Book Review: Managing Oneself
The world of today is full of unprecedented opportunities. If you’ve got ambition, drive, and are smart, you can rise to the top of your profession regardless of where you started out. In his book ‘Managing Oneself’, Peter F. Drucker expounds how you can achieve true and lasting excellence by operating from a combination of your strengths and self-knowledge.
To cultivate a deep understanding of yourself you need to ask yourself five fundamental questions:
- What are my most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses?
- How do I learn and work with others?
- What are my most deeply held values?
- And in what type of work environment can I make the greatest contribution?
- Want to read more about how to become your own Chief Executive Officer and drive your professional career?
In his book ‘Managing Oneself’, Peter F. Drucker describes how you can build a life of excellence in a world full of unprecedented opportunities. The main idea behind it is simple: Focus on your strengths and cultivate a deep understanding of yourself. You need to learn more about yourself than mere insights into your strengths and weaknesses. You also need to understand how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Only then will you achieve true and lasting excellence.
What are my strengths?
To discover your strengths, you need to use feedback analysis. Every time you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Practiced consistently, the method will show you where your strengths lie and will also show what you are doing or failing to do that deprives you of the full benefits of your strengths. What results are you skilled at generating? What abilities do you need to enhance in order to get the results you want? What unproductive habits are preventing you from creating the outcomes you desired? In identifying opportunities for improvement, don’t focus on your weaknesses, because it will take you far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. Instead, concentrate on – and build on – your strengths.
How do I learn and work with others?
Surprisingly few people know how to get things done. Like one’s strengths, how one performs is unique. So don’t try to change yourself; you are unlikely to succeed. Instead, focus on working hard to improve the way you perform. To know how you perform, you need to understand accurately in what ways you work best. Do you process information most effectively by reading it, or by hearing others discuss it? Do you accomplish the most by working with other people, or by working alone? Do you perform best while making decisions, or while advising others on key matters? Are you in top form when things get stressful, or do you function optimally in a highly predictable environment?
What are my values?
To be able to manage yourself, you have to ask yourself: What are my values? An organization also has values. If you work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with yours, your career will likely be marked by frustration and poor performance. A person’s strengths and the way that person performs rarely conflict; the two are complementary. But there is sometimes a conflict between a person’s values and his or her strengths. What one does well (even very well and successfully) may not fit with one’s value system. In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one’s life to. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.
Where do I belong?
A small number of people know very early where they belong. Most people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. To know where you belong, you need to consider your strengths, preferred work style, and values. Based on these qualities, in what kind of work environment would you fit in best? If you find the perfect fit you’ll transform yourself from a merely acceptable employee into a star performer.
What can I contribute?
Throughout history companies have told their business people what their contribution should be. Today, you have choices. But with choice comes responsibility. To decide how you can best enhance your organization’s performance, first ask what the situation requires. Based on your strengths, work style, and values, how might you make the greatest contribution to your organization’s efforts?
The challenges of managing oneself may seem obvious, if not elementary. And the answers may seem self-evident to the point of appearing naïve. But managing oneself requires new and unprecedented things from the individual, and especially from the knowledge worker. In effect, managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker thinks and behaves like a Chief Executive Officer.
“Managing Oneself”, as written by Peter Drucker, may be a modern business addition to the foundation of “Know thyself,” the famous saying from the Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and “To thine own self be true” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (although this phrase’s speaker in the play, Polonius, gives questionable advice which suitably complicates our whole “knowing”).
Peter Drucker and Managing Oneself – Business Strategy
In today’s world, we all know that we must manage our own career and life. We all have tremendous options and opportunities. Drucker says that “with opportunity comes responsibility” and that “knowledge workers, effectively, must be their own chief executive officers”. To do this well, we “need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself.” A 12-page Harvard Business Review article can be found here, and a longer book is available and the Harvard Business Review has also created a collection of articles on this topic.
Peter Drucker Focuses on a Few Key Questions
- What are my strengths? Build upon your strengths, says Drucker. While he recommends that people work to improve bad habits and bad manners, he writes that “one should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence” and continues that “It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
- Feedback analysis: Few things are more valuable than intelligent feedback, and our own ability to receive it effectively. Drucker advocates not only receiving feedback from others, but writing down one’s own expectations from a decision or action and assessing the actual results months and years later. He suggests that this method of observing results compared with expectations is an effective way of figuring out your strengths and weaknesses.
- How do I work? Importantly, he begins with the question of how does one learn — by writing, reading, or listening? I would add another possible category — learning by doing which is what works best for some people. This idea is apparent in many adult educational environments that focus on making sure the material is available to students in audio, visual, and kinesthetic methods of learning. Drucker also poses the questions of whether you work best alone or with others, as a subordinate, or as part of a team.
- Learning how to learn: His ideas on this remind me of how we all need to continue to be learning how to learn more effectively. Charlie Munger calls Warren Buffett a “learning machine”. We all need to be learning machines as the world, our niche of the world, and everything else seems to change constantly.
- What are my values? Think about what is important to you living a worthy, ethical life and make sure that your job responsibilities and your organization are well aligned with your values.
- Where do I belong? What type of work environment allows you to be most productive and to make you the most fulfilled? Drucker writes that “Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.”
- What should I contribute? Until recently, most people were subordinates who were supposed to do as they were told. Today, more and more people are deciding for themselves what they should do and contribute. Business owners face this question everyday in thinking about where we should focus our efforts and the efforts of our organizations. Deciding what to do and where to focus is a deep skill that we all can improve. Of all this list, deciding well where to focus may well be the most important skill that can be learned and improved with effort.
With modern opportunity comes responsibility, says Drucker. Learning how to manage ourselves is as important a skill and process as there is — no matter where we go or what we do, our selves will always be with us.
Categories:Balance, Culture Is Strategic, Execution
Tags:Career, Feedback, Feedback analysis, HR, Human Resources, Know Thyself, Leadership, Learning, Managing, Managing Oneself, Peter Drucker, Values, Warren Buffett