Busy, yes. But are you effective?

Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff

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?

About Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff is Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety for Danaher Corp. and President of NAEM’s Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveEvanoff.

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  1. Frank J Brandauer

    March 24, 2011

    I would recommend “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande. It is both an interesting study of complexity in modern times as well as a practical solution based approach that we can all us.

  2. Alex Pollock

    March 24, 2011

    Great book to recommend Stephen. Thought provoking questions. When I see one bright person is struggling I probe for specific, unique areas to help but when I see the majority in a work group struggling and failing to give their best I likely have a leadership issue. I have found the following helpful in leading clever people:
    -lead with a light touch
    -listen to silences
    -tell what but not how
    -explain and persuade
    -talk straight
    -allow time for questions
    -give recognition and amplify achievements

  3. William D'Alessandro

    March 25, 2011

    Other than when someone is in the throes of a personal problem, the only time bright, capable, people come up short is when they are handed responsibilities without sufficient means or authority to meet expectations — their own or those of their superios.

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