Managing Oneself

Reviewed on , book by Peter F. Drucker

Drucker is the OG management educator. Firmly believing that managers can get better through self-education. He wants us to treat management as a skill to be honed, not as a natural gift. Something that I think it still widely believed, but that I bet was much more widely believed in Drucker’s hey-day, in the mid-20th century. I’ve always wanted to read Drucker, and finally someone on my team directly recommended this. It’s written in a fantastic style that makes it clear where many of the management gurus of today have their strongest influence from. He advocates many of the management principles that are brought to light again in new forms, e.g. through Dalio’s Principles.

He advocates for keeping a diary of all the big decisions you make, admant it’s the best way you get to know yourself better. It’s also one of the earliest examples I’ve seen of talking about doubling down on your strengths, and working around your weaknesses. I like how Dalio puts it: for every weakness, you have four options. Turn it into a strength, find someone else to do it, change what you’re going after, or ignore it. Of course, ignoring it is the default option we’ll do until we’re made aware of the weakness—but it’s not a real choice once it’s surfaced.

One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. And yet most people—especially most teachers and most organizations—concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer.
I am still not sure how I feel about completely ignoring weaknesses. I feel that I have been able to get some weaknesses to a manageable level. I recognize they will not be strengths, but I think some at least need to be at some critical threshold to not drag everything else down. If you talk like shit to people, at least work on getting to a somewhat civil level of communication instead of just putting yourself in a position where you don’t have to talk to people. That seems unrealistic. You may never become the best communicator, but you need to raise it to a critical level in order to be effective. I like to think that every team, individual, group, department, and company at any one point has a switch (weakness) that needs to be addressed. It can take a while to figure out what the next one is, but this search is key. You can also be proactive about looking for weaknesses that may occur in the near future.

Another interesting tidbit from the book is the distinction between a ‘reader and listener’:

The first thing to know is whether you are a reader or a listener. Far too few people even know that there are readers and listeners and that people are rarely both. Even fewer know which of the two they themselves are. But some examples will show how damaging such ignorance can be.
I wonder if it’s the right abstraction level to attack the problem at. Some people like to sit and brood on problems for a while beforehand, others prefer to do that with other people. This seems more akin to many of the attributes associated with introverts and extroverts, than really readers and listeners.
One of my absolute favorites is the distinction between a decision-maker and an advisor:

Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an adviser? A great many people perform best as advisers but cannot take the burden and pressure of making the decision. A good many other people, by contrast, need an adviser to force themselves to think; then they can make decisions and act on them with speed, self-confidence, and courage. This is a reason, by the way, that the number two person in an organization often fails when promoted to the number one position. The top spot requires a decision maker. Strong decision makers often put somebody they trust into the number two spot as their adviser—and in that position the person is outstanding. But in the number one spot, the same person fails. He or she knows what the decision should be but cannot accept the responsibility of actually making it.
This vocabulary was immediately useful to me, and have sparked some fantastic conversations on the team.

A closing note from Drucker to ponder:

Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty. Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier, or a distributor, one owes that responsibility to all one’s coworkers: those whose work one depends on as well as those who depend on one’s own work.
This book is so short, about 70 pages, and has a couple of fantastic points (these were the main ones for me). I recommend skimming through it. Seems like this would make an annual re-read for me.