Every year I read Peter Drucker’s classic article, “Managing Oneself” as part of my personal-professional navigation process. His “simply powerful” questions help me reorient on my true north and rethink my priorities.
If you are a subscriber to Harvard Business Review’s online library, read the article. If not, do yourself a big $8.95 favor that will pay dividends a thousand times over and buy a copy.
The article is arguably more relevant in today’s world than when it was written—a testament to Drucker’s long-range view on people, management, and society.
Drucker’s five key questions in “Managing Oneself” are these:
- What are my strengths?
- How do I work (learn)?
- What are my values?
- Where do I belong?
- What can I contribute?
I love these questions for their simplicity and power. They are the ultimate tools in cutting through the noise in our minds about ourselves. Use these questions to help you reorient and refocus.
If things aren’t working right for you in your position or career, chances are, you are out of alignment with the true answers to one or more of Drucker’s questions.
I regularly see people working in areas and in roles that fail to draw upon their unique skills . . . their superpowers. They struggle.
Others fail to tune-in to and live their values.
And sadly, many others struggle to find ways to contribute that reflect themselves at their best.
You Cannot Fight “You” and Win
Every one of my REINVENT career coaching clients works through these and related questions before we spend a single minute talking about what it is they might do next.
And they all wonder why they’re spending time looking inward until suddenly, they understand the power of knowing themselves.
You cannot be successful in any phase of your life unless you understand yourself.
For those of you navigating career progression and not reinvention, particularly anyone in a management or leadership role, your diligence in exploring the answers to Drucker’s questions will be rewarded with both satisfaction and success.
Choose to ignore what drives you and where and how you thrive, and this state of dissonance will breed dissatisfaction and less than optimal performance.
You cannot fight “you” and win in the long-term.
With a nod to the genius that was Drucker and the wisdom he left us in this article and his body of work, I do want to add a second set of questions—a subset—that merit consideration given the context of the world today. These include:
- What am I doing to learn?
- How hard am I working at rethinking and reframing?
- How am I doing embracing and adapting to change?
- Am I minding the right gap?
- How am I impacting others?
- How am I doing?
1. What am I doing to learn?
Drucker makes the case in the article that learning in our world is a core task for survival and success. With this question, I want you to describe precisely what you are doing to learn and grow and challenge your assumptions. Sadly, most professionals are on autopilot or at best, are passive learners, soaking up what swims by, but not seeking out new knowledge.
2. How hard am I working at rethinking and reframing?
Yesterday’s assumptions are the seeds of tomorrow’s obsolescence. Most of us operate with hard-wired views of the world. That’s a prescription for disaster. What help are you getting and how disciplined are you in both challenging your assumptions and frames and asking others to challenge you?
3. How am I doing embracing and adapting to change?
Change is the verb-outcome of learning and rethinking. It’s the application of the ideas, and it’s easy to talk big about change while actually avoiding the heavy lifting.
4. Am I minding the right gap?
With a nod to Linda Hill at Harvard, most of us focus on closing the gap between What Is and What Should Be. The most effective of us seek to close the gap between What Is and What Can Be.
5. How am I impacting others?
I’ve written at length about how our actions in the present define the backstories for those we touch. The most effective professionals tune-in to how their behaviors and approaches impact others. Of course, to do this, you need to ask for input from those around you.
6. How am I doing?
This may be my favorite question of all. Gaining honest, unfiltered input is never easy, but it’s worth the effort if you listen and act. Start asking today, and start acting on the input. What starts out as an awkward exercise with less than complete feedback will become comfortable and transparent over time.
I’ve always been a fan of managing what we can control in our lives and careers. In our careers, it turns out that “managing oneself” is the ultimate controllable and the ultimate key to our growth and success.
Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.