Drucker on the Effective Executive

Last month’s Harvard Business Review features a piece by Peter Drucker on What makes an effective executive [payment required] (also reprinted in this morning’s Australian Financial Review).

Drucker lists eight characteristics of an effective executive from his 65 years of observations.
Two points on his list stood out for us:

  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I”.

Expanding on what is his second point, Drucker strikes a chord with us when he says:

Effective executives’ second practice, as important as the first, is to ask,
“Is this the right thing for the enterprise?” They do not ask if it’s right for the owners,
the stock price, the employees, or the executives.

We have long argued the “Shareholder Value” as the only purpose of an organisation is a
myth (see Beyond Selfishness).
Drucker points out that is also bad for the enterprise.

In another parallel with the Mintzberg article we referred to above, Drucker says:

The final practice is this: don’t think or say “I”.
Think and say “we”. Effective executives know they have ultimate responsibility, which can
be neither shared nor delegated, but they have authority only because they have the trust of the organisation.

Recommended reading.

The war on democracy

Tony Fitzgerald, most famous for his role heading Queensland’s (Australia) anti-corruption enquiry has a passionate piece in The Age this morning regarding the disappearance of ethics in the Australian political process.
He argues:

“When leaders fail to set and follow ethical standards, public trust is damaged, community expectations diminish and social divisions expand.”

Coincidentally with the The Age’s publication of Fitzgerald’s speech, Media Watch last night claimed that Paul Keating opened the flood gates to governmnet funded political advertising by spending about $20m prior to the 1996 election. “[T]he Howard Government,” presenter Marr claimed “is spending at least four or five times what the Keating Government spent before that 1996 poll.”
chriscurnow.com tries to remain outside party politics. But both Fitzgerald’s and Media Watch’s pieces are above party politics. They are about the nature of the political process itself and the threat to its very survival. We have no confidence here that either side of politics has any intention of reversing the decline in ethics.
We suggest it is time for all Australians to get involved in politics at the grass roots level. Speak to every candidate in your electorate. Ask them whether they will stand up to their party machines and demand a return to the ethical standards and conventions on which our democracy is based. Ask them if they will follow their conscience to the possible detriment of their careers.
This will demand courage and personal leadership. Surely we owe it to those who sacrificed careers, wealth, friends and many, their lives, to protect with all our beings what they fought for.

Innovation through the eyes of an Innovator

This is a story about a school, a teacher and a group of
students. The school is a girls’ high school in the suburbs of Melbourne.
This area is quite middle class and many of the school’s patrons think of
it as a state grammar school. Indeed many of the girls have a brother at the
local boys’ grammar. This is not to say that none of the students experience
poverty at home – the school is the local high school for girls and accepts
all the students within the zone who apply for it – however what poverty there
is is well hidden.

The teacher is the author of this narrative. I came to the
school in 1983 after spending seven very succesful years in a nearby co–educational
state high school. In fact, I came armed with a very recent teacher assessment which unanimously rated my current teaching
performance and suitablility for promotion as excellent and highly recommended
respectively. I was confident that I could tackle anything that this school
could throw at me. It was with some excitment then that I accepted the role
of Mathematics Co–ordinator even though I did not consider myself an expert
in mathematics. (Most of my previous efforts had been directed at the teaching
of Physics and the use of computers in schools.)  For reasons that I hope
will become obvious as this narrative unfolds, I will leave the school, three
years later, a battered but not defeated soul.

The students are a fairly normal (albeit all female) group
of young teenagers. A group I have watched change from an assortment of wide–eyed,
enthusiastic children just out of primary school to young people who have
begun to experiment (to various degrees) with life – whose innocence is starting
to fade into a memory. I met this group at the beginning of my second year
at the school. I had decided that I would have a Year 7 class as I had had
no junior classes in my first year and was eager to try out the ideas I had
been espousing.

Read the whole story here.

More on bullying

Bullying in the Workplace – Canada Safety Council
Totalitarian States of Mind by Gordon Lawrence
The Abrasive Executive & Corporate Paralysis by Laura Crawshaw

The nature of documentary

As expected, Farenheit 9/11 is a hot topic for discussion.
Jason Kottke’s recent piece on it led me to thinking about what is good documentary. I am not much of a fan of Moore’s work – although I have not seen or read any of it. What I have read from others has resulted in me putting it way down in my priority list. So I was surprised that a discussion about him would lead me anywhere interesting.
Seems a fair consensus that Farenheit 9/11 won’t change any minds rather will strengthen views already held on either side. However, Kottke’s piece goes further than this observation to discuss the nature of documentary.
He argues

The frustrating thing is that Moore has a point, but he’s unable to get himself out of the way enough to tell us the story so we can make up our own minds about it.

