It’s up to you to carve out your place in the world and know when to change course. And it’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive during a career that may span some 50 years. In his book ‘Managing Oneself’, Peter Drucker explains how to do it.
The keys to success are to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself by identifying your most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses; articulate how you learn and work with others and what your most deeply held values are and describe the type of work environment where you can make the greatest contribution. Only when you operate with a combination of your strengths and self-knowledge you achieve true and lasting excellence. ‘Managing Oneself’ identifies the probing questions you need to ask to gain the insights essential for taking charge of your career. Peter Drucker was a writer, teacher, and consultant. His 34 books have been published in more than 70 languages. He founded the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, and counseled 13 governments, public services institutions, and major corporations.
LESSON 1: What Are Your Strengths?
We need to know what our strengths are to make wise decisions and know where we belong. Feedback analysis is a technique that will help you discover your strengths. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action write it down and what you expect to happen one year later. Compare the actual results with your expected results after two to three years. Drucker suggests three key actions that one can take.
1. Concentrate on your strengths
2. Improvise them
3. Find the things that are inhibiting your strengths.
For example you could be a fantastic engineer coming out of university but if you don’t have any social skills to successfully communicate your expertise to clients then you can’t make the most of your strengths. The next point is crucial as Peter says it takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetent to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. Yet most people especially most teachers and organizations concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Energy resources and time should instead be devoted in making a competitive person into a star performer.
LESSON 2: How Do You Perform?
A person’s ideal way of getting things done can be slightly modified but it is unlikely to be completely changed. We perform at our best only when we become aware of in what ways we work best. The first thing to know is whether you’re a listener or a reader. Which one are you? Would you rather read a physical book or listen to an audio-book? Secondly how do you learn? For example if you are a computer programming student do you learn best by taking notes or by listening to your lecturer or reading a textbook or writing computer code. Other things to consider are what kind of environment do you work best in? Do you work best alone or in a team or do you produce great results as a decision maker or an adviser. Drucker’s main message is to work hard and improve your performance instead of trying to change yourself. He also asks you to not take on work that you will perform poorly.
LESSON 3: What Are Your Values?
Let’s say you work as a hiring manager at Sam’s Pizza bar. You value hiring new employees to improve the business but the organization values improving their existing employees. If your values conflict with the organization’s values then you’ll be frustrated and will perform poorly. To perform at your best your values should match. It’s possible for your strengths and values to conflict, for example Drucker was a great investment banker but he valued people not being the richest man in the country so he quit his job despite being in the middle of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Now my top four values are health, time, passion and freedom. Last year I was offered a job at a multinational tech company but I was one of the two out of 30 people that turned down the offer. The hiring managers tone of voice indicated that I was out of my mind when I turned down the offer. But I value freedom and time and working 15 hours a week at an office desk giving over the phone technical support wasn’t something.
LESSON 4: Where Do You Belong?
At the intersection of your strengths, values and how you best perform will be where you belong. You’ll be confident in making decisions when opportunities come your way. Maybe you’ll perform better as a social worker than an accountant. Knowing where you belong will allow you to go from a mediocre worker to an outstanding performer.
LESSON 5: What Should You Contribute?
In other words what tasks should you spend your time in. To answer this Drucker challenges us to ask three questions
1. What does the situation require?
2. Given your strengths and values and ways of performing it, how can you make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?
3. What results need to be achieved to make a difference?
It’s rare for a plan to be clear and specific. If it exceeds 18 months then we should be asking when and how can I achieve results. That will make a difference in a year and a half. The results should be hard to achieve but not so hard that they are unrealistic to achieve. Balance is the key to achieving anything. It should also be meaningful and should make a difference. Lastly it should be visible and measurable. Drucker famously said what gets measured gets managed. Now you know what to do and where to start and what goals you need to set.
LESSON 6: Take Responsibility For Relationships
People are as much of an individual. They too have unique strengths, values and ways of performing. Knowing what they are, will allow you to work well with others. If you want to find out then you have to ask them about their strengths,values etc.
LESSON 7: The 2nd Half of Your Life
After twenty years of doing the same kind of work, many people are very good at their jobs. However they aren’t learning, contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from a job. Drucker suggests that beginning a second career can be done in three ways as follows:
1. Start a career in a different kind of organization.
2. Start a parallel career more commonly known today as a side hustle. Do something part-time that interest you or consider volunteer work.
3. Entrepreneurs who have already built a sustainable business can start another activity that they’re interested in. Maybe they could start a not-for-profit organization.
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Also published on Medium.