"Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained."
There is more to achieving goals than intellectual capability. In The Effective Executive, Peter F. Drucker teaches us how to master the skill of effectiveness. He considers effectiveness an essential skill for an executive to develop. An executive is someone who gets things done, a leader. Developing leadership skills is useful whether you head a large organization or only manage yourself. Effectiveness is getting the right things done, not wasting time on things that are not working. There is no correlation between intelligence, creativity or personality traits and with the ability to be effective. We are not naturally effective, it is a learned skill.
Drucker explains in detail how to do certain things to become effective. Of all the actionable ideas in this book, prioritizing stood out as a skill I continuously develop. Setting priorities seems easy—there are many possibilities that would bring positive results. For instance, there are thousands of charities worthy of our donations but we have a limited amount of money to give. There are also thousands of great books to read but the time it would take to read them would span several lifetimes. Often we end up making quick and convenient decisions that fill our time and budget, but we get mediocre results. How do we make the best choices?
The Big Idea
Concentrate time, effort, and resources
"The need to concentrate is grounded both in the nature of the executive job and in the nature of man. Several reasons for this should already be apparent: There are always more important contributions to be made than there is time available to make them."
Drucker considers concentration the secret to effectiveness – if there is one. He is referring to optimizing performance by concentrating time, effort, and resources. He says the secret to getting things done is doing them one at a time. He acknowledges people work in different ways, but to accomplish more and get it done faster we need to focus. It is more effective to block our time instead of multitasking. Once one task is complete, priorities may change so the next priority should be set after achieving the current objective.
When we concentrate and reduce our list of ten things to one, it forces us to disregard the attractive but useless pursuits. It bolsters our courage to choose what is meaningful and pursue that opportunity. Drucker suggests thinking of the future instead of the past, focusing on opportunities instead of problems, following your own direction instead of the popular direction, and aiming high instead of choosing the safe and easy thing to do. Our perceptions can be deceiving; he says it is usually just as risky and uncertain to make the “safe” choice and do something small, as it is to do something big and new.
I think it is sometimes less risky to try something big and new especially when the small safe choices have had suboptimal results. If we do not have the courage to step outside our comfort zone, we cannot know what is possible. Then we lose the possibility big or small and we are stuck with the same results we always get. Our loss is greater if we chose not to take a bigger risk because the rewards for success are also greater.
Posteriorities (decide what not to do)
"Most executives have learned that what one postpones, one actually abandons. A good many of them suspect that there is nothing less desirable than to take up later a project one has postponed when it first came up."
Drucker calls the things we decide not to pursue “posteriorities.” He acknowledges these are unpleasant. One person’s top priority might be another person’s posteriority. It is tempting just to do a little of everything so everyone is happy. Also, we cannot predict what the next big thing will be and if we decide not to do something, we may miss an important opportunity. If we take it off the agenda, the timing will probably be wrong in the future even if the project would work if we did it now. We may remember a relationship that might have been if only we had pursued it years ago or an education goal that we had to abandon and could have been a promising career but would not be useful now. We cannot go back and change our decisions so sometimes it seems like we should pursue all opportunities.
There will always be things we did not do that could have been successful. We forget they might also have been unsuccessful. When we spread our resources thin and try to do everything because of our fear of missing out or making some people unhappy, we really miss much more. We miss the ability to pursue the opportunity available now if we concentrate our time, effort, and resources on that one thing.
Crisis generates pressure, not priorities
"If the pressures rather than the executive are allowed to make the decision, the important tasks will predictably be sacrificed. Typically, there will be no time for the most time-consuming part of any task, the conversion of decision into action."
Success comes from getting things done, not from having a great plan. Without action all the time, effort and resources that went into the plan are for nothing. Often yesterday’s crisis imposes on our priorities and we postpone today’s work, which means we will not get the results we want tomorrow. When we let pressure from a crisis divert our concentration from our priorities, they become posteriorities. When we abandon a project, we might not begin again because the time of relevance has passed.
Crisis generates pressure that is immediate, urgent, visible and focused in the past. Often crisis is internal, within an organization or individual, it is not observable from the outside and often not in touch with reality. It overshadows reality where the results happen, where things are relevant, and where the opportunity for the future is. Successes come from not letting crisis control and distort our priorities.
The New Year is approaching and it is traditionally a time to set goals and priorities. Drucker talks about deciding to do something or deciding not to but never making a half decision. When we decide to do something, we do it in spite of the inevitable crisis that begs for our attention. Decide there is never a better time to take action and make consistent progress. The competition will never disappear. We do not need to wait for a new idea to cash in on there are many unique ways to approach old ideas for better results. We can take advantage of the strengths and resources we already have. Decide not to give into fear. Decide to concentrate our time, effort, and resources on pursuits we know have value. When we know we have a valuable goal it is easier to communicate it to others. When everyone’s goals are in line, the synergy of the team generates more value and better results than any one of the individuals is capable of alone. If you work alone, create an alliance of supporters, who share your vision, they are your team. Most importantly, decide to take action and concentrate your effort on your goal.