Business Book Classics: The Effective Executive

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For a long time we didn’t have to worry about business book “classics” because there just weren’t that many business books. That all changed in 1980 when In Search of Excellence and The One Minute Manager were published. Things have changed a lot since then.

Ever since I met a young woman who had never heard of Peter Drucker, I’ve been thinking about what makes a classic business book. I decided that it has to have value for people today even though it was published more than 25 years ago. It should be worth your time to pick up a classic instead of that recent best-seller.

This series is about classic business books. This post is the first in the series and it’s about Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive.

Peter Drucker wrote thirty-nine books and a host of articles and book chapters. For my money, The Effective Executive is his best book and perhaps the best business book of all time. Here’s Drucker’s own description of what the book is about.

“Management is largely by example. Executives who do not know how to make themselves effective in their own job and work set the wrong example. To be reasonably effective it is not enough for the individual to be intelligent, to work hard or to be knowledgeable. Effectiveness is something separate, something different. But to be effective also does not require special gifts, special aptitude, or special training. Effectiveness as an executive demands doing certain—and fairly simple—things. It consists of a small number of practices, the practices that are presented and discussed in this book.”

So, what are the things that an “effective” executive needs to do? Drucker suggests five and devotes a chapter to each one.

  • Managing time
  • Concentrating on contribution
  • Making strength productive
  • Doing the most important things
  • Making good decisions

One strength of the book is that Drucker was an amazingly good writer who paid attention to his craft. You’ll find this book is easy reading and that many lessons will stay with you without special effort. That’s how it’s worked with me.

You should pass on this book if you are seeking specific tactics for dealing with your email or work/life balance or globalization. Drucker is writing about things would make you productive in the 1940s (when he began thinking about the book) and the 1950s when he gave the first presentations of the material and the 1960s when he published the book.

But guess what? The Effective Executive is about what will make you effective today and tomorrow.

Now it’s your turn

What books would you nominate as business book classics?

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