Peter Drucker is one of my virtual mentors. I’ve never met him, nor will I on this side of eternity as he passed away in 2005 at the age of 95; but I continue to learn from his prolific writings and books. During his 65-year consulting career, he is still considered the single most important thought leader in the world of management. That kind of credential gets my attention.

On a recent trip, I neglected to take enough reading material to keep me occupied while waiting in airports and airplanes. I stopped in an airport bookstore and discovered a gem of a book: What Makes an Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. Please don’t be turned off by the title, as this was actually the title of a Harvard Business Review article Drucker wrote many years ago.

Have you ever noticed that some of the shortest books in terms of page numbers can have more insight and gold than books three or four times in length? This is one of those little gems – all 35 pages!

In the opening paragraph, he immediately rebukes one of the more popular beliefs regarding successful leaders: they are not “stereotypical leaders.” He says they are “all over the map in terms of their personalities, attitudes, values, strengths and weaknesses. They ranged from extroverted to nearly reclusive, from easygoing to controlling, from generous to parsimonious.”

He then outlines eight practices which the most successful leaders he worked with all exhibit. The first two practices give the leader the knowledge they need. The next four help them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensure the whole organization feels responsible and accountable. I’ll cover a few of these practices here and finish the list next week.

  1. They Ask, “What Needs To Be Done?” Take a careful read of this question and notice it does not focus on what the leader wants to do but rather what must be done by the leader to have the best outcome for his or her organization. As a leader, you may want to focus on a particular project or new opportunity because it excites you. Drucker says this is not the best criteria to use. Instead, think of what will propel the organization forward to meet its goals. The answer to this question almost always identifies multiple urgent tasks. Yet successful leaders intentionally do not splinter themselves. They have learned the lesson that they can really only focus on one or two things at a time. This allows the leader to set priorities, and the most successful leaders are the ones who stick to the priority. They also determine which of the priorities they are most skilled to focus on and they delegate the rest. Once the original task is completed, they then ask again, “What needs to be done, now?” This often results in a new set of priorities.
  1. They Ask, “What Is Right For The Organization?” The subject of this question is the organization, not the leader, shareholders, employees or other executives. Drucker concludes that any decision that is not right for the organization will not be right for the shareholders, employees or other executives either. This is especially applicable for family-run organizations as well.
  1. They Develop Action Plans. Successful leaders are doers; they are action-oriented and they execute plans. Drucker points out that “knowledge is useless to leaders until it has been translated into deeds…The leader needs to think about desired results, probable restraints, check-in points and implications for how he or she will spend their time.” In other words, the action plans that are developed are well thought out, intentionally designed to achieve identified results.

The action plans are a statement of intention based on the knowledge the leader has at that point in time. As various components of the action plan are implemented, new knowledge and insights become known. Therefore, it is certainly appropriate to alter tactics and develop components based on new information, yet the intention of the action plan (i.e., the desired end result) doesn’t change.

In next week’s message I will cover the other practices Drucker outlines in this important book – you don’t want to miss any of them!

In the meantime, review the first three I’ve mentioned here and give yourself an assessment on each one. Use a simple scale of 1-10, with 10 being leaders who are absolute experts, with this practice as a regular, never-miss part of their routines. I doubt anyone, especially me, ever scores a perfect 10 on these. In all transparency, I gave myself a 7, 5, and 7 on the three practices, meaning I can do much better.

If you are in the same boat, would you like to join me and help each other improve at these practices? I’d welcome the partnership of a journey together. Let me know.

Best regards,