Five lessons from effective executives

Peter Drucker has been called the inventor of modern management. His formative book, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, was first published in 1966. While the language is noticeably dated (the book only refers to executives as men), it’s surprising how relevant the ideas presented still are today.

Here are five traits the book identifies in effective executives that I think could apply to just about any college-bound high school student.

1. They value their own time.
Effective executives understand that time is their most precious resource. And as much as possible, they want to make conscious, informed decisions about how they spend it. The forthcoming lessons discuss more about how they do this, but Drucker raises this point early on to make the case that effectiveness can be learned, and must be intentional. Effective executives don’t just show up for work and hope to have something to show for it by the end of the day.

Related to valuing their time, I also loved what Drucker had to say about meetings.

“Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time…An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.”

2. They constantly ask, “What can I contribute?”
In every situation, task, or crisis, effective executives want to make important contributions. The more they contribute, the more valuable and effective they are. To make the most of their time, they only want to do something if they can bring real value to it. And they measure that value by the quality and quantity of their contributions.

3. They focus on strengths, not weaknesses.
Effective executives want to maximize strengths—both their own and those of their coworkers. They understand that spending time trying to improve a weakness rarely yields as much benefit as putting a top strength to work on a well-matched opportunity.

They also understand that even the best executives and employees have weaknesses.

“The idea that there are ‘well-rounded’ people, people who have only strengths and no weaknesses…is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence. Strong people always have strong weaknesses too. Where there are peaks, there are valleys. And no one is strong in many areas.”

4. They direct their time to areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
Effective executives don’t just want to get things done; they want to get the right things done. They consciously choose to spend time doing things that will yield the best, most important results. And those results are a lot more important to them than just being “busy.”

5. They understand the importance of having uninterrupted, focused time.
A scattered, multi-tasking executive is not an effective executive. Important work deserves focused time without interruption. As Drucker describes it,

“To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks…To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours…To write a report may, for instance, require six or eight hours, at least for the first draft. It is pointless to give seven hours to the task by spending fifteen minutes twice a day for three weeks. All one has at the end is blank paper with some doodles on it.”

A high school student may not be a business titan. But you make decisions every day about what to do and how to do it. If you can be effective when you make those choices, you are also far more likely to be successful.