The late management expert Peter F. Drucker, in his book The Effective Executive, states an executive does not have to be a leader. Effective executives, he states, follow eight practices shown under three headings:
- To gain knowledge, they asked two questions:
- What needs to be done?
- What is right for the enterprise?
- They converted knowledge to effective actions:
- Developed action plans
- Took responsibility for decisions
- Took responsibility for communicating
- Focused on opportunities rather than problems
- They tried to get the organization responsible and accountable for the plans
- Ran productive meetings
- Said “we” rather than “I”
Building on Drucker’s base, these four traits will help business leaders with the right people stay on the right path to achieve the firm’s mission:
- Stewardship and Accountability
- Focus and Consistency
Effective Executive Needs Balance
People say lead a balanced life; keep things in balance; life is about balance. I get this; but the interpretation gives folks false hope about what’s workable. It’s impossible to have everything because life is about choosing and doing priorities. Maybe people run late, overspend projects, and fall into debt striving for that balanced life! Let’s focus on priorities, both personal and business.
In my early years at Alcan, I fixated on a balanced life: husband, dad, employee, friend. I failed because work superseded family while seeking balance. I pursued quality times with my wife and children, meaning little time with them to ease my conscience. Today I realize quality times were my guilt-relieving approach for “balance.”
In those days I thought I perfected the balancing act and did a great job, but my 18-year-old son had differing views. He asked for a “special meeting” and told me work was my god; quality time might appease me, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more time with me. Reality struck me and I acted.
Effective Executive Practices Selective Neglect
Following reflections, I developed Selective Neglect, and the P-Square Decision Process—
a systematic approach to examining options and a prerequisite to decision-making. Both helped me work more effectively and spend more time with my family. I unbalanced my life and worked with priorities.
Later, I noticed I spent substantial hours at work with a difference: I shared my plans with my family. Scheduling family time and planning family events became the norm. I became more reliable at spending time with them and did not “neglect” them for unimportant work events.
Did my fresh approach mean I never made exceptions? No! I continue to have regular dates with my wife. Sometimes, while negotiating an important deal, or writing a book, she knows I won’t spend as much time as usual with her. But we discuss my schedule with her and others with whom I have relationships. Then, it is easier to practice selective neglect and not ignore them by default.
Stewardship and Accountability
Stewardship means looking after entrusted resources for the owner’s best interest. Shareholders entrust vast resources to CEOs who do a poor job of accountability. John Taft, in his book Stewardship, Lessons Learned From The Lost Culture of Wall Street, says accountability means “being aware of and assuming responsibility for the effect our actions have on others, with others defined as broadly as possible.” This is the high accountability standard firms should adopt and enforce. The Great Recession devastated individuals and families because executives forgot their major stewardship role; they failed their accountability.
Focus and Consistency
Drucker states effective executives don’t multitask; they “do not splinter themselves.” He saw only a sizable minority able to work on two simultaneous tasks. Focus means staying in the present in conversations, meetings, other interactions. CEOs must focus on doing the firm’s mission and strategy while treating people well.
CEOs’ ego-driven mergers and acquisitions exploits that deviate from their firms’ missions distract the staff and destroy value. A lack of focus will cause you to get off track and chase bad growth, leading to debt. As Peter Drucker said, you are unlikely to be effective when you multitask. Focus on being authentic, treating people well, and on the firm’s critical success factors (CSFs). Monitor and review CSFs to correct the course as needed.
Collins and Hansen, in Great By Choice, posit the “20 Mile March” as a consistent goal attainment plan: “To 20 Mile March means hitting stated performance markers with great consistency over a long period. It requires two distinct types of discomfort, delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back in good times.” Don’t work on the goal for 15 hours today, zero tomorrow, ten the next day, work evenly, not in spurts! Research is clear: even, steady, 20 Mile March works, but “holding back” in good time is crucial.
The Resilient Effective Executive
Today, we would not have Post-it® and its offshoots if Drs. Art Fry and Spencer Silver, 3M scientists, weren’t resilient. They were down. The company wasn’t supportive, but they kept going. That’s resilience! It’s crucial for big firms and for entrepreneurs.
Your solution driven marketing results might not happen as fast as you expect. Others think it is failing, but you know you chose a winner. Pick yourself up after each “failure” and keep going. When you know your idea, your project, your suggestion is workable, keep going, don’t give up, that’s the easy way.
Do your best always and stay with your project, but be alert to warning signs that show your best efforts aren’t working. Don’t let passion for your venture ignore the facts.
Business needs effective executives: stewards, focused, disciplined, resilient executives who understand people are their most valuable asset. Hire right people, train them well, give them resources to succeed, and let them do their jobs. With these people, the above traits will create an environment for the business to succeed. Results will astound everyone!
© 2022 Michel A. Bell
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