“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”).
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.