What We Can Learn About Self-Management in the Digital Age From the Contributions of Peter F. Drucker & Jeremy Hunter

Editor's Note

Peter F. Drucker's insights about self-management are the main focus of this article. His approach rests on two fundamental pillars–namely: (1) effectiveness and; (2) efficiency.

Effectiveness translates into doing the right things and efficiency means doing things right. Efficiency, in other words, must be built on a foundation of effectiveness otherwise it's result-less.

The most useless and wasteful effort, for example, is an engineering team with great speed, precision and elegance who turns out drawings for the wrong product; that is, a product that is not needed, wanted or valued by a given target audience. The engineering team was extremely efficient but ineffective.

Some executives/managers can be deemed "a flash in the pan," that is, they are initially successful or appear successful (sometimes) because of other factors that made them look good; sometimes because they failed to keep up with the required self-learning required for continued success.

Development is always self-development. Said Drucker, "The responsibility rests with the individual, his/her abilities, his/her efforts."

No L&D department is competent, let alone obligated, to substitute its efforts for the self-development of managers/executives required for continuous productivity improvement of all resources… abandoning the unproductive and obsolete and reallocating resources (i.e., monies and people) to fully exploit existing successes… and purposeful innovation.

Without doubt, L&D can lead the way. But it's up to the individual to put into constant practice what is taught.

This article focuses on the task of managing oneself for high-performance. Disciplined self-management (if done correctly) helps one to know their strengths, how to improve them and to discover what one cannot do very well. Indeed, these are the real keys to exceptional and sustainable management performance.

Busy-ness masquerading as productivity, accomplishment and results is a telltale sign of the lack of authentic leadership. Those that skillfully practice busy-ness do not truly grow and change and, therefore, eventually make visible their ineffectiveness.

Drucker has no equal for providing us with enduring wisdom, principles and practices on how to grow, to change, to avoid burnout, and continuously revitalize ourselves.

In very general terms, Drucker's self-management precepts shows us why it's essential to strive for perfection even if only "the gods notice."

Rediscovering One of the Greatest Management Books of All-Time

From the moment his multi-million copy-best-seller, The Effective Executive hit the bookstores in 1967, Drucker was leading a self-management revolution.

He was passionate about executive/manager effectiveness – for example:

  • Setting the right priorities
  • Managing one's time
  • Identifying & abandoning the unproductive and the obsolete
  • Concentrating on the things that do work and the things that produce results
  • Writing down what results one anticipates when making a key decision and comparing actual results to planned results (this soon shows what one has to learn and what habits one has to change and/or what one has no gift for and cannot do well).
  • Understanding the importance of asking the question "What should I be responsible for?" And taking the focus off "What should I be entitled to?" (Ultimately it's not about what you have achieved, but what you have contributed).

To Reiterate

Knowledge workers must take responsibility for managing themselves. They must learn the right things to do and how to do them right.

In both The Effective Executive & its superb 2006 sequel The Effective Executive in Action (with Joseph Maciariello) readers find basic/timeless principles & practices for successful self-management. These books explain and document the attitudes, specific practices, and habits exemplified by high-performance executives.

By reading, re-reading, studying, underlining, and committing to memory Drucker's with generalizable self-management practices, you can literally force your brain to work in new and marvelous ways.

Simply put, learning is thinking with other people's ideas. The ideas and concepts of Drucker with respect to self-management are without equal. He teaches you how to think (as opposed to what to think).

Advice From Newt Gingrich About Using Drucker's Principles & Practices For Self-Management

The Effective Executive instantaneously took the management world by storm. Various reliable sources claim that this Drucker book is still a bestseller in China and elsewhere. Indeed, unsubstantiated but reliable reportage say it's Drucker's all-time best-selling book.

Said Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives:

"I first learned about Peter Drucker {more than 50} years ago from a professor at Georgia Tech… Although I was a student at Emory, I had been sent to Georgia Tech by Gene Sanders, Georgia's Republican state senator at the time, to see Pete Jensen, a computer-science professor there…

…If I really wanted to understand the modern world, Senator Sanders told me, Jensen could help me learn… One of Jensen's first observations was that I didn't need to know about computers as much as I needed to know about thinking...

… And there was no better way to learn about thinking than to read Peter Drucker, he said…"

Gingrich goes on to explain how he came across The Effective Executive at the U.S. information agency library and why it was an event that changed his life.

"To this day I recommend to virtually every group of students–in high schools, colleges, the military war colleges as well as incoming members of Congress–that they buy a paperback copy of The Effective Executive so they can read it, underline it, and {refer to it} when she/he has to [apply/re-apply} it…

… It is the most powerful book I've encountered on how to be effective…"

Making Knowledge Workers More Productive

With knowledge workers becoming the main asset of many organizations, Drucker asked & brilliantly answered the question, "What is needed to increase the productivity of knowledge workers?"

Many organizations coupled with "penny wise and pound foolish managers/executives", still view employees as a cost not an asset. Costs must be controlled. Assets must be grown.

“When a cynic asks, 'What if we train them and they leave?' Winning manager/executives respond, 'What if we don't train them and they stay?' "

Drucker believed every knowledge worker (from CEOs to I/T professionals) should be asked at least once a year the following questions:

  1. What do you contribute that justifies your being on the payroll?
  2. What should this company, this hospital, this government agency, this university, hold you accountable for, by way of contributions and results?
  3. Do you know what your goals, priorities, and objectives are? And what do you plan to do to attain them?

Drucker asserted that effective/opportunity-focused executives must know–among many other things–"the specific strengths of people, particularly of those with a proven record of performance…

…What do they do well? Where do they belong? Are they assigned to where the application of their strengths produce results?"

But–and this is a very big "but"–knowledge workers themselves must be taught to think through how to answer the above three Drucker questions (plus many others)… and to review, appraise and judge their specific contributions.

The guiding theme of effective executives is to make everybody a contributor not everybody a boss.

Thankfully, Drucker showed us how to convert self-management principles into a discipline/methodology/set of practices that can be taught, learned and practiced.

For whatever reason, even many who graduate from today's top-tier business/management schools, must learn/re-learn after their university experience self-management principles and practices. Apparently, how to manage oneself is not a natural occurrence.

Self-Management: Self-Taught Versus Formalized Instruction?

We do believe many organizations will soon begin expanding their self-management training via their onboarding programs and the like.

Many training gurus are advocating all new (and not so new) employees take structured courses (online/off-line) in vital practices for self-management.

Experience in self-management teaches us to reduce the number of our mistakes. But none of us have time for continuous trial-and error learning with respect to this all-important productivity boosting methodology.

Formalized instruction in self-management enables people to acquire effectiveness skills of a very advanced kind–fast and successfully. At least, those willing to self-develop are provided with guidelines for what must be done to successfully self-manage.

Hopefully, the CLN materials we will be publishing/presenting in variety of formats will be of great assistance in this effort. (Please contact us if you require more information).