The Only Business Book You’d Ever Have to Read

A quick glance at a typical entrepreneurs’ nightstand will show at least two or three books piled up waiting to be read. Despite their best intentions, entrepreneurs and other business folks often don’t get around to reading all the books they plan to. The fact that they are frequently gifted many “must-read” books only adds to the problem. If you thought things were bad before, our friends and sundry experts on Twitter and Facebook who’ve begun showering all of us with even more recommendations are making matters worse.

Effective Executive image (c) MintLast night when the pile of books on my bedside table tumbled over, I was finally spurred to action. I set out on a quest – to find that one book that must be read – after which it wouldn’t matter if I read any  others. I’d have to admit that my thus-far forbearing spouse probably had as much to do with my wanting just one book on my nightstand. It is this journey I share with you in this week’s column.

The preamble of the US Declaration of Independence, first adopted on July 4, 1776, states “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  Scholars agree that the authors of the Declaration of Independence were greatly influenced by the work of English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704). That his ideas have held sway for over three hundred years speaks to the foresight and genius of John Locke. If there is such a philosopher in business, who has not only  influenced multiple generations of business leaders but continues to stay relevant today, it is Peter Drucker.

Whether you are a new employee starting out on your first job or an experienced CEO and particularly if are an entrepreneur, Peter Drucker has something of lasting value to impart to you. The challenge in getting acquainted with Peter Drucker and his work is the sheer prodigiousness of his written output. He’s Shakespearean in the number of volumes (nearly forty) he has authored and the breadth of subjects he’s covered. The utter clarity of thought and simplicity of his communication style have earned Drucker, in my opinion, the right to be termed the Bard of Business.

And much like getting acquainted with the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon through a Minerva or Cliff Notes guide, the first time reader might wish there was a quick and easy guide to Drucker. Luckily Drucker’s own “The Effective Executive” first published in 1966 (subsequently revised as The Effective Executive Revised in 2002 and The Effective Executive in Action in 2005) is such a guide.  The book distills the wisdom needed for a professional lifetime in Drucker’s trademark lucid style within its slim 174 pages. It is the volume I’d choose, if I had to pick only one of his books.

The charm of the book lies in Drucker’s simple assertion that effectiveness can be learned. Never one to mince words, he asserts in the very first chapter,“Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” He then quickly spells out five simple steps to learn and practice effectiveness.

Drucker’s frequent use of compelling anecdotes from his own wide-ranging consulting career and history makes reading the book not only pleasurable but memorable as well.  My own favorite story is the one about President Abraham Lincoln’s response when he’s told about his new commander-in-chief’ General Grant’s fondness for the bottle. “If I knew his brand, I’d send a barrel or so to some other generals.” Drucker goes on to say, Grant’s appointment was effective because he was chosen for his strength of winning battles and “not for his sobriety, that is, for the absence of a weakness.”

My roommate in college would read the Bible each night before he went to bed. Many a times, as brash 18-year-olds are wont to do, I’d ask him “Haven’t you read it before? How come you are reading it again?” To his credit he never lost his cool and would mostly give me an indulgent smile before returning to his book. It was only much later that I came to appreciate the value of returning to a book I’d read many times and discovering new things each time. The Effective Executive is such a book, one that I find myself returning to each year and it has never disappointed.

Get yourself a copy today and you wouldn’t even have to clear out any space, given the slim volume it is.

Summary

Effective executives

  • Manage their time through explicit choices about what’s important
  • Focus on what they can contribute themselves
  • Build on people’s strengths rather than try to mitigate their weaknesses
  • Set and drive the long-term business priorities
  • Understand and make effective decisions and
  • Know that effectiveness can be learned

 

An edited version of this article first appeared in my Book Beginnings column in the Mint.

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