This is very dear to the heart of chriscurnow.com. Stories are very powerful conveyors of multiple truths. (We use them to open deep currents running through organisations.) The storyteller must have their own story to tell in the telling but must not get in the way of the other stories that viewers (and readers) will hear.


I’ve just discovered Michael Lewis, author of, among many other titles, Moneyball and Liar’s Poker. (Thanks again to Bleeding Edge.)
Lewis’ work challenges a lot of currently accepted market thinking – particularly the very recent idea that corporations exist alone to give value to shareholders.
Here’s an interview with Lewis discussing Moneyball.
Here’s part of the introduction by interviewer, Robert Birnbaum

“Moneyball is a well-researched, well-written look at the methodology and the people (mainly, general manager Billy Beane) who help make a small-budget baseball team (the Oakland Athletics) extremely competitive in the big money world of Major League baseball. It is greatly to Lewis

The Bullying Boss

Thanks to Charles Wright over at Bleeding Edge for
pointing out this
New York Times article
which discusses fear in the workplace and the bullying boss.

“It got to where I was twitching, literally, on the way into work,” said Carrie Clark, 52, a
former teacher and school administrator in Sacramento, Calif., who said her boss of several years ago baited
and insulted her for 10 months before she left the job. “I had to take care of my health.”

That’s a topic we’re passionate about and we will visit often at chriscurnow.com.

See the “Three Cars…” posts in this blog (I hope I eventually get time to
finish them.)

The article however, presents some strong research evidence to counter some
deeply held views of mine.

I don’t like bullies and I don’t like bullying bosses.

In my consultancy practice, I try to show that bullying is counter-productive.
It makes intuitive sense. The boss bullies the employees and the employees don’t
do such good work either because they try to get back at the boss, or they are
just not happy and unhappiness doesn’t produce good productivity.

Well, if the research produced in this article is correct (and I am yet to
be absolutely convinced that it is), we can kiss goodbye to that theory. Several
researches have found little correlation between bullying and productivity.

At least that supports another pet theory of mine – contrary to the views of
many employer groups that I hear often – the vast majority of employees come
to work to do a good day’s work for a good (or otherwise) day’s pay.

In my heart I am still convinced that where all the variables are taken into
account the effect of a bullying boss is negative on the organisation on most

The NYT article goes into depth on several aspects of the bullying boss, including
that guilty nice feeling we’ve all experienced when someone else ‘get’s it’
meaning we’re safe for the day. Also included is the phenomenom where we are
happy to see someone else on the receiving end because it might mean they get
fired or leave – opening up that promotion position for ourselves. Almost the
whole range of motives, reactions and human frailties are examine here nad I
recommend it for your reading list.

The things that really matter

It’s funny how life can jump up and hit you in the face.
I had my day mapped out today. I was planning to do my least favourite activity – calling people to market a new workshop I’ve developed. I went to my favourite cafe to psych myself into it and had a great conversation with a colleague while I was there.
Then just as we were finishing up, I got a call on my mobile from the hostel where my elderly mother is staying. I missed the call but rang them back straight away. For the next fifteen minutes, their number was engaged. My pulse rate went through the roof. What had happened? If they rang and didn’t leave a message it must be serious. Eventually they got onto Judy, my wife, who rang me to let me know that Mum had had a fall. She was alright but had a cut on her head and they had called the doctor.
As it happened, I was close by and so I went around there straight away. Mum was pretty shaky but it was reassuring to see that she was OK. I ended up staying with her the whole day, eventually taking her to the doctor because the doctor couldn’t make a home visit today, watching for an hour as they stitched her up, taking her to have a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding, then over to my sister’s place so someone could keep an eye on her overnight.
It made me think that this is the stuff that really matters.
So often we get caught up in the world of work and forget that the we work to live rather than live to work. I happen to think that work is really important and more important than just making a living. Work is about making a contribution to society. About creating or sustaining something good for the good of the whole.
But it is easy to lose sight of that and get caught up in the task rather than why we are doing the task. With a tendency to the obsessive, I am particularly prone to this problem.
So today is gone as far as work is concerned. I did something much more important with today. My mum is happy and thankful for the help she got from her family when she needed it today.

Beyond Selfishness

I’ve just been going over some of Henry Mintzberg’s writing and came acros this article (payment required, sorry) by Mintzberg, Robert Simons and Kunai Basu.
The authors argue that the notion of ‘shareholder value’ to the exclusion of all other accountabilities of corporations has only taken hold over the last decade. Before that “corporations [existed] to serve society. Indeed that was the reason they were originally granted charters and why those charters could be taken away from them.” Further, they argue, this notion distorts the operation of corporations, leads to a focus on short term goals and created a myth of ‘heroic leadership.’
With refreshing vigour they call for a balance between self-interest and social generosity. One becuase they believe it is good in itself. Two because they believe it is good for society. And finally because they believe it is in the long term interests of corporations.