Book review: The Effective Executive

The Effective Executive

The definitive guide to getting things done

by Peter F. Drucker

I listened to this book with Audible at 1.5x speed mostly. It didn’t take me long to finish this book. It takes less then a week for me and I can only imagine how fast proficient readers can burn through this book. I got the inspiration to read this book from the Cortex podcast. I’m also writing this review after it discussed the book in the aforementioned podcast.

Thoughts on the book

The Effective Executive was written a long time ago, and it’s showing its age now and then.  The example that Cortex brings up for this is a chapter where Peter Drucker talks about computers and how they don’t even come close to replacing humans.  Nowadays this isn’t really applicable. In the more recent release of the book, they have taken this chapter out.  Also, I must have been sleeping during this chapter because I barely remember computers being mentioned. The one sentence with computers I remember was a brilliant phrase: 

The computer multiplies the man’s capacity. The wheel, airplane, tv… that do things that man can’t do at all, add a new dimension to man and extends his nature. I think this is a well-written sentence.

Another shower of the age is the use of he and man. In this book the effective executive can only be a man. Of course you can think of man as mankind, so it is humanity and not literally men. Tying into this is the obsessive use of One ** and **Oneself. This makes some sentences weird. Both could and should have been edited in later releases of the book just like Dale Carnegie’s book: How to win Friends and influence people.

I also think the book was good until around the 1/3 of the way when it started falling apart. It is hard to say the exact reason for this but it was noticeable harder to understand the book the further I got.

Now let’s see some positives in this book.  First if you are an indie in any field so a free agent, then you’ll be happy to hear that this book focuses more on the individual than on company or team structure. Relating to that, this book is amongst the first to coin the term knowledge worker. The knowledge worker is a person who doesn’t directly produce goods and so his or her ideas cannot be directly sold or traded. A knowledge worker is not defined by quantity, neither by its costs, knowledge work is defined by its result. The knowledge worker in a company is not necessarily tied to the output. The idea might be passed down to somebody to do something with it.

Drucker really knew what he was talking about which is especially impressive considering the time this book was written in.  Some gems in this book are the time measurement and the advice to focus on your strength… more on this later.

The more familiar you are with the topics discussed in this book the less you’ll enjoy this book. However, the less you know about these topics, the bigger impact this book will have on you.

Content breakdown

 The book starts with a foreword written by another person. I found this very cute as it is setting up the book as a romantic novel… I went up to his house in the evening… The house was way too small for such a man… the address matched so I walked up to the front door…

The first chapter start of very generic. The author says that effective executives can have many differences. They can be shy or outgoing, organized or chaotic… however there are a few things in common, that all executives have:

  1. Effective Executives (E.E.) ask themselves What needs to be done?
  2. They hold the enterprise above all.
  3. The take extreme ownership above results, communication and results
  4. They are focused on opportunities rather than problems

This book also explains that Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results. By themselves they only set limits to what we can attain. So basically it is hard work rather than talent that matters.

My favorite parts in this book are about time tracking and strengths.

Time tracking

It is very important to track time, so you know where your time is spent. For this you can use products like Timing on Mac. The important thing about time tracking is that it should be recorder real time since if you are trying to do it from memory, your brain will distort time. Your brain will report what should have been done, not the facts. It is also all right if somebody else like your secretary records your time.  After you consistently measured your time, you can analyze and ask questions. What if you didn’t do an activity, what impact would it have? If the answer to this is nothing, then drop that activity.  What activities could be don by someone else? Delegate those tasks. What is wasting your time without adding to your effectiveness?

Time tracking is essential in any professional’s carrier, so I highly recommend that you track and analyze your time.

Focus on your strengths

In a school for many years, possibly for 2 decades we hear the propaganda, that we should focus on our weaknesses. For example, if you have an “A” in math and Literature but a ”C” in English, then you should focus more on English.  In real life this isn’t true. If you have a weakness and it doesn’t directly hold you back, then you should not focus on it. 

If you are building a team, build on strengths. If somebody has a weakness, don’t make them do a role related to that but let somebody else with that strength to do it. This will not get rid of the weaknesses, but it will make theme irrelevant. 


While reading this book I kept thinking of Netflix. Netflix has a podcast where they discuss the company culture and structure. I feel like that if not this book, then the principle in this book played a big role in building the culture of Netflix. Since employees there have a lot of freedom to decide and the only thing that is expected of theme is to keep the company’s interests above all.  Obviously this is oversimplifying Netflix, but the principles are there. Every employee at Netflix is a Knowledge worker and an effective executive.

I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t gotten deep into the self development, soft skills and professional growth books. If you have already read books on books on self development, then you probably heard all these principles so you could skip this book.