Management Skills for the Effective Manager – Drucker’s The Effective Executive – 13 min read

Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive

Learning how to be an effective manager is a primary task for every manager. However, most managers learn management skills on the job  without guidance and in a haphazard fashion. A few companies have formal mentoring programs but, of these, few have a structured approach. Very few courses are offered in business schools on how to be an effective manager. To the extent that a manager becomes an effective manager, it is learned by stumbling about and reinventing the wheel.

Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done  (( I am using the 2006 edition published by Harper Collins. I will also refer to The Effective Executive in Action by Drucker and J. A. Maciariello published by Harper Collins, 2006)) has been a continuing resource for me in learning how to be an effective manager and teaching others these management skills . I find myself re-reading it in parts and all of it every year. To spread the wisdom around and reflect further on this guide for the general manager ((I use the word “manager” throughout in place of “executive” because I believe that Drucker’s ideas scale up and down the management hierarchy very well. These are lessons for everyone one from front line supervisor to CEO)) I will devote a series of postings here to its content on how to be an effective manager.

Preface and Introduction

Do not skip over the Preface and Introduction to this book. Drucker starts right in with key practices. One inescapable fact about management in practice is that everyone in an organization is watching what its managers actually do. This leads to a central concept that to be an effective manager you must learn to be effective yourself. And, despite the cult of leadership that repeats the notion that leadership is innate and not learned in waves of books and articles in the popular business press, ((Don’t be drawn into this false dichotomy between leadership and management. Every leader must exercise significant management skills and every manager must be a leader.))  Drucker is insistent that effectiveness is the result of a fairly simple set of practices that can and must be learned.

He enumerates eight practices of the effective manager:

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions
  • They took responsibility for communicating
  • They focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I”. ((page xi))

An interesting point to observe in this list is the mix of personal and organizational practices or management skills. Just as an example. The first practice, “What needs to be done?” is applied at two levels. First what needs to be done at the organizational level. What will drive the business forward? Second, the same question must be addressed personally. What do I, as a manager,need to do to energize and move the organization to accomplish the answer at the organizational level? What personal management skills do I need to apply?

One of Drucker’s overarching principles is that managers must lead by doing and that in the act of doing they are demonstrating to the organization the practices and management skills required to achieve real results. So, this ability to meld the personal and organizational is a keystone for the effective manager. And, in fact, the effective manager understands how powerful it is to apply personal management skills. People throughout the organization watch what the effective manager does and emulate these behaviors.


In the next article in this series we will focus on the question of whether you can learn to be an effective manager.