Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker Summary

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Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

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My Thoughts

Managing Oneself is succinct and packed with useful advice. My favorite insight is from chapter 4 which illustrates the differences between readers and listeners. Knowing whether you are a reader or a listener is a key to performing at your best. It also helps you interact with others by identifying if they are readers or listeners. It can be read in under an hour and I encourage you to buy a copy and read it for yourself.

My Favorite Quotes

  • Far too many people, especially people with great expertise in one area, are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas.
  • Go to work on acquiring the knowledge and skills you need to fully realize your strengths.
  • Do not waste time and effort trying to turn incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Instead, focus your energy, resources, and time on making competent people into star performers.
  • To work in an organization whose values system is unacceptable, or incompatible, with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to non-performance.
  • Successful careers are not planned, they develop when people are prepared for opportunities.
  • Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding contributor.
  • The existence of trust between two people does not necessarily mean they like each other, it means they understand each other.

Key Questions

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I perform?
  • Am I a reader or a listener?
  • How do I learn?
  • Do I work well with people or am I a loner?
  • If you do work well with people, in what relationship?
  • Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an advisor?
  • Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment?
  • Do I work best in a big organization or a small one?
  • What are my values?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What should I contribute?
  • Where and how can I achieve results that will make a difference within the next 18 months?
  • What do I need to know about your strengths, how you perform, your values, and your proposed contribution?

1. Introduction

You need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself.

  • What your strengths and weakness are
  • How you learn
  • How you work with others
  • What your value are
  • Where you can make your greatest contribution

Only when you operate from strength can you achieve true excellence.

2. What are my strengths?

Most people think they know what they are good at, they are usually wrong.

Discover your strengths through feedback analysis.

Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. In 9-12 months, compare actual results with expectations.

Implications for action from feedback analysis:

  1. Concentrate your strengths – put yourself where your strengths can produce results
  2. Work on improving your strengths
  3. Discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance
  4. Learning what not to do

Far too many people, especially people with great expertise in one area, are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas. Or they believe that being bright is a substitute for knowledge.

Work on acquiring the knowledge and skills you need to fully realize your strengths.

Ideas do not move mountains. Bulldozers move mountains, but ideas show where the bulldozers should do the work.

Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization.

Bright people often fail at tasks requiring cooperation because of a lack of courtesy (manners).

It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it does to improve from first rate performance to excellence.

Do not waste time and effort trying to turn incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Instead, focus your energy, resources, and time on making competent people into star performers.

3. How do I perform?

Amazingly few people know how they get things done.

If you work in ways that are not your ways, it almost guarantees poor performance.

You achieve results by working in ways that you best perform.

4. Am I a reader or a listener?

This is one of the first things you need to know to determine how you perform.

Few people know that there are both readers and listeners, and that people are rarely both. Even fewer know which of the two they themselves are.

Do you like to be prepared for a meeting by reading or listening?

Do you prefer to work out problems in writing or by discussion?

Few listeners can make themselves into competent readers, and vise versa.

The crux of this question is: do you perform better in writing or verbally? He gives illustrations of how both Dwight Eisenhower (reader) and Lyndon Johnson (listener) excelled in one area and failed at the other.

5. How do I learn?

This is the second question to ask in determining how you perform.

Writers do not, as a rule, learn by listening or reading. Writers learn by writing.

There are many different ways to learn:

  • By writing
  • By taking notes
  • By doing
  • By hearing yourself talk

Of all the pieces of self-knowledge, understanding how you learn is the easiest to acquire.

Acting on this knowledge is the key to performance.

To manage yourself effectively you also need to ask:

  • Do I work well with people or am I a loner?
  • If you do work well with people, in what relationship?
    • Some people are better as subordinates than leaders
    • Some people work best alone
    • Some people are exceptional as coaches and mentors
  • Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an advisor?
  • Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment?
  • Do I work best in a big organization or a small one? Few people work well in all environments.

6. What are my values?

This is not a question of ethics, the rules of ethics should be the same for everyone.

Ethics is only part of a value system.

To work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable, or incompatible, with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to non-performance.

An example of differing value systems in the medical field: a value system focused on helping physicians do better is different from one focused on making scientific discoveries.

A religious example: a church with a value system focused on reaching new people in comparison with focus on spiritual growth of the existing membership.

Should a business be run with focus on short-term results or long-term growth? This is also a question of values. Successful business people know that you can’t do both, when there is a conflict between short-term results and long term growth, each company has to determine it’s own priority.

Jeff Bezos’ 1997 Letter to Shareholders contains a great explanation of Amazon and why their values are focused on long-term growth.

7. Where do I belong?

Most people do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties.

By your mid-twenties you should know the answer to these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I perform?
  • What are my values?

Answer these questions, then you can decide where you belong. Or at least decide where you do not belong.

Successful careers are not planned, they develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, method of work, and values.

Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding contributor.

8. What should I contribute?

Just doing what you are told is not enough in today’s work environment. Knowledge workers have to learn to ask “what should my contribution be?”

To answer this you must address three elements:

  1. What does the situation require?
  2. Given my strengths, way of performing, and values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?
  3. What results have to be achieved to make a difference?

A plan can usually cover no more than 18 months and still be reasonably clear and specific.

The question in most cases should be: “Where and how can I achieve results that will make a difference within the next 18 months?”

The answer must balance several things:

  1. The results should be hard to achieve, they should require stretching. They should also be within reach. To aim at results that cannot be achieved is not being ambitious, it is being foolish.
  2. The results should be meaningful.
  3. The results should be visible, and if at all possible, measurable.

9. Responsibility for Relationships

Very few people work by themselves and achieve results by themselves.

Managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships.

Two parts of taking responsibility for relationships:

  1. Accept that other people are as much individuals as you are
  2. Taking responsibility for communication

The secret of managing the boss is to adapt yourself to what makes your boss most effective. For example, you should know whether your boss is a reader or listener and adapt accordingly. Don’t waste time writing a lot of reports if your boss is a listener. This same principle holds true for working with your co-workers.

The first secret of effectiveness is to understand the people you work with and depend on so that you can make use of their strengths, their ways of working, and their values.

Consider going to your associates and saying “this is what I am good at, this is how I work, these are my values, this is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I intend to deliver.” Then ask “what do I need to know about your strengths, how you perform, your values, and your proposed contribution?” Knowledge workers should request this of everyone they work with.

Organizations are no longer built on force, but on trust.

The existence of trust between two people does not necessarily mean they like each other, it means they understand each other.

10. The Second Half of Your Life

When work for most people meant manual labor, there was no need to worry about the second-half of your life.

Knowledge workers are not finished after forty years on the job, they are merely bored. At 45 most executives have reached the peak of their business careers. They are very good at their jobs, but they are not learning or contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from the job.

That is why managing oneself increasingly leads one to develop a second career.

Three ways to develop a second career:

  1. Start one (move from one organization to another)
  2. Develop a parallel career (often in a non-profit organization)
  3. Build one (social entrepreneurs often do this)

You must begin working on the second-half of your life long before you enter it.

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This is the 64th book read in my 2020 reading list.
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