We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: with ambition, drive, and talent, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession regardless of where you started out. But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their knowledge workers’ careers. Instead, you must be your own Chief Executive Officer. That means it’s up to you to carve out your place in the world and know when to change course. And it’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive during a career that may span some 50 years.
Peter Drucker is the founder of modern management and the one who coined the term Knowledge Worker. His book — Managing Oneself —is about developing oneself. Developing a career is about knowing oneself well and maintaining a good relationship.
What are my strengths?
To have a successful career, one should know what their strengths are. No one performs well with their weaknesses. Most people are wrong about their perspective about what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Drucker recommends Feedback Analysis of your career to understand your strengths. Write down the expected outcomes of your critical decisions. And check the same in every 9–12 months. While analyzing, one will be able to understand their strengths, incompetence and the hindrances that may affect the strengths.
Always work on your strengths by improving skills and get new ones. Peter Drucker mentions that always try to gain knowledge which is relevant to you.
Far too many people — especially people with great expertise in one area — are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas or believe that being bright is a substitute for knowledge. First-rate engineers, for instance, tend to take pride in not knowing anything about people. Human beings, they believe, are much too disorderly for the good engineering mind. Human resources professionals, by contrast, often pride themselves on their ignorance of elementary accounting or of quantitative methods altogether. But taking pride in such ignorance is self-defeating.
How do I perform?
Like one’s strength, how one performs is also unique. Personality can be a matter of nature or nurture, but it’s formed much before one starts working. Just as one achieves results by working on what they are good at, they also achieve results by working in the ways they perform their best.
Am I a reader or a listener? and How do I learn? are the first questions to ask. But they are by no means the only ones. To manage yourself effectively, you also have to ask, Do I work well with people, or am I a loner? And if you do work well with people, you then must ask, in what relationship — as subordinates or as team members?
The bottom line is, don’t try to change yourselves. You are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And don’t try to take on work you cannot perform or will perform poorly.
What are my values?
Values are not about ethics. Ethics can be tested using what Drucker refers as “Mirror Test”, i.e. What kind of person you want to see in the mirror.
Whether a pharmaceutical company tries to obtain results by making constant, small improvements or by achieving occasional, highly expensive, and risky “breakthroughs” is not primarily an economic question. The results of either strategy may be pretty much the same. At bottom, there is a conflict between a value system that sees the company’s contribution in terms of helping physicians do better what they already do and a value system that is oriented toward making scientific discoveries.
Like individuals, organisations also have values. The mismatch in the value system will result in frustration and nonperformance of individuals.
Where do I belong?
By knowing one’s strengths, values and how one performs, we understand where they don’t belong. We usually don’t think about where we don’t belong. For example, one must know whether one should work with a big organisation or a small organisation. Or whether one performs well as an advisor or a lone performer etc.
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. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person — hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre — into an outstanding performer.
How should I contribute?
Usually, people take tasks assigned to them or expected them to do. Instead, one should look out at the situation and make contributions.
Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference?
Answer the above questions. And then create a plan for eighteen months which is stretchable and achievable. The results should make a difference which is meaningful, measurable and visible.
Responsibility for relationships
Very few people who work themselves — a few artists or athletes. Most of us work with others. Even a self-employed person work with others. That makes it critical to make sure that we take responsibility for relationships.
The first part is to consider others are humans — be it your or co-workers — having their strengths, values and style of performance. And the second part is the responsibility for communication.
Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong.
Whenever you communicate to others, “This is what am good at. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver.”, the response is always “Thanks for sharing this, why didn’t you tell me this earlier”
When you ask others “What do I need to know your strengths, how do you perform, your values, and your proposed contribution?” The response will usually be “Thanks for asking. Why didn’t you ask me earlier?”
The second half of your life
The people who plan their second career is a minority, but they are the leaders and become role models for many. The majority “retire” with their first career and just count the rest of the days for actual retirement. These second careers help one to be focussed while having tough times during their lives and also help to contribute and make a difference.
Around the age of 45, Most knowledge workers reach a state of “boredom”. as they might have reached a state of their career ladder by then. It’s important to keep oneself challenging throughout one’s life, along with having a community to interact. And that is the reason why it is necessary to plan for a second career.
According to Drucker, there are three ways to develop a second career.
- Start a new career
- Develop a parallel career
- Social Entrepreneurship
There is another reason to develop a second major interest, and to develop it early. No one can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in his or her life or work. At such times, a second major interest — not just a hobby — may make all the difference. The engineer, for example, now knows that he has not been very successful in his job. But in his outside activity — as church treasurer, for example — he is a success. One’s family may break up, but in that outside activity there is still a community.
Managing oneself means, being Chief Executive Officer of your life. Understand your strengths, values and how you perform. And then look for opportunities where you can leverage them. Successful careers are not planned. Successful careers are developed by preparing for opportunities.