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Managing Oneself - Book Review and Summary

Have you ever found yourself simply floating through your day? I don’t mean in a deep-meditative-out-of-body-experience type of floating, more a like a corked bottle in the ocean, whisked one direction or another by the tides of the sea.

For many years that was how I managed my career, floating. I didn’t actively think about how to be engaged or more productive, I simply put my head down and did what was asked of me.  I was, in my mind, doing my best.

I came across a very short book that altered how I approached my work. It’s really less a book and more a long essay, capping out at 55 pages or so.  My copy quite literally can fit in my back pocket.

That long essay/short book was Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. Drucker found notoriety with his writings on management and the knowledge worker. Managing Oneself doesn’t provide many practical answers, but on the flipside, it serves up a collection of important questions to ask ourselves on how to better understand how to manage our own individual ways of performing.  At it’s core, it is a book on self-awareness.

For me, this book ignited the concept of becoming my own CEO. The CEO of Dan DaRocha. I was in a dark room for ages, and finally realized I should turn on the lights. It was a pocket guide book to help me inventory my own self-management. I know this sounds like Drucker holds the key to enlightenment, and for many it won’t even come close, but for me, specifically at the time that I read it — I was enlightened, because when you go from not even knowing that you should “manage one’s self” to opening the door to self-awareness, it’s very much enlightening.

The concept of self-awareness or emotional intelligence was never discussed in the sixteen-plus years that I attended school, not even a hint. My parents provided me with a deep groundwork of values and ethics, but anything beyond getting good grades and working hard was simply not on the table, to no one’s fault, it simply was that way.

Shelving the epiphany talk – here are my main takeaways from Managing Oneself:

Focus on your strengthens. Forget the idea of improving your areas of inadequacy.  It will take a staggering amount of time and energy to go from incompetent to mediocre, instead apply that energy on doubling down on your best abilities, turning them from good to great, or even extraordinary.

Develop a feedback system. This could be writing down goals and measuring them.  Drucker specifically says to consider writing down what you believe the outcome will be after you make a key decision.  Check back nine, twelve, eighteen months later and see how close you came to predicting the outcome.

Use your feedback system to identify strengths and weaknesses.  Find ways around your weakness and look to improve your strengths.

How do I perform? And how do I learn? These two are tied together because they may share insight on one another. Understanding how you do something, is equally important to what you do. Do you learn by reading or listening? Do you need to repeat back what you’ve heard? Do you need to write notes, but never look at them again, or will you re-write them later? What environment do you prefer? Complete silence or the buzz of a coffee shop? Bottom line goes back to self-awareness, figure out what works for you and align your findings against your goals.

What are my values? Can you look yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you are. Can your values co-exist with your workplace or career? This is not necessarily an ethical question, Drucker provides an example of a human resources professional that believes in exhausting the internal talent pool initially when attempting to fill a role, and then looking outward. In some sort of corporate merger/acquisition, the company’s hiring practices were flipped. This caused the HR professional frustration and ultimately lead to her leaving the company.  Both practices have their merits, but hiring “new blood” didn’t necessarily align with the example HR professional.

Where do I belong? The much easier question to answer is where don’t I belong! Eliminate environments that detract from your performance, or bring your spirits down.

What to contribute? This ties in with goal setting and would be part of a feedback system.  What can you contribute in the next eighteen months? You need to set meaningful, and preferably measurable stretch goals, but nothing impossible.

Responsibilities for relationships. To come full circle, just as you have strengthens, weakness, values, and performance modes, so do the people around you. Make it a common practice to understand these things about your friends, family, and co-workers.

Think about more than you. Don’t make life all about you. Consider endeavours of higher meaning, such as working with charities or volunteering for good causes.  Drucker does warn that if you are waiting to volunteer once you retire, it’s unlikely you will follow through if you haven’t developed a habit before your fortieth birthday. (I have no clue how he came up with that one though?!?)

Bottom line. This simple book helped me to take ownership of ME, and I would recommend it to anyone that’s at an early stage of figuring out their own self-management.