One day this summer, I drove to our family’s cabin with my daughter. The cabin is about 35 miles away. As we got engrossed in conversation, I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a police car following close behind, so I pulled over. The officer informed me I had been speeding, and he handed me a ticket.
Honestly I didn’t even know, I had been focused on our conversation. My teenage daughter thought all of this was hilarious and laughed, “Wait until Mom finds out. Hey Dad, we’ve still got 20 miles to go, imagine if you got another one!”
I started the car and we resumed our conversation. Twenty minutes later I looked in my rearview mirror and guess what I saw? Another police car pulling me over. I couldn’t believe it—in my lifetime, I’d had only one other speeding ticket when I was 22, now I got two in 20 minutes!
The officer handed over my second ticket and I turned to my daughter—"Do you see what you made me do?” No, that’s not really what I said. The fault was mine, trying to drive and talk at the same time. The problem was, I couldn’t manage myself.
Management professor, consultant, and author Peter Drucker wrote, “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…Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves.”
Have you learned to manage yourself? In an article for Harvard Business Review called “Managing Oneself,” Drucker poses five important questions for learning to manage oneself.
Which of them can you answer?
As we’ve written before, you have all kinds of strengths, which are your means for making your inspired contributions to the world. Your task is to discover your strengths and grow in them because, according to Drucker, “A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.”
Just as knowing one’s strengths is critical, so is knowing how one performs best. After a career working with people, Drucker found, “Amazingly few people know how they get things done.” It’s not enough to know what you’re good at, you also have to know the ways you work best. This includes knowing how you learn, receive information, come across to others, get tasks done, solve problems, etc.
Values are what’s most important to you, and what’s most important is living and working according to your values. How can you do this unless you know what your values are? Early in his career, Drucker had the opportunity to take a job that would have made him very wealthy, but turned it down after reflecting on his values because values “are and should be the ultimate test.”
Finding one’s belonging is an essential human need and is based on the previous three answers. Drucker writes, “Most people…do not really know where they belong until they are past their mid-twenties. By that time, however, they should know the answers to the three questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? And, What are my values? And then they can and should decide where they belong.”
The final question from Drucker on managing oneself is about contribution. You cannot answer it without first answering the other four because deciding on what contributions you should make comes from who you are and where you are. If you’re poised to make a particular contribution, but where you are doesn’t need it, then you have a problem.
Learning to manage oneself doesn’t happen automatically nor does it happen overnight. It is however, a process of asking the right questions and answering them intently.
How well do you know yourself?