nonjudgmental.” When observing your own behavior (becoming aware of what is happening), you must do it without judging your behavior as positive or negative, right or wrong, good or bad. This type of analysis of the situation is Self 1 talking, so let it go. Instead you just observe the behavior as it is, indifferent to whether it’s “good” or “bad.”

    So you nonjudgmentally observe yourself typing a few sentences. You notice that whenever you need to hit the ”˜.’ key, you move your hand down and hit it with your middle finger. After hitting the key, you find that you have to move your entire hand back to the home row to get ready for the next sentence. Now that you’ve observed this action, you picture the correct behavior, that is, you picture your ring finger hitting the ”˜.’ key. In fact you may even hit the ”˜.’ key a few times, each time bringing the ring finger down to hit it and returning it back to its starting position, just noticing how it feels to bring the finger down, and letting Self 2 feel what it’s like. With all the information it needs, Self 2 is ready to go. You start typing again, observing what your fingers are doing. You don’t make a conscious effort to hit the ”˜.’ with your ring finger, you just observe which finger is doing it. If the Gallwey’s Inner Game theory works, you’ll observe that you were hitting it with your ring finger.

    (Note: I purposefully gave this as an example because it’s something that I need to work on.  While typing the above paragraphs, I observed where my fingers were, but refrained from thinking “hit it with your ring finger.”  Based on the above results, it does seem that I am more consistently hitting it with the right finger and speeding up my typing.)

    The Inner Game of ?

    The concept of mastering Inner Game is certainly an interesting one, and it seems pretty obvious that it can be applied to other areas of your life. However, what are its limitations? Does it only make sense in sports? Sure it can help the golf swing, but what about the business world?

    To me it seems that Gallwey’s theory works best for actions that are physical, those using muscle memory (such as a tennis swing or looking down during a presentation).   But how would it apply to the cessation of smoking cigarettes, saying “uh,” or asking for a raise? How does Self 2 learn/imagine a desired outcome of not standing there with a cigarette in your mouth, the lack of a verbal tick, or asking for more money?

    For the more cerebral, verbal, theoretical circumstances, Self 2 doesn’t get much of a say.  If Self 2 is out of the picture, then that means Self 1 is the only one available.  And while a lot of Gallwey’s tips are dependent on Self 2’s presence, I think the underlying concept of increasing awareness, focus and observation can help with the less physical actions.  Being aware of the smoke filling my lungs might lead to a more pressing desire to quit (I can’t say as I never started).  Focusing on the words I’m saying could help me limit the number of “uhs” that creep out.  Observing my managers body language, as well as my own, might help me be more confident and self-assured when asking to get paid what I deserve.

    In Conclusion

    At 134 pages, the The Inner Game of Tennis is a quick read.  The concepts within are thought-provoking and applicable to a number of areas (plus I have a head start if I ever want to pick up the game of tennis).  If you found any of the above thoughts interesting, I highly recommend you pick up your own copy.  I barely scratched the surface of its big picture concept, and Gallwey does a great job of providing details and examples to further your comprehension of his ideas.  Of all the words in the book, I think my favorite might have been the following, found on page 127:

    “Maybe wisdom is not so much to come up with new answers as to recognize at a deeper level the profundity of the age-old answers.”- W. Timothy Gallwey