When I started this blog, one of my concerns was that the customer service literature mainly tends to treat those of us who actually provide the service as objects to be manipulated (see "That's a good doggie"). I argue that for any customer service program to succeed, providers must turn that bias on its head. We must exercise leadership, and take personal responsibility for our success. While trying to develop that theme, I recalled this article by Peter Drucker, who died in November 2005, after having devoted 70 of his 95 years to the hope that he could make us better people, as well as better managers.
We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you've got ambition and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession, regardless of where you started out. But with opportunity comes responsibility. It's up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive.
To do those things well, you'll need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself -- not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution. Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.
What Are My Strengths?
- A person can perform only from strength.
- We need to know our strengths in order to know where we belong.
- Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong.
- The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.
- Several implications for action follow from feedback analysis.
- First and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.
- Second, work on improving your strengths.
- Third, discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it. 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.
- It is equally essential to remedy your bad habits -- the things you do or fail to do that inhibit your effectiveness and performance.
- 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.
How Do I Perform?
- Amazingly few people know how they get things done. Indeed, most of us do not even know that different people work and perform differently. Too many people work in ways that are not their ways, and that almost guarantees nonperformance.
- Like one's strengths, how one performs is unique. It is a matter of personality.
- Just as people achieve results by doing what they are good at, they also achieve results by working in ways that they best perform. A few common personality traits usually determine how a person performs.
- Am I a reader or a listener? What’s the best way for you to get information? 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.
- How do I learn? There are people who learn by writing. Some people learn by taking copious notes. Some people learn by doing. Others learn by hearing themselves talk.
- 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? Some people work best as subordinates. Some people work best as team members. Others work best alone.
- 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.
- Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment?
- Do I work best in a big organization or a small one?.
- Do not try to change yourself -- you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And try not to take on work you cannot perform or will only perform poorly.
What Are My Values?
- To be able to manage yourself, you finally have to ask, What are my values?
- Organizations, like people, have values. To be effective in an organization, a person's values must be compatible with the organization's values. They do not need to be the same, but they must be close enough to coexist. Otherwise, the person will not only be frustrated but also will not produce results.
- A person's strengths and the way that person performs rarely conflict; the two are complementary. But there is sometimes a conflict between a person's values and his or her strengths. What one does well--even very well and successfully -- may not fit with one's value system. In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one's life to.
- Values are and should be the ultimate test.
Where Do I Belong?
- Most people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well 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.
- Or rather, they should be able to decide where they do not belong. The person who has learned that he or she does not perform well in a big organization should have learned to say no to a position in one. The person who has learned that he or she is not a decision maker should have learned to say no to a decision-making assignment.
- Equally important, knowing the answer to these questions enables a person to say to an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment, "Yes, I will do that. But this is the way I should be doing it. This is the way it should be structured. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kind of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame, because this is who I am.”
- 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.
What Should I Contribute?
- Knowledge workers 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?
- It is rarely possible -- or even particularly fruitful -- to look too far ahead. A plan can usually cover no more than 18 months and still be reasonably clear and specific. So the question in most cases should be, Where and how can I achieve results that will make a difference within the next year and a half? The answer must balance several things.
- First, the results should be hard to achieve -- they should require "stretching," to use the current buzzword. But also, they should be within reach. To aim at results that cannot be achieved -- or that can be only under the most unlikely circumstances -- is not being ambitious; it is being foolish.
- Second, the results should be meaningful. They should make a difference.
- Finally, results should be visible and, if at all possible, measurable.
- From this will come a course of action: what to do, where and how to start, and what goals and deadlines to set.
Responsibility for Relationships
- Very few people work by themselves and achieve results by themselves. Most people work with others and are effective with other people. Managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships. This has two parts.
- The first is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. This means that they too have their strengths; they too have their ways of getting things done; they too have their values. To be effective, therefore, you have to know the strengths, the performance modes, and the values of your coworkers.
- Bosses are individuals and are entitled to do their work in the way they do it best. It is incumbent on the people who work with them to observe them, to find out how they work, and to adapt themselves to what makes their bosses most effective. This, in fact, is the secret of "managing" the boss.
- The same holds true for all your coworkers. Each works his or her way, not your way. And each is entitled to work in his or her way. What matters is whether they perform and what their values are. As for how they perform -- each is likely to do it differently. The first secret of effectiveness is to understand the people you work with and depend on so that you can make use of their strengths, their ways of working, and their values.
- The second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication. Most conflicts arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing and how they do their work, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect. And the reason they do not know is that they have not asked and therefore have not been told.
- 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.
The challenges of managing oneself may seem obvious, if not elementary. And the answers may seem self-evident to the point of appearing naïve. But managing oneself requires new and unprecedented things from the individual, and especially from the knowledge worker. In effect, managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive officer. Further, the shift from manual workers who do as they are told to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves, profoundly challenges social structure. Every existing society, even the most individualistic one, takes two things for granted, if only subconsciously: that organizations outlive workers, and that most people stay put.
But today the opposite is true. Knowledge workers outlive organizations, and they are mobile. The need to manage oneself is therefore creating a revolution in human affairs.