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Results, Perception, Learning: What Makes a Truly Effective Executive

Contributor: Editorial Staff
Posted: 03/21/2017
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In the competitive world of business, ineffectiveness inevitably shows up on the profit and loss statements and balance sheets of any type of institution, be it a business, university, or government agency. 

The only test of management that matters is performance. Either management performs or it doesn't. 

More than 30 years ago, Harvard's Ted Levitt said:

The general rule may be laid down that bad performance reflects the existence of bad management…

That is especially so in the case of bad relative performance that remains relatively bad for two years or more…

Not-good managers are generally very good at explaining how much better things are than they seem, and what bunch of things are being or will be done to make them even better… That in part explains why they exhaust and outlast critics. They sound better than they are…

It can be said with confident certainty that wherever the articulate and persuasive rationalizer for constantly or frequently poor performance regularly shows up, the organization will surely slow down and go under.

Levitt implied that not-good managers tend to blame bad performance on suddenly bad or changing times, prior management decisions and commitments, and a host of other real and alleged reasons for chronic underperformance.  

"But since it is management’s job to manage for the right results, regardless of circumstance, no such excuses can be warranted," Levitt said.

It's easy to delude ourselves. 

When one spends decades studying management thought leaders like Peter F. Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Ted Levitt, Philip Kotler, and Tom Peters, one tends to believe others have learned many of the same thought processes.  

Executives are not paid to be philosophers. They are paid to get things done. But the truly successful have learned to learn with the ideas of the masters. 

Perhaps the prolific author Tom Peters said it best: “The best leaders are the best note-takers, the best 'askers,' the best learners… They are shameless thieves [of the best ideas].”

Ineffectiveness Is Ineffectiveness

No amount of spin changes the facts. The only thing that determines how we see and respond to the facts is our perception.

Perception is determined by experience and knowledge. Repeat this five times. It will help you understand the growing and heated debates about America's economic policies and more.

A polite way to express this is to say: “There's an incongruity in perceptions.” 

Said Peter F. Drucker: “What A sees so vividly, B does not see at all. And, therefore, what A argues has no pertinence to B's concerns and vice versa.” 

Drucker also said, "Just as the human ear does not hear sounds above a certain pitch, so does human perception altogether not perceive what is beyond its range of perception. When a change in perception takes place, the facts do not change. Their meaning does."  

What did Drucker mean by this statement? With more knowledge and experience, perceptions can change.  

Mark Twain once quipped: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” 

How we see things is determined by our experience and knowledge. Our perception determines how we understand the "facts." Our perception influences how we respond. 

What Makes an Executive Truly Effective?

Drucker provided an incredible body of knowledge relating to what it takes to become an effective executive.

In essence, Drucker said, management's effectiveness derives from two major tasks: “Deciding what is to be done and deciding how to do the job, organizing and controlling its execution, and measuring its results.”

Effective executives, first, decide the right things to do. Indeed, Drucker defined  "effectiveness" as doing the right things. He defined "efficiency" as doing things right. Efficiency must be built on a foundation of effectiveness. 

Effective executives know that it's not enough that right actions are taken. They must also be timely and vigorous. 

Doing the right things and doing them confidently produces contagious confidence and energy in those that have to convert strategies into doing.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Drucker suggested that the key to effectiveness was practice and constant learning. Experience teaches us to reduce the number of our mistakes.

But none of us has the time for continuous trial-and-error learning. We must learn more and more from the experience of others.

If people refuse to learn, they will never become effective. They have to learn to think with other people's ideas.

Ideas which have met the concrete test of application. Ideas which produce results when converted into meaningful action. 

Indeed, responsible executives must increase their idea sources. Widen their friendships, their contacts, and other learning opportunities. Otherwise they remain or become ineffective as a rapidly changing and disruptive future emerges.

Drucker provided us with incredible insights on the necessity for abandoning obsolete and unproductive activities and programs to free resources (i.e., monies and people) to make the future happen, to pick the right people, to focus on opportunities rather than problems. 

But these concepts have to be studied, learned, and practiced. It has to become part of one's DNA. This takes years. 

That's the value of knowledge and experience! And that usually comes with “battle tested” executives. 

But experienced executives also know they must spend more time to keep up with knowledge––old and new––lest others beat them to its use.

Americans Wrote the Books. Foreigners Have Read Them 

America is now headed for deep trouble because its rivals on the corporate battlefield are reading Drucker, Levitt, and other master thought leaders and putting their ideas into practice. As a result, they are becoming formidable foes. 

Countries like China, India, and South Korea base their economic policies on growth models that borrow heavily from the writings of the economic theory masters including Frederich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Peter Drucker, James Buchanan, Joseph Schumpeter, and others now classified as Neo-Classical economists (as opposed to Keynesian economists).

In terms of economic results, the Neo-Classical school of economic principles have been proven successful beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It seems America has forgotten what made it successful. Thought guides action. It's important that America rediscovers timeless thought leaders and puts into practice their enduring truths. Otherwise we will soon become yesterday's superstar.

Study Success

Drucker, in his memoir Adventures of a Bystander, recalled:

I suddenly realized that the right method, at least for me, was to look for the thing that worked and for the people who perform.

I realize that I, at least, do not learn from mistakes. I have to learn from successes.

Stated differently, swiping from the best with pride is an age-old formula for success. Studying success—or what the successful are doing to get results—is a surefire recipe for increasing the probability of getting positive results.

"In today's ever-accelerating business environment, you must," Tom Peters reminds us, "put NIH (Not Invented Here) behind you-– and learn to copy (with unique adaptation/enhancement) from the best!”

Even if we end up copying from the people who copied us, we will fuel economic growth. Happily, there is no law against this. All it takes is a willingness to learn. But that's easier said than done.

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Contributor: Editorial Staff