Peter Drucker hardly needs any introduction as a prolific thought leader around business management, but in this small, often philosophical book, he turns his attention to employees: specifically knowledge workers, for whom the world is full of opportunities. His aspiration for the reader is simple. The notion of achiveing real and lasting career excellence by working on a combination of personal strengths and self-knowledge.
To build a fundamental understanding of yourself you need to ask yourself five key questions:
- What are my most valuable strengths?
- How do I learn and work with others?
- What are my most deeply held values?
- Where do I belong?
- How can I make the greatest contribution?
In an earlier blog (from my own work) I advocated the importance of knowing one’s Personal Brand. Drucker goes further, and adds authority and ideas here for anyone wanting to focus their development and deepen their self-knowledge.
What are my most valuable strengths?
To discover your strengths, you need to use feedback analysis – your own. Every time you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Practiced consistently – as Drucker has – the technique will reveal where your strengths lie and will also show what you are doing or failing to do that denies you the full benefits of your strengths. What results do your skills generate? What abilities do you need to develop in order to get stronger results? What unproductive habits are preventing you from creating the outcomes you want?
In identifying opportunities for improvement, don’t focus on your weaknesses, because it requires much more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity, than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. So, instead, focus upon building your strengths.
How do I learn and work with others?
Surprisingly, claims Drucker, few people know how to get things done. Like one’s strengths, how one performs is unique. So don’t try to change yourself; it’s unlikely to work. Instead, focus on working hard to improve the way you perform. And to know how you perform you need to understand precisely in what ways you work best. For example, do you process information most effectively by reading it, or by hearing others discuss it? Do you accomplish the most by working with others, or by working alone? Do you perform best while making decisions, or while advising colleagues on key matters? Are you in top form when things get stressful, or do you function optimally in a highly predictable environment?
What are my most deeply held values?
To be able to manage yourself, you have to ask yourself: What are my values? An organisation also has its values (or ought to have). If you work in an organisation whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with yours, your career will probably feature some frustration and poor performance. Our strengths and the way we perform rarely conflict because they are complementary. But there can be a conflict between a person’s values and their strengths. In other words, what one does well may not fit with one’s value system. In that situation, the purpose of one’s work may be at odds with what we are asked to do.
Where do I belong?
A small number of people know very early where they belong. Most people, especially highly talented people, do not really know where they belong until their late twenties. To know where you belong you need to consider your strengths, your preferred work style, and values. Based upon these qualities, in what kind of work environment would you fit in best? If you find the perfect fit you will transform yourself from an acceptable performer to an excellent one.
How can I make the greatest contribution?
Performance management practice used to mean telling staff what their contribution ought to be. Today, employees have far more scope to exercise choice. But that carries a responsibility too. To decide how you can best enhance your organisation’s performance, first ask what the operation requires. Based on your strengths, work style, and values, how might you make the greatest contribution to your organisation’s goals?
For today’s knowledge workers who do indeed aspire to real and lasting career excellence, managing oneself might seem somewhat obvious. The twist might be that Peter Drucker wants us all to think and behave like a Chief Executive Officer.
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