Every year I read Peter Drucker’s classic article, “Managing Oneself” as part of my personal-professional career navigation process. His powerful questions and frank commentary on what we need to do in our careers helps me reorient and reset on my priorities and activities.
If you are a subscriber to HBR’s online library, read the article. If not, do yourself a big $9.99 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 in 2005—a testament to Drucker’s long-range view on people, management, and society.
Drucker’s 5 Key Questions in “Managing Oneself”
1. What are my strengths?
Most people think they know what they are good at. They are wrong.
2. How do I perform? (How do I learn?)
Amazingly, few people know how they get things done. Too many people work in ways that are not their ways, and that almost guarantees nonperformance.
3. What are my values?
The mirror test—what kind of person do I want to see in the morning?
4. Where do I belong?
Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.
5. What can I contribute?
What does the situation require?
How’s Your Career Going? Are You In Alignment?
If things aren’t working right for you in your position or career, chances are, you are out of alignment with the real 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. When your behaviors are dissonant with your values, you struggle.
And sadly, many others fail to find ways to contribute that reflect themselves at their best.
You cannot be successful in any phase of your life unless you understand yourself.
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.
Five Add-On Questions to Create Focus in Your Career
With a nod to the genius that was Drucker and the wisdom he left us in this article, I want to add a second set of questions. My questions are a subset of his, and merit consideration given the context of today’s and tomorrow’s world.
- What am I doing to learn?
- How hard am I working at rethinking and reframing?
- How am I doing embracing and adapting to change?
- How am I impacting others?
- How am I doing?
1. What am I doing to learn?
Whether you recognize it or not, you’re involved in the real-world equivalent of what the video game designers describe as leveling-up. Just when you think you’ve mastered a situation something changes in the external environment that challenges what you know and how you’ve done things. Accordingly, you must start over, learning and developing new behaviors, while finding new ways to defeat these unfamiliar adversaries.
Rinse and repeat.
Oh, and the situation grows more complicated.
All of us in our careers face two simultaneous level-up challenges. First, we must continue to cultivate new skills and cast away old approaches in the face of change and complexity. And second, we must strive to help our firms do the same. The former is challenging, and the latter is exponentially more complicated.
What are you doing to keep learning? Are you exposing yourself to new ideas and new approaches? Are you challenging yesterday’s processes and ways of doing things?
If you’re not learning, you’re moving backward at the speed of change.
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 are you doing to continually refresh your framing of you, your firm, your markets, and how you are approaching opportunities in your career? What are you doing to challenge your assumptions?
If reframing isn’t a regular part of your personal strategic planning, you are in danger of growing obsolete.
3. How am I doing embracing and adapting to change?
We’ve all been fed a line of baloney about our dislike of change. If we didn’t like change, how did we as a race spread out across the globe and into space? Humans thrive and adapt to change, yet in our workplaces, we seem resistant to upsetting the status quo. That’s laziness talking.
Learning to embrace change as an opportunity is a superpower in today’s world. You cannot control the larger forces driving change. However, you can learn to see them emerging, and you can plot your way forward by choosing where to contribute and how to perform.
4. How am I impacting others?
Your decisions surrounding people open up new timelines and ultimately become the backstories for those we touch on our journeys.
The most effective professionals are acutely aware of how they impact others in both the short and long terms.
5. How am I doing?
This question may be my favorite. Gaining honest, unfiltered input is never easy, but it’s worth the effort if you listen and act. Start asking today, and start working on the information. What begins as an awkward exercise with less than complete feedback will become comfortable and transparent over time.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
You own your career. No one else, and especially not your present employer. If you frame your career as an adventure to places unknown, instead of the increasingly irrelevant ladder to climb and prepare yourself accordingly, it will be a grand adventure.