Following on from last week's post and given some of our recent client discussions with regards to the structure of the MBA I've been looking again at Peter Drucker's 1999 Harvard Business Review article, Managing Oneself. I still find it wholly applicable to today's environment, both for the experienced manager as well as manager-in-training. Yet I also believe there could be a few additional factors now worthy of consideration...

Drucker believed that companies were not sufficiently cultivating the careers of their “knowledge workers,” and so it was up to them to each “be their own CEOs.” Believing that the path to true and lasting excellence required deep self-knowledge, which is also necessary for a productive and rewarding career that may last 50 years or more, such self-knowledge was based on several key questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I work?
  • What are my values?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What can I contribute?

Such development of one’s self-knowledge allows the fulfilment of Drucker’s concept of the twenty-first century knowledge worker. I believe there are several other, admittedly overlapping factors, now worthy of consideration:

Managing the Physical Self

As Drucker states, it is commonplace for a career to last more than 50 years, and Drucker himself enjoyed a long and fruitful career. So issues of health and the physical self are absolutely necessary to sustain performance and give the best chances of longevity. An attention to health is not only for health’s sake. An attention to causality develops insight into the relationship between health, wellbeing, and, ultimately, performance. Whole-person learning is required for today’s leaders, who are often experts in their field yet can be novices in other key areas, including their health and fitness, which are critical to their sustainable performance.

Gaining an Outside-In View

Self-management can lead to a deep level of reflection, which on its own can be detrimental if not balanced with someone looking in from the outside. One of the things we can apply from sport is the value of coaching. No matter the skill or experience level of the individual athlete, there is always the need for the coach to offer a dispassionate view on performance and training, providing perspective to what can easily become bias around data or performance in general. Business coaching has gained great momentum in the past several years yet the level of coaches who may combine an understanding of sports coaching and, by extension, elements of the physical self into the business domain is lacking.

Taking Responsibility for the Self and Society

We are empowered more than ever before. We have the free choice and opportunity to look after our health, decide how we work, and build a new career. Taking responsibility for the self and changing in small ways may drive a wider level of responsibility to society that affects system level change. In his Harvard Business Review article, How Will You Measure Your Life? —his own contribution to the self-management domain—Clayton Christensen states that management is the most noble of professions if practiced well, because

“it offers many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”

Yet many students neglect the human factor in business, of others as well as themselves, through a lack of identifying or at least reflecting deeply on purpose. Empathy and humility are therefore key.

Applying Good Thinking as a Whole Person

Christensen also urged not to “reserve your best business thinking for your career.” The same good practice that we apply so diligently in our careers could form the basis of a better self-management. Christensen talks of applying the right strategy to one’s life, yet, the focus of good thinking should not always rest on the analytical, rational, and calculating side. The opportunities afforded by more sophisticated measurement does not mean we increase such a focus. Rather, the data should allow us to experiment and iterate in the same way that designers do. Establishing the cause and effect of small actions in our daily lives, such as a glass of wine with dinner and our resulting sleep quality that night, can be established in a matter of days. Quick iteration and prototyping is therefore afforded to us all to reengineer our day-to-day lives in a way that has not been possible until now. Good thinking, therefore, combines the abstract curious nature of design thinking with the scientific rigor of causality.

Hacking Habits

When combined with the data we collect through more sophisticated tracking this balanced thinking allows us to change, reengineer, or “hack” our habits. Hacking is a term that came from the world of computer programming and is still used primarily within the technology world, as well as being extended to start-up companies and the health and habits domain. For me, hacking has three distinguishing features. First, it is an unconventional means of solving a problem that often challenges conventional wisdom. It is not necessarily a shortcut (although it can be), but it always involves some creative means of addressing the issue. Second, and related to this unconventional approach, is that it includes some degree of limited resource or constraint, such as doing the same with less, for instance, in a company process that suffers from budget cuts. The third aspect of hacking is that it involves some iterative loop. Fast cycle time is necessary to experiment and learn from failure. When we apply such an approach to ourselves and our own daily lives, there is an opportunity to identify and improve the key habits, often the small actions, that have a large impact on our health, well-being, and performance.

More Sophisticated Tracking

Tracking was not alien to Drucker’s approach to self-management. Indeed, returning to the basics of reflecting on practice—for example, writing in a journal over a period of time, as advocated by Drucker to identify strengths—is a greatly positive practice in a world of complex technology and lack of reflection. Yet the opportunities provided by modern technology, from various apps to big data sets, cannot be ignored. Previously invisible parts of our lives, or at best hard-to measure parts, such as sleep, the calories we consume or burn, and the moves we make, are accessible measures for everyone and have the potential to offer deