Effective Leaders Follow These Eight Practices
By Peter F. Drucker
The Managers Journal
June 2, 2004
The Wall Street Journal Online
An effective executive does not need to be a leader in the
sense that the term is now most commonly used. Harry Truman did not have one
ounce of charisma, for example, yet he was among the most effective chief
executives in U.S. history. Some of the best business and nonprofit CEOs I've
worked with over a 65-year consulting career were not stereotypical leaders.
They ranged from extroverted to nearly reclusive, from easygoing to
from generous to parsimonious. What made them all effective is that they
followed the same eight practices:
- Ask "What needs to be done?" Failure to ask
this question will render even the ablest executive ineffectual. Jack Welch
realized that what needed to be done at General Electric when he took over as
chief executive was not the overseas expansion he wanted to launch. It was
getting rid of GE businesses that -- no matter how profitable -- could not be
No. 1 or No. 2 in their industries.
- Ask "What is right for the enterprise?"
Note that the question is not what's right for the shareholders, or the
executives, or the employees. Those are all important constituencies who need
support a decision, or acquiesce in it, if the choice is to be effective.
a decision isn't right for the enterprise as a whole, in the long run it won't
be right for any of the individual stakeholders.
- Develop action plans. The action plan is
a statement of intentions rather than a commitment. It should be revised often,
because every success creates new opportunities. So does every failure.
allegedly said that no successful battle ever followed its plan. Yet Napoleon
also planned every one of his battles, far more meticulously than any earlier
general had done. Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of
- Take responsibility for decisions. This
is particularly important when it comes to hiring or promoting people. If after
promoting a person, the decision has not had the desired results, executives
don't conclude that the person has not performed. They conclude, instead, that
they themselves made a mistake. In a well-managed enterprise, it is understood
that people who fail in a new job, especially after a promotion, may not be the
ones to blame.
- Take responsibility for communicating.
Effective executives make sure that both their action plans and their
information needs are understood. Specifically, this means that they share
plans with and ask for comments from all their colleagues -- superiors,
subordinates, and peers. At the same time, they let each person know what
information they'll need to get the job done. The information flow from
subordinate to boss is usually what gets the most attention. But executives
to pay equal attention to peers' and superiors' information needs.
- Focus on opportunities, not problems. In
most companies, the first page of the monthly management report lists key
problems. It's far wiser to list opportunities on the first page and leave
problems for the second page. Unless there is a true catastrophe, problems are
not discussed in management meetings until opportunities have been analyzed and
properly dealt with.
- Make meetings productive. Every study of
the executive workday has found that even junior executives and professionals
are with other people -- that is, in a meeting of some sort -- more than half
every business day. Making a meeting productive takes a good deal of
self-discipline. It requires that executives determine what kind of meeting is
appropriate and then stick to that format. It's also necessary to terminate the
meeting as soon as its specific purpose has been accomplished. Good executives
don't raise another matter for discussion. They sum up and adjourn.
- Think and say "We." Effective executives
know that they have ultimate responsibility, which can be neither shared nor
delegated. But they have authority only because they have the trust of the
organization. This means that they think of the needs and the opportunities of
the organization before they think of their own needs and opportunities. This
one may sound simple. It isn't, but it needs to be strictly observed.
I'm going to throw in one final, bonus practice. This one's so
important that I'll elevate it to a rule:
- Listen first, speak last.
-- Mr. Drucker is a professor of social science and management at
the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at
Claremont Graduate University. This commentary is adapted from his
article "What Makes an Effective Executive" in the June issue of the
Harvard Business Review.
Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.