As I worked through this new week and new month, I continued to explore the wealth of knowledge published by the Harvard Business Review. Peter F. Drucker, one of my very first mentors, wrote a compelling piece for the publication titled “What Makes an Effective Executive.” In the article, Drucker details how executives who are effective get the right things done in the right ways.
Drucker doesn’t believe there is one stereotypical, perfect leader. He says in his long consulting career, he’s seen leaders of all types—leaders with wide-ranging attitudes, personalities, values, strengths and weaknesses. And while their leadership genetics may have differed, there were some similarities he could identify in the way they led. He says every leader followed the same eight practices:
- They asked, “What needs to be done?” When Jack Welch took over as General Electric’s CEO, he believed his Wildly Important Goal was to launch an expansive overseas presence for GE. However, he asked, “What needs to be done?” and the answer to that simple question revealed a completely different goal. Rather than global expansion, Welch realized streamlining GE—removing the businesses within the organization that were not profitable—had to be his key directive to ensure success for the company.
- They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?” Drucker explains: “Decisions that are right for your enterprise are ultimately right for all stakeholders.”
- They developed action plans. Executives, as the name implies, are meant to execute. In fact, it’s mastering the execution that will ensure the accomplishment of Wildly Important Goals. But to truly master execution requires careful planning, (as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail). Napoleon purportedly said no battle won ever followed his plan, yet he continued to plan for every battle. Why? Because without a plan, Drucker says execution is held prisoner to the dangers of the unknown. By planning, you’re anticipating, you’re thinking and you’re strategizing, so no matter what happens next, you’re prepared to move forward with confidence.
- They took responsibility for decisions. Effective leaders, according to Drucker, do not make a decision until all team members understand who is accountable for carrying it out, what the timeframe for the decision will be, who will be affected by the decision and who should be informed about the decision.
- They took responsibility for communicating. Effective leaders do not operate with bureaucracy or bias. They receive feedback and communicate with team members at all levels of their organization. When leaders are fully responsible for communicating, they also create a level of transparency that promotes a positive company culture.
- They were focused on opportunities rather than problems. This particular practice is especially meaningful in the context of the sweeping transformational changes 2020 has brought our way. However, the challenges of transformational changes are seen by effective leaders not as difficulties to overcome but as positive drivers of necessary innovation.
- They ran productive meetings.Studies have shown that executives spend more than half of every business day in a meeting. And while meetings are important to create alignment and foster collaboration, it’s important to streamline your meetings so they’re ultra-productive. Create action-based agendas. Confirm all team members understand the purpose of the meeting and the information they need to convey to others. An ideal WIG call, for instance, should last no more than 15 minutes. By leading productive meetings, effective leaders free up their time and their team members’ time for more high-value work that will ultimately benefit the enterprise.
- They thought and said “we” rather than “I.” While executives are ultimately responsible for the success of the enterprise, they also have to instill trust in their team. Drucker writes: “This means that they think of the needs and the opportunities of the organization before they think of their own needs or opportunities.” Using the pronoun “we” rather than “I” creates a meaningful sense of shared ownership in company goals and initiatives.
So, what’s the message? Drucker offers a framework to help any leader in any industry find success through effective leadership. Practices 1-2 will help leaders gather knowledge about the executional actions necessary accomplish their Wildly Important Goals. Practices 3-6 allow them to transform this knowledge into effective action. Practices 7-8 ensure everyone at every level of the organization is held accountable to the exec.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.