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To be effective, first Manage Yourself
How Drucker teaches us the simple things we need to know about managing ourselves in 70 odd pages
There are many things you can do to boost personal effectiveness. Drucker’s tiny book Managing Oneself is an excellent introduction to the things you should do to get started.
There are 5 main areas that are addressed in his book
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Start from Strength
Take responsibility for Relationships
The 2nd half of your life
A) Start from Strength
In 2017, I interned for one of the largest consumer goods companies in India.
That was the first time I was introduced to the concept of focusing on strength. The Godrej Group is a 125-year-old conglomerate making everything from soaps to locks. They were the first company in the world to manufacture vegetable oil soaps, and over 600 million people use their products every day.
Their strategy is a great example of starting from strength.
For all their products, they aim to be one of the top 3 players in any market. If they aren’t able to make it to the top 3, they exit.
Drucker makes it clear that you must first focus on your strength because it is only in areas of strength that you can have an impact.
First and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.
Second, work on improving your strengths. Analysis will rapidly show where you need to improve skills or acquire new ones. It will also show the gaps in your knowledge—and those can usually be filled.
The argument for starting from strength is simple.
Time, energy, and resources are limited. You want to focus on areas where you can have the highest impact, and where you can actually achieve results.
You can only achieve results in areas of strength and competence.
This is counter to the narrative sometimes pushed by well-meaning parents and bosses of being a well-rounded individual by improving your weaknesses.
Instead, Drucker maintains that there should be little focus on weakness.
One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence.
The only weaknesses to work on are the ones that are debilitating or caused by intellectual arrogance. These are the kind of weaknesses that can prevent you from acting on your strengths.
Third, discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it.
What if I don’t know what my strengths are?
Invert the problem. Start with what you are NOT strong at and eliminate those.
Drucker also suggests feedback analysis as a tool to gauge your strengths.
The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations. I have been practicing this method for 15 to 20 years now, and every time I do it, I am surprised.
Comparing your expectations with your results also indicates what not to do.
Use a decision journal for feedback analysis.
Key Takeaway: Concentrate on Strengths. If you’re good at something, focus on becoming world-class at it. Ignore weaknesses unless they prevent you from producing results in your area of strength.
B) Know yourself
In order to perform from strength and place yourself in an area where you can make an impact, you must first know yourself. Drucker gives us a handy list of questions to figure that out.
1. Am I a reader or a listener?
You consume information best either as a reader or a listener. Drucker gives examples of Lyndon Johnson and Eisenhower to explain how not knowing whether you’re a reader or a listener can lead to poor performance.
2. How do I learn?
School assumes that everyone learns best either by reading or by listening. But there are many different ways to learn.
Beethoven learned best by writing. Once he wrote down a composition, he never needed to look at it again. Some people learn best by reading or listening. Others may prefer watching videos. Some might learn by doing, and others by talking out loud with others.
Gaining knowledge is only half the puzzle, though as Drucker points out
Acting on knowledge is the key to performance. Not acting on it condemns one to non-performance.
Ideas without action are daydreams. Speaking of the ideas person
Like so many brilliant people, he believes that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work
3. Do I work well with people, or do I prefer to work alone?
If you do prefer to work with people, you must also know in what capacity.
Some people work best as subordinates, employees, or team members. Others might work best as managers or employers. Others may excel at being coaches or mentors, and some might be woefully ill-equipped for it.
4. Do I work best as a Decision Maker or Advisor?
Drucker pinpoints why the number 2 executive in an organization may fail when promoted to the position of CEO. The CEO position requires primarily a decision-maker, who works in tandem with advisors, whereas the number 2 position is usually occupied by someone who is an excellent advisor.
The top CEOs in the world tend to be effective decision-makers, but not everyone works best as a decision-maker. Some work best in an advisory capacity, free from the burden of making tough decisions.
5. Do I work best in a structured or unstructured environment?
COVID upended all previous norms of a ‘regular’ work environment. Some people perform best in an office with fixed timings and clearly defined work. Others thrive in an unstructured environment where something new comes up every day.
