Peter Drucker – Managing Oneself

A little while ago, a colleague of mine sent around Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself article from Harvard Business Review.  He described it as “something to read and re-read over time,” and having read the piece a few times now I’ve put it on my “reread this one annually” list.

The whole piece is about self-knowledge, probably the most important lever in sustained and longstanding professional and personal success.

From the opening, just to give you a flavor of both the content and Drucker’s direct, no-nonsense writing style:

History’s great achievers – a Napoleon, a da Vinci, a Mozart – have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers. But they are rare exceptions, so unusual both in their talents and their accomplishments as to be considered outside the boundaries of ordinary human existence. Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.

Most of the article covers, with incredible clarity, topics you might expect: how to know your strengths and build on them; understanding your weaknesses; the power of real and honest feedback; etc.

But then out of left field Drucker spends a good chunk of time saying that it’s crucial to know if you learn best by reading or listening (apparently General Eisenhower was a reader,  President Lyndon Johnson was a listener).  Huh?

This pretty much stumped me, both because I’d never thought about it before and because, after thinking about it some, I had no idea whether I was a reader or a listener.  I assumed that since I read a lot and write a lot that I have to be a reader.

It turns out that I was wrong.  Here’s how I figured it out.  A few months after first reading the article I found myself preparing for a big presentation and wanted to include a discussion of a newer Acumen Fund investment.  I’d read piles of pages about the investment and had tons of information, but I just wasn’t feeling comfortable.  Then I sat down for 30 minutes with someone on our team to discuss the investment and everything changed.  I felt the texture, I could grasp the nuances, it clicked.

Turns out I’m a listener.  I’m pretty sure that having figured this out will have a big impact over time.

One final gem from the article that just made me smile – the kind of thing you don’t expect from a management guru:

Manners – simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family – enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this. If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy – that is, a lack of manners.

Hope you enjoy the full article (“Best of HBR”) as much as I did.

6 thoughts on “Peter Drucker – Managing Oneself

  1. Thanks Sasha. Not only does it help me figure out how to work, but also how to relate to others. I am a reader, but most of my subordinates are talkers. Although I prefer to write a report and distribute it, I found out that even if they read it, they don’t digest it. I’ve worked under talkers and struggle with my frustration–“Do they really need me to sit there and listen to them think?” I guess they do!

  2. So far I have only read “The Essential Drucker” but I remember being struck by his advice to focus on your strengths, and do what you are good at. I feel as though I spent my undergraduate years, and the first few years out of college trying to become a little bit knowledgeable about everything, and to be “all things to all people.” Over the last few years my strategy has changed as I’ve learned (despite the best possible time management techniques) there isn’t enough time to do everything.

    As to reading or writing, I think that I learn best by reading, which isn’t to say that listening isn’t something I value as well. A good class, or a TED talk can help to cement things too. But not much compares (for me) to lots and lots of reading and attempts to see the new idea played out in life around me.

    Thanks for the new article to read.

  3. Not to forget the speaker vs. the writer. Google and YouTube are good example. Glad to learn that you caught Drucker’s distinction. Big implications for our neo-neo-cortex! 🙂

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