What Makes an Effective Executive

What Makes an Effective Executive

The Idea in Brief

Worried that you're not a born leader? That you lack charisma, the right talents, or some other secret ingredient? No need: leadership isn't about personality or talent. In fact, the best leaders exhibit wildly different personalities, attitudes, values, and strengths—they're extroverted or reclusive, easygoing or controlling, generous or parsimonious, numbers or vision oriented.

So what do effective leaders have in common? They get the right things done, in the right ways—by following eight simple rules:

• Ask what needs to be done.

• Ask what's right for the enterprise.

• Develop action plans.

• Take responsibility for decisions.

• Take responsibility for communicating.

• Focus on opportunities, not problems.

• Run productive meetings.

• Think and say "We," not "I."

Using discipline to apply these rules, you gain the knowledge you need to make smart decisions, convert that knowledge into effective action, and ensure accountability throughout your organization.

The Idea in Practice


Ask what needs to be done.

When Jack Welch asked this question while taking over as CEO at General Electric, he realized that dropping GE businesses that couldn't be first or second in their industries was essential—not the overseas expansion he had wanted to launch. Once you know what must be done, identify tasks you're best at, concentrating on one at a time. After completing a task, reset priorities based on new realities.

Ask what's right for the enterprise.

Don't agonize over what's best for owners, investors, employees, or customers. Decisions that are right for your enterprise are ultimately right for all stakeholders.


Develop action plans.

Devise plans that specify desired results and constraints (is the course of action legal and compatible with the company's mission, values, and policies?). Include check-in points and implications for how you'll spend your time. And revise plans to reflect new opportunities.

Take responsibility for decisions.

Ensure that each decision specifies who's accountable for carrying it out, when it must be implemented, who'll be affected by it, and who must be informed. Regularly review decisions, especially hires and promotions. This enables you to correct poor decisions before doing real damage.

Take responsibility for communicating.

Get input from superiors, subordinates, and peers on your action plans. Let each know what information you need to get the job done. Pay equal attention to peers' and superiors' information needs.

Focus on opportunities, not problems.

You get results by exploiting opportunities, not solving problems. Identify changes inside and outside your organization (new technologies, product innovations, new market structures), asking "How can we exploit this change to benefit our enterprise?" Then match your best people with the best opportunities.


Run productive meetings.

Articulate each meeting's purpose (Making an announcement? Delivering a report?). Terminate the meeting once the purpose is accomplished. Follow up with short communications summarizing the discussion, spelling out new work assignments and deadlines for completing them. General Motors CEO Alfred Sloan's legendary mastery of meeting follow-up helped secure GM's industry dominance in the mid-twentieth century.

Think and say "We," not "I."

Your authority comes from your organization's trust in you. To get the best results, always consider your organization's needs and opportunities before your own.

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