The Effective Executive

There’s the concept of being efficient versus being effective. You could be very efficient at running the meeting. But if the meeting is focused on the wrong things, then that efficiency isn’t very effective. And some people use the metaphor of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If you are efficient, you can look really good. “Oh, look at the empathy this executive shows.” This isn’t to say “empathy” isn’t important but it won’t make your organization better.  There are thousands, literally thousands of podcasts, leadership blogs, and things of that sort. I am not diminishing their importance just pointing out you need to be more than nice to be an effective leader.

My focus is on giving new methods to improve not only your thinking, but the organization, and the way that it thinks and develops theory based on things that I’ve learned over the years. And your beliefs may be different and that’s fine. The whole idea is to expand your thinking as I get my thinking expanded by researching and working with organizations. So I want to differentiate that most of the executives that I run into are very efficient thinkers. They were experts as engineers or operations or finance or whatever it might be, but few are effective.

And the reason they’re not effective is that they don’t have, in my opinion, methods to help take it to the next level. You have to have methods to become an effective executive. You have to be a synthetic thinker. That’s step one from my perspective. How do I look at the entire system and not just the department that I came out of when I became an executive?

So I focus to getting an executive – veteran, new, aspiring – or an employee that just wants to get better as looking at things much differently than the way that maybe you look at them today.

Doing things right versus doing the right thing. I want to look at an article by Peter Drucker called The Effective Executive. I read it many years ago for my management classes and in my MBA program. And it’s an excellent book. It was written in 1967 or probably written in 66, but released in 67 by Dr. Peter Drucker. And he talks in terms of eight practices. So the eight practices that you need to be an effective executive:

  1. What needs to be done?
  2. What is right for the enterprise?
  3. Develop an action plan.
  4. Take responsibility for your decisions.
  5. Take responsibility for communicating.
  6. Focus on opportunities rather than problems.
  7. Run productive meetings.
  8. And use “we” over “I” when they’re communicating.

I want to focus on the first two, which is, What needs to be done? and What is right for the enterprise? And here we are missing the method. And again, in my opinion, he doesn’t really provide a method. He points to a few things that we’ll talk about in a second. But he’s not providing us with a method to get things done.

Now, this article that I’m pulling this from rather than the book was written for the Harvard Business Review back in 2004. You should be able to read, What Makes an Effective Executive at the Harvard Business Review, even if you’re not a subscriber. Where and if you’re an executive, be a subscriber. Harvard Business Review. I’m not saying everything that they have there is great, but there is information to keep you up to date on what’s going on. But I believe they give you maybe five or 10 articles a month that you can read or quarter or whatever the number is. So you should be able to get to this article. Unless you’ve used your quota of articles, then you will have to wait a month or so.

Focusing in on the questions, “What needs to be done?” and What is right for the enterprise? We begin looking at opportunities versus problems. And he (Drucker) outlines a few things. I don’t necessarily agree with what he says about not focusing on problems, but let me just go through these things and we’ll talk about it. They are: An unexpected success or failure in their own enterprise, in a competing enterprise or in the industry; A gap between what is and what could be in a market process, product or service, innovation and a process, product or service, whether inside or outside the enterprise or its industry; Changes in industry, structure and market structure, changes and demographics; changes in mindset, values, perception, mood or meeting; and new knowledge or new technology. So these are some of the things where he’s saying, look for opportunities in these things in order to become an effective executive.

And I think these are really good things. But he doesn’t really provide you a method to do it. And that’s where you need method to make you a more effective executive by looking at the way that you think.

I believe that what we’ve put together in the executive education program now, I’m going to put a little plug in here, you can download at kit. I have effective executive starter kit, and I’ll take you through very high level what’s covered in the broader program. But it’ll give you an opportunity to see a method you go through to go from “doing things right” to “doing the right thing”  That’s a focus of the executive education program.

I would say that the things that Dr. Drucker has laid out in this article and in his book are good but again, we’re missing method and you need a method to do this, to get an understanding, to be able to innovate, to be able to make better decisions, to design your organization, to look at data. And constructing the aim. But it all begins with an understanding of the system that you work in. And this is the synthetic thinking portion.

Now, I’ve talked before about people that are most of us are analytical thinkers, but as you become an executive, you need to think more broadly about your system. And starting with foundational pieces -going from that departmental thinking that you had when you were an engineer and finance or whatever it is, and moving to looking at the broader organization. And more importantly, as we start to talk about synthetic thinking in the interaction of the parts, how does engineering interact with finance to create good service?

Now, the whole approach here is, first of all, getting an understanding of what’s important to customers, and so we look through a customer lens in order to accomplish that, looking through that customer lens will help you see some of the gaps that will let you see some of the things that are going on now.

Synthetic thinking will help you improve your performance, but it won’t necessarily help you innovate because innovation is something that’s newer. It’s was the scene of W. Edwards Deming that said, “No one ever asked for a light bulb.” You you have to have deep knowledge of your business in order to innovate here. We’re talking in terms of of looking at your organization as a system through a customer lens to get a necessary understanding of what our performance is and how the interaction of the parts are operating in that system. So that’s the first part.

The second part then is getting into what our thinking is, how do we think about the organization? And two leverage points that I talk about are motivation and control. Those two things make up a large percentage – depending on your organization – of what influences your organizational thinking.

But getting back to Drucker’s article, I think it lays the foundation of the knowledge that you need in order to become an effective executive – but you need a method to do it. And you may have one, if you do great, keep with it. But it goes down to what needs to be done. And that’s not necessarily just what the boss says or if you’re an executive, possibly the CEO of the company or the president of the company.

Looking through the customer and thinking lenses will help you understand your thinking and it’s influence on the organization.

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