A summary of Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

I recently read Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker on a recommendation by a coworker. I believe I learn best by writing, so here’s a summary of the book.

Before the 20th century, people did not need to manage themselves, because their work was manual repetitive, and their position was fixed. Today, we are knowledge workers, constantly learning; and we can move jobs, careers, and locations. To achieve in this world requires self-management, but people don’t do this.

You need to know your strengths, methods, and values. Learn your strengths through feedback analysis: writing down your plans and expectations, and revisiting these a year later. The results will surprise you. Improve your strengths, and seek help with your weaknesses. Find out how you work: do you learn through reading, listening, writing, or talking? Do you work in large or small groups? As a decision-maker or an adviser? Don’t try to change your methods; seek environments which suit them. Find out your values and beliefs; for example, are you an incrementalist?

Most people don’t find a career until their late 20s. By then, they should know themselves. Seek organizations aligned with your values. Choose 18-month goal which is needed by your organization and which suits your strengths, methods and values. Manage your relationships with coworkers. Learn their strengths, methods and values, and tell them yours.

Here’s a longer summary

Great achievers “manage themselves”, but most people don’t.

What are your strengths? To achieve, one needs to know ones strengths, but most people don’t. Historically, people didn’t need to know their strengths, because there was no social mobility. To discover your strengths, use feedback analysis: write down key decisions and what you expect, then revisit these a year later. For example, I discovered that I resonate with technical people, but not with generalists. Feedback analysis was invented in C15 and its use by Calvinists and Jesuits explains their domination. Put yourself where your strengths can help. Find the weaknesses you can improve. Overcome any beliefs that knowledge outside your field is not worthy. Find your bad habits, e.g. failing to follow through on plans. If you are a planner, find people to follow the plan. Feedback analysis can also reveal bad manners; if cooperation kills your plan, maybe you have bad manners. Feedback analysis tells you what not to do. Don’t take jobs where your results were mediocre. Don’t waste time improving low competence; concentrate on areas of high competence.

How do you perform? Different people work differently. Great achievers know how they work, but most people don’t. How you perform is a matter of personality, and not easily changed.

Are you a reader or a listener? People are either readers or listeners. Eisenhower’s press conferences worked well as a military commander, but not as president, because his military aides would give him the questions in writing before the conferences. Eisenhower was a reader. JFK, a reader, chose writers as his aides in his office. He was followed by LBJ, a listener, who didn’t read any of his aides’ notes, and LBJ’s presidency was almost destroyed for it.

How do you learn? School assumes everyone learns by listening and reading. But some, like Churchill, learn by writing; these people often do badly in school. Others learn by talking; a CEO I know demands a weekly audience to talk at so he can make decisions. Few people act on the knowledge of how they learn.

Do you work well with people? In what relationship? Some work best as subordinates, others as team members, others alone. Are you a decision-maker, or an adviser? These are complementary roles. The person in the top spot should be a decision-maker; the number two person an adviser. For this reason, when the number-two is promoted, he often fails.

Do you work well under stress? Do you work well in large or small organizations?

Don’t try to change yourself; change your environment.

What are your values? Try the mirror test: who do you want to see in the mirror in the morning? Values differ between organizations. Does your company believe in “internal hiring” or “external hiring”? Does your company believe in incremental improvement or risky breakthroughs? Does your church measure its success by new parishioners or by spiritual growth? To be effective in an organization, you must align with its values.

Where do you belong? Mathematicians, musicians, and cooks know early on in childhood. Most others don’t decide on their career until much later. By that time, they should know: what are my strengths? How do I perform? What are my values? Learn to say no to tasks which don’t suit you. When taking an assignment, learn to say “OK, but this is how I will do it.” Knowing where you belong can transform a mediocre person into an outstanding performer.

What should you contribute? Historically, people never needed to ask this, because their job was fixed. But in the late 1960s, people decided to “do their own thing”. This didn’t help.

To work out what to contribute, you must know: what does the situation require? how can I use my strengths? what is required to make a difference? Choose one place to make a difference. Look no further than 18 months ahead. Choose a challenging but achievable goal. Choose goals which are visible and measurable.

Take responsibility for relationships. Few people achieve on their own. People have relationships, and these need to be managed. Accept that other people have their own strengths, performance modes, and values. Bosses are entitled to work in their own way; you are required to find out what that way is. Most people assume their new boss works just like their old boss, and friction results. Work out your coworkers’ strengths, ways of working, and values. Take responsibility for communication. Most conflict arises because people don’t know what others are doing, or what they expect. They don’t know because they didn’t ask, and haven’t been told! People don’t ask because historically they didn’t need to: everyone worked in the same way. Understand where others lack knowledge, and fill them in. If a VP doesn’t know what her specialists are doing, that is their fault for not educating her. Tell your associates, “This is what I’m good at. This is how I work.” You may be afraid of looking presumptuous but everyone finds it helpful. Organizations are built on trust; for this, coworkers need to understand one another.

Historically most work was manual work; today it is knowledge work. The “midlife crisis” is mostly boredom of the knowledge worker no longer learning. At such a time, develop a second career. One way is to change jobs. Another way is to develop a parallel career volunteering, another is “social entrepreneurship”. Most people don’t manage the second half of their lives, and instead watch the clock to retirement. It’s the minority who manage the second half of their lives who will become leaders and models. You must begin this management in your 30s, long before you enter the second half. At some point in your career you will have a setback - a missed promotion or breakup. A second interest can be insurance, something to fall back on. “Success” is today very important but historically was not a goal due to lack of social mobility. It used to be that organizations outlived people, and people stay put. But today organizations die quickly and people move around. In this environment, one must manage oneself.

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I wrote this because I felt like it. This post is not associated with my employer. This site is hosted by Netlify (who are great, but I'm not associated with them either).