Given the changes in the work post COVID I would add two more questions as an update
5.1 Do I work best in the office or from home or in different places (like coffee shops)?
6. Do I work best in a big organization or a small organization?
I’ve worked in large enterprises with more than 250k employees, and I’ve worked in tiny organizations with less than 10 people. Both types of organizations are very different in terms of structure, bureaucracy, job stability & security, and the impact you can have.
7. What are my values?
Drucker has a simple test for this. He calls it The Mirror Test. If you aren’t happy with the person you see in the mirror, then you’re not on the right path.
More critically, your values must align with those of the organization you’re working for.
Do your values match the organization’s values?
Some companies focus on quarterly results far more, and some, like Amazon, are notorious for ignoring short-term results in favor of long-term results.
Some companies might focus on small, consistent breakthroughs for innovation and others might make big, risky, bold bets.
In both the above examples, the end goal might be similar in both options - to be successful, but the paths of getting there are very different.
Where do you belong?
Most people don't know, but Drucker suggests that by age 30, you should know where you don't belong.
8. What should I contribute?
To be effective means to get results with your contribution. Here again, Drucker provides us with a couple of questions to hone in on what we should contribute.
What does the situation require?
What results have to be achieved to make a difference?
Given my values, how can I make the greatest contribution?
The outside-in approach ensures that you are focussing on the right things.
C) Make plans
Drucker gives us some clear points for guardrails in making plans that are actionable.
Usually, no more than 18 months in the future
The goals of the plan must require stretching, but also be achievable
To aim at results that cannot be achieved—or that can be only under the most unlikely circumstances—is not being ambitious; it is being foolish.
Results should be meaningful.
Results should be visible and, if possible measurable
Once a plan is made, set a course of action to bring it to fruition by defining the following:
What to do - All the tasks that need to be done
Where and how to start - Prioritization
What goals and deadlines to set - Time-bound results
D) Take responsibility for relationships
We all need to work with others to get results that we cannot achieve alone. You must take responsibility for your relationships with your co-workers and others if you want to be truly effective.
The best way to do this is by acknowledging that your bosses, co-workers, and subordinates are people too, and, as such, have their own strengths, values, and ways of working.
To be effective, you need to know their strengths, modes of performance, and values.
Take responsibility for communication.
Most problems arise because of a lack of communication.
It is a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects.
Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing and how they do their work, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect. And the reason they do not know is that they have not asked and therefore have not been told. This failure to ask reflects human stupidity less than it reflects human history. Until recently, it was unnecessary to tell any of these things to anybody.
Druckers lays out a simple fix for this.
Tell your boss/co-workers/anyone you work with:
This is what I'm good at; these are my values and these are the results you can expect.
Communicate your working style to others to create clarity and build trust.
This is even more important in a world or remote work where you might be working with people who you’ve never met in person.
As Drucker mentions, every time you do this, the response from the other side invariably is - “why didn’t you tell me this sooner”
E) The 2nd half of your life
More and more people are working well into their 70s and beyond, not just for financial reasons but also for satisfaction. Drucker suggests it is critical for knowledge workers to start planning for the 2nd half of their life.
To manage boredom
To have a fallback option in case of a serious career setback.
With the wide-ranging progress we are seeing in AI, we are likely going to see a lot of change, and people will need to manage themselves to get through it.
If you want to be prepared in your 60s, you must start now in your 30s or 40s
If one does not begin to volunteer before one is 40 or so, one will not volunteer once past 60
There are 3 main ways to develop a 2nd career
Start by moving to a different role
Develop a parallel career
Become a Social Entrepreneur - Start a non-profit after retiring.
I’ve unknowingly been doing bits of the first two approaches. I moved from working in a Strategy role at one of the top Investment Banks in the world to becoming a video editor for a podcast.
(While I still continue editing on the side, I’ve now moved back into a more consulting-style role at OSV)
Overall, Drucker gives us a great starting point to understand some of the elements of effectiveness and how to get started in the right direction.
Here is a template I’ve created with the questions discussed above. Thinking through your answers and filling out the doc is the hard part, but it will pay dividends for life.
I’ve recently started writing much more and plan to continue the momentum. I would love to hear your thoughts and get some feedback.
Thanks for reading The Knowledge Toolkit! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.