Peter Drucker was a professor, management consultant, author of 39 books, and many more scholarly articles. He is widely regarded as “the man who invited management,” and is the originator of the term “knowledge worker,” which us law students will soon become.
In his short book (55 pages), Managing Oneself, Drucker sets forth and explicates universal principles necessary for a successful career as a knowledge worker. This book, even in its brevity, contains groundbreaking principles that I immediately applied upon reading the book.
Determine Your Strengths
First, Drucker urges the reader to make a concerted effort to determine their strengths. Far too many people know what they’re not good at, instead of knowing their strong points. You uncover your strengths through what Drucker calls feedback analysis: making a key decision or taking a key action, predicting what you expect to happen, and then comparing the actual results with your expectations. Within two to three years, this method of comparing your expectations with your results will reveal where your strengths lie. Then, you must (1) concentrate on these strengths and put yourself in a position where you can produce using your strengths, (2) work on improving your strengths, and (3) ascertain where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it. This last element is another way of saying that you must understand the link between your bad habits and their effect on your productivity and effectiveness, and then eliminate those bad habits. Lastly, don’t focus on improving your weaknesses so that you become mediocre at those skills; just focus on your strengths.
Understand how you Perform
To understand how you perform, Drucker says you must determine whether you are a reader or listener. To do so, simply ask yourself: are you most prepared to perform when you read, or can you reach a level of preparedness by talking about the subject matter instead. Once classifying yourself as a reader or listener, you must understand how you learn. Ask yourself if you learn by writing, or, instead, if you learn by listening and reading.
Drucker also criticizes traditional schooling which assumes there is only one right way to learn for everyone. This leads to far too many people being mediocre at many skills but proficient at few.
The next question in determining how you perform, ask whether you work best alone or in groups. Lastly, are you most productive as a decision maker or as an adviser? Answering these questions will help you on your way to becoming a successful knowledge worker.
Determine your Values
Drucker proposes you determine your values by performing what he calls the mirror test. Ask yourself what you want to see in the mirror in the morning. If the work you’re doing, the people you’re working with, and so forth, would give life to an unflattering reflection, you are breaching your values. Drucker also encourages you have to similar values with those who you work with. They don’t have to be the same, but close enough to coexist. Also make sure your strengths are concordant with your values, as sometimes what we are good at are not aligned with our values.
Figure out where you Belong
Knowing where you belong requires synthesizing your strengths, your ability to perform, and your values. This requires reflecting on your past experiences producing, and determining both what was effective and ineffective. This analysis will shed light onto how you will perform in the future on certain tasks and projects, even allowing you to approach questions differently or decline projects altogether if you know you’re not effective when performing that type of work. Because you have carefully considered where you belong, your analysis will be appreciated. Others will permit you to engage in the type of work you know to be the most efficient, especially once positive results are realized.
What to Contribute
You must engage in three considerations to answer this question: (1) Ask yourself what the situation requires; (2) Given your strengths, your way of performing, and your values, ask yourself how you can make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done; and (3) Determine what results have to be achieved to make a difference? To know which results make a difference, focus on “stretching” your abilities to achieve your goals; you should lean upon your edge, your comfort level. But make sure your projects are still within reach—don’t be foolishly optimistic. Also make sure the results can be measured.
Responsibility for Relationships
Drucker highlights the importance of relationships in Managing Oneself. There are two parts here. First, accept the fact that both you and other people are equally individuated. Know that everyone has there own values, strengths, and methods of performing, and try to understand those elements as you understand your own. Secondly, you must take responsibility for communication. That is, you must take on the burden of educating others about the aspects of your work specific to your unique role; likewise, don’t be afraid to ask about their strengths, values, and contributions. Taking these steps will help you achieve synergy with your co-workers; thus maximizing efficiency and value production.
These are the most salient points in Drucker’s mini-masterpiece, Managing Onself. And I strongly encourage you to pick up the book for yourself to further distill the principles discussed in this post. If you heed Drucker’s advice, I am it will help you achieve the level of productivity and efficacy sufficient to build a lasting career as a knowledge worker. Check it out on Amazon here:
 The idea of self-concordant goals was first introduced to me by Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happiness. For a further discussion, see http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/56642/_PARENT/layout_details_cc/false