Five Management Lessons from Managing Oneself

On the flight home from INBOUND 16 I read Managing Oneself by renowned management consultant and academic Peter F. Drucker.

Drucker is rightly considered the founder of modern management and many of his prescient ideas on management theory and practice, such as decentralisation, the rise of the knowledge worker and outsourcing have come to pass.

The book espouses the idea of each of us becoming the CEO of our career. Drucker suggests we do this by seeking to truly understand ourselves, discovering where our talents and weaknesses lie, playing to these strengths and then, changing course if necessary. He makes the case for each of us to carve out our own place in the world by effectively managing oneself. To begin this process, Drucker advises answering five questions:

  1. What are my strengths?

  2. How do I perform?

  3. What are my values?

  4. Where do I belong?

  5. What should I contribute?

While these answers will help you understand how to manage yourself, as Drucker points out, knowing what to do and actually acting upon it are not the same thing. Far from it. Truly managing oneself takes action.

The book is an insightful read and five management lessons stood out:

1. Managing oneself matters
One of the key themes running throughout the book is that managing yourself is not only growing in popularity, but importance too. Many of history’s great achievers, such as Napoléon, da Vinci and Mozart effectively managed themselves, but today everyone must take responsibility for their job, career and development. Managing oneself may be difficult, challenging and uncomfortable, but I believe we’re only going to see more of it. On a personal note I feel fortunate to work at HubSpot where autonomy is part of the company’s DNA - we have the opportunity to manage ourselves each and every day.

2. Value of developing deep self knowledge
Drucker focusses on the importance of self knowledge and how employees need to understand their strengths and weaknesses - this will help them figure out how they can best contribute to work. By developing self knowledge you can discover the type of work you should, and of equal importance, should not do. The book suggests using feedback analysis to gain this insight, then concentrating on work that matches your strengths and seeking to further improve skills in which you are strong.  

3. Double down on strengths
The main premise of Managing Oneself is recognising that it takes far more energy and work to go from incompetent to mediocre than it does from from first-rate to excellent. Drucker recommends concentrating on your strengths and putting yourself where these strengths will produce results. He also advises that energy, resources, and time should go on developing a competent person into a star performer.

4. Time is a key investment
Where you choose to spend your precious time, skills and expertise should be considered a careful investment. Just like a stockbroker you want to invest where you’ll see the best results - this means being both self-aware and ruthless, and removing yourself from projects where you will not get the best return on your investment.

5. Seek out opportunities where your strengths lie
The book emphasises taking on work that aligns with your strengths, “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.” The lesson here is that if you’re doing work that is not matched to your skillset, it’s unlikely you will excel.

If you want to become more discerning about the types of projects you work on and how you approach them, then read Managing Oneself. Drucker provides practical advice that can immediately be understood and more importantly, implemented. He includes a number of questions readers can ask themselves that will help them become better managers of not only themselves, but others too. The book is rightly considered a Harvard Business Review classic that has, and will continue to stand the test of time.