Can Effectiveness Be Learned?


Can you learn to be effective?  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter F. Drucker writes that effectiveness is a habit and that you can improve through practice and examples.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Effectiveness is the ability to get the right things done.   It’s not about getting more things done.  It’s about spending your energy in the right places and on the right things to maximize your result.
  • Effectiveness can be learned.   You can improve your effectiveness by focusing on it and drawing from the various bodies of knowledge.
  • There is no “effective personality.”   The good news is that effectiveness isn’t a gene, it’s a learnable skill.
  • You improve your effectiveness through practice.   Just like anything, you improve the art of effectiveness through practice.
  • Make effectiveness a habit.   The more you practice your effectiveness, the more you’ll burn in good habits.
  • Practice will lead to competence, but not necessarily mastery.   Mastery requires talent.   While you may not master the craft, you can at least build competence and improve your effectiveness.

I’m a fan of effectiveness.  I think effectiveness is the tool for getting more results and making better use of my time and energy.

If Effectiveness Were a Gift …
Drucker writes that if effectiveness were a gift, our civilization would be highly vulnerable:

If effectiveness were a gift people were born with, the way they are born with a gift for music or an eye for painting, we would be in bad shape.  For we know that only a small minority is born with great gifts in any one of these areas.  We would therefore be reduced to trying to spot people with high potential for effectiveness early and to train them as best we know to develop their talent.  But we could hardly hope to find enough people for the executive tasks of modern society this way.  Indeed, if effectiveness were a gift, our present civilization would be highly vulnerable, if not untenable.  As a civilization  of large organizations it is dependent on a large supply of people capable of being executives with modicum of effectiveness.

How Do You Learn Effectiveness?
Drucker raises questions about learning effectiveness:

If effectiveness can be learned, however, the question arises:  What does it consist in?  What does one have to learn?  Of what kind is the learning?  Is it a knowledge — and knowledge one learns in systematic form and through concepts?  Is it a skill that one learns as an apprentice?  Or is it a practice that one learns through doing the same elementary things over and over again?

Consulting and Effectiveness
According to Drucker, consultants are only effective consultants achieve results:

As a consultant, I work with executives in many organizations.  Effectiveness is crucial to me in two ways.  First, a consultant who by definition has no authority other than that of knowledge must himself be effective — or else he is nothing.  Second, the most effective consultant depends on people within the client organization to get anything done.  Their effectiveness therefore determines in the last analysis whether a consultant contributes and achieves results, or whether he is pure “cost center” or at best a court jester.

There is No “Effective Personality”
According to Drucker, there is no “effective personality”:

I soon learned there is no “effective personality.”  The effective people I have seen differ widely in their temperaments and their abilities, in what they do and how they do it, in their personalities, their knowledge, their interests — in fact, in almost everything that distinguishes human beings.  All they have in common is the ability to get the right things done.

Effectiveness is a Habit
According to Drucker, effectiveness is a habit:

Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices.  And practices can always be learned.  Practices are simple, deceptively so; even a seven-year-old has no difficulty in understanding a practice.  But practices are always exceedingly hard to do well.  They have to be acquired, as we all learn the multiplication table; that is, repeated ad nauseam until “x x 6 = 36” has become unthinking, conditiioned reflect, and firmly ingrained habit.  Practices on learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again.

Practice Your “Scales”
According to Drucker, you improve effectiveness through practice:

To every practice applies what my old piano teacher said to me in exasperation when I was a small boy.  “You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does, but there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does.”  What the piano teacher forgot to add — probably because it was so obvious to her — is that even the great pianists could not play Mozart as they do unless they practices their scales, and kept on practicing them.

Practice Builds Competence, but Talent Builds Mastery
According to Drucker, practice will lead to competence, but won’t necessarily lead to mastery:

There is, in other words, no reason why anyone with normal endowment should not acquire competence in any practice.  Mastery might well elude him; for that one might need special talents.  But what in effectiveness is competence.  what is needed are “the scales.”

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  1. Hi J. D.

    I like that, “Practice will lead to competence, but not necessarily mastery.” There’s a lot of truth in those words. I think it’s something we see all of the time, often in children. Parents will stress practice, practice, practice, and even though the child can “do it”, they may never perfect it.

    I’m guessing passion needs to be part of that equation.

  2. Hey Barbara

    Oh, so true. It’s making me revisit to figure out if I like certain things because I’m good at them, or if I’m good at certain things because I like them.

  3. Effectiveness IS a habit. You have to keep streamlining your routines until they get better. People might have a tendency to be more effective because perhaps they are better listeners or have better stamina, but no one is born effective. It is learned behavior.

  4. Hey Writer Dad

    Streamlining your routines is the key. It’s the difference between random results and more consistent success.

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