An NAEM member posed the following question at a recent NAEM event: “If you could recommend only one book to your fellow EHS professionals, what would it be?”
My nominee would be “The Effective Executive,” by the late Peter F. Drucker.
Why? First of all, don’t let the word “Executive” turn you off. When I first read the book, I was a junior manager responsible for the environmental program at a manufacturing facility. Back then, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. I found myself nearly burned out after six months in the position. Drucker’s book taught me that effectiveness isn’t a gift that certain people are born with, rather it is a learned set of practices, and the following key practices must be learned and made into habit by:
- Managing your time: Drucker points out that with even the most sophisticated executives, there is frequently a disconnect between where they think they spend their time and where their time is actually spent. He recommends doing a one week inventory of your activities every six months.
- Choosing your main contribution to the organization: This is more difficult than it sounds. It requires a keen understanding of one’s own capabilities, insight into the organization’s needs, and the discipline to work within the role you’ve defined for yourself.
- Setting the right priorities: Drucker suggests selecting a few, critical areas where you can make the maximum impact and focusing your energy on them.
- Knowing where and how to focus strengths: Drucker states emphatically that individuals and organizations should leverage what they are good at. They should understand and compensate for their weaknesses, but build on strengths.
- Making decisions prudently: Drucker gives compelling examples of the value in disagreement and the importance of a diverse set of perspectives when making decisions.
These five principles may not seem like much of a revelation at first. But, in the midst of the day-to-day grind, it is easy to become reactive to events, loose ones bearings, and end up busy rather than effective. As an old boss of mine once said, “We pay for results, not effort.” Or as Drucker put it, “The ability to manage others isn’t proven, but one can always manage oneself.”
What techniques have you learned for ensuring effectiveness? What lessons have you taken away from situations you’ve observed where bright, capable, experienced people came up short?