Is there a dichotomy between an effective leader and an effective executive?


I recently completed reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker (@DruckerInst). We often bang on about leadership (#leadershipchat, #leadership) and how to become better, more effective leaders. The contrast in Drucker’s book is an interesting eye-opener. He identifies five practices that are essential to business effectiveness that all executives must learn in order to be effective:

  1. Managing Time… understanding where you spend your time and cutting out unproductive activities.
  2. Choosing what to contribute to the organisation… where can you make the biggest impact on results?
  3. Knowing where and how to mobilise strength for best effect… you can’t build on weakness so learn to surround yourself with strong people and deploy them in a way that builds on their strengths.
  4. Setting the right priorities… your time is never your own so use what little you have to do the most important things first.
  5. Knitting them all together with effective decision making…effective Executives make effective decisions.

Nowhere in Drucker’s book does he say that an effective executive has to be an effective leader. Indeed, he states that “An effective executive does not need to be a leader.” He cites the example of Harry Truman… “Truman did not have one ounce of charisma, yet he was among the most effective chief executives in U.S. history.”

Having read Drucker’s book, I can understand his point and, to some extent, agree that the five practices enumerated above are critical factors in making an executive more effective. However, experience tells me that effective leadership is critical to achieving sustainable results. I say this in the certain knowledge that one cannot do everything one’s self and you therefore need a strong team, which in turn, needs strong leadership in order to spiral the achievement curve upwards.

I might, however, agree that great leaders are also effective executives.

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.


Marc J. Heylen
Marc J. Heylen

(via LinkedIn)

Indeed... and perhaps we should also add "vision" and "policy making" to the list (besides leading, directing, managing, monitoring and control). For leadership to become effective one must first have taken the time to devise a winning vision converted into clear policies. Many "tweet-leaders" nowadays change the direction into which they lead their business based on the next tweet-sized piece of information they receive under the disguise that they are reacting to changing circumstances. In most cases they use this as an excuse for lack of vision and policy.

Peter Borner
Peter Borner

Hi Marc, thanks for the comment (which I copied directly to the blog, I hope you don't mind.) I agree, there are so many misconceptions and so many executives out there that mistakenly think they are also leaders. I have yet to come across good leaders that aren't also effective

Marc J. Heylen
Marc J. Heylen

(via LinkedIn)

lead, direct, manage, monitor and control... unfortunately many folks moving up the ranks don't know the distinctive differences between them. Some believe leading and directing is merely managing on a larger scale... I have noticed the same misconception on the board of directors level. Nice to hear from you again


  1. […] is to make sure we do not overreact to short-term issues. A good friend of mine, Marc Heylen commented on one of my recent blog posts where I explored the differences between an effective leader and an […]