Peter Drucker on Managing Oneself

Peter Drucker on Managing Oneself

There are tons of books out there on how to be a good manager and lead teams. However, today I came across a gem by Peter Drucker on how to manage yourself, and why its important.

History’s great achievers - a Napoleon, a Da Vinci, a Mozart - have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers.

Identifying your strengths

Drucker highlights how historically, humans never had to focus on identifying their strengths since they were born into a particular profession and often spent several generations as artisans, peasants, or musicians. However, today we have drastically higher access to a variety of educational and professional opportunities. Most people look at this abundance of choice to mean that they can do anything - but should they?

To be really effective at what you do (and to find meaning and fulfillment) it is important to identify things you want to do and things you are good at. Imagine if Shaq with his 0.045% 3 point percentage wanted to play like Steph Curry does. Instead, Shaq knew his strengths (and weaknesses) and optimized his focus around his strengths to maximize output. He only attempted 22 3 point shots over his entire career (that’s actually less than the average Steph Curry wannabe chucks during one pickup game).

Drucker presents this feedback analysis framework to understand your strengths:

Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

This is very interesting for two main reasons. First, a lot of people (myself included) are very ‘output oriented’. They care more about actually launching the product, and less about the intricacies of building the product (and all the meetings that precede it). Once the product is launched, these output-oriented people tend to consider their job done and the project a success (since they were hyper-focused on launch). Drucker’s feedback analysis framework highlights how revisiting and evaluating the outcome of a particular decision, action, or launch is incredibly important to actually determine success.

This is very obvious in venture capital where the fund life cycle is 10ish years. It might be very easy to write a 25k check in the 100th micro-mobility startup (on-demand pogo sticks anyone? Real startup btw) and mentally write it off as a massive success when Twitter/Techcrunch/Softbank raves about your investment only to find out 10 years later that your actual cash on cash return was underwhelming. So is investing in micro-mobility startups really your strength?

Are you a reader or a listener?

Podcasts, Medium posts, slides, books, e-books, and conversations are only some examples of all the different ways we consume content today. But which one is most effective for you? How do you learn best?

Far too few people know there are readers and listeners and that people are rarely both.

This one is almost a subset of identifying and optimizing for your strengths. If you observe that you learn and retain more through audio, it is way more effective and efficient to center your learning process around audio - audio-books, podcasts, conversations etc.

Some people learn by writing. Some learn through argumentation (like me). Finding your “how I learn” is quickest way to improve your learning process.

How do you want to work?

Your performance is not just a function of your work. It is also a function of your team, situation, and surroundings. Lebron James who is an absolute monster in the paint (driving or otherwise) needs to be surrounded by shooters for the best outcomes. This is how he took the otherwise terrible Cavs team to the finals and failed to even qualify for the playoffs with the much more talented (but poor 3P shooting) Lakers.

With this in mind, how do you make sure that you are in an optimal system with the perfect team? More introspection.

Do you work well with others or by yourself? What are your values? Are you a better manager or team-mate? What impact do you want your work to have?

Answering these questions will help you create a caricature of what your ideal job looks like and allows you to double down and focus on those opportunities that match what you want.

At the end of the day Drucker is advocating for introspection and self-awareness. While some people optimize for external knowledge - knowing how to read the market, social situations, other people etc. knowing oneself is the biggest strength because its easier to optimize the external world based on your mental model of yourself than the other way round.

Drucker’s writing on this topic also reminded of Ikigai - which is almost a perfect venn diagram depiction of his assertions above.

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I am an early stage investor-operator in Boston. I am very passionate about early stage startups (industry agnostic). Follow me on Twitter and say Hi.