Build on Strength – Drucker’s The Effective Executive – 5

In earlier posts in this series on Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done, we reviewed his list of basic practices:

Effective managers:

  • “….know where their time goes.” 
  • “….focus on outward contribution”
  • “….build on strengths….” 
  • “….concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.”
  • “…. make effective decisions.”

Peter Drucker's The Effective ExecutiveThis posting is devoted to the third practice, build on strengths. ((All quotes in this posting come from pages 71-99 in Peter Drucker The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Revised. Collins Business, 2006.))

The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all of the available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance. ((Note again the dated language from 45 years ago))

Enable Strengths and Make Weaknesses Inconsequential Continue reading

Leadership – “bringing people around softly” and speaking last

The other day I was talking with a business owner about her people management practices. In comparing some thoughts about how to effectively supervise people she noted that waving your finger and giving instructions was almost always a non-starter. She said that she thought that “people need to be brought around softly”. Continue reading

Unhappy Prospects and Customers – a gold mine

A client told me a story today that illustrates a principle that every business owner or manager needs to embrace and act on.

Unhappy prospects or customers are an opportunity to display your real value and win a fan for life.

Here is the story from the owner of a start up yoga studio in New York City.

A neighborhood person began to say negative things about the studio on Twitter. Challenges about the pricing being too high and a lack of community involvement in the new studio. A PR person working with the studio’s owner responded and engaged the disgruntled neighborhood person. This lead to the owner becoming engaged and an exchange of emails that clarified the concerns and the facts of what the studio was really doing. The neighborhood person also received feedback from others about the competitive pricing for yoga in NYC. All of this lead to an invitation from the owner for the neighborhood person to come by for tea and attend a Saturday evening potluck party at the studio. Continue reading

Managers – Don’t Answer That Question!

The miraculous practice of not answering subordinates’ questions. A counter-intuitive strategy for high performance, yours and theirs.


The podcast is 6 minutes 34 seconds long.

Getting the Right Things Done – the manager’s focus

Peter Drucker wrote a charming little book in 1967, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done. I have now read it numerous times and each revisit rewards me.

Just this morning I was speaking with a manager about efforts to refocus a business on new services and the difficulty of dragging along the old, tried-and-true services that still have a customer base and generate revenues. Drucker had quite a bit to say about this problem of the past. In the chapter titled, First Things First, he wrote, “Systematic sloughing off of the old is the one and only way to force the new.” And, “Yesterday’s successes ….. always linger on long beyond the productive life.”

Drucker wrote in the same chapter, “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve the problem — which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” This seems like quite a provocation to most managers. After all, managers and management are all about problem solving. Or so we seem all to think. But, from Drucker’s perspective, problems are always about the past. This is very clear from his notion that solving problems only reestablishes the status of the past, some sort of guarantee that we can reproduce the results of the past. Whereas, opportunities are about the future.  The future is where customers in the real world are, not in the past. Drucker sees the world as continually evolving and requiring new solutions to new problems, always defined by customers.

So, then, back to where I started. One of the hardest things for any manager to do is to look away from the products and services of the past. These may very well still be producing revenues and profits, though analysis and planning are telling them that future customers and revenues must come from elsewhere.

Managers: Don’t Answer That Question! – part two

In the previous posting, I wrote about how managers are chronically undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place and enabling dependency all around them.

One of the reasons managers answer so many questions from their staff and others in the company is that they fear that if they don’t, then really important issues and opportunities may be addressed incorrectly or sub optimally.

A key to getting out of the round of endless questions while still being involved in important ones, is to set some boundaries, some limits.

This might sound like this: “I want you to develop three solutions before you come to ask me a question. Ask your colleagues for help if you get stuck. But, in the case of the following critical customer, Immense Big Machines, Inc., I want to be informed of any issues involving delay or cost overruns in Project XZY.”

With the right boundaries set around your new rule, you can still be assured of being involved where you need to be.

Finally, to make your staff and others in the company comfortable about taking responsibility for solving problems and answering their own questions, you need to have environment in which mistakes are expected and dealt with positively. Remember, if you are not making mistakes, you are doubtless doing very little and learning not at all. Mistakes need to be analyzed and the lessons learned. Perhaps the only rule about mistakes is that they should not be repeated.

Note that this skill, “Don’t Answer That Question!” is a great precursor to grasping the opportunities for controlling your time. More discussion about this in my entry: Seizing Your Time – the first step in time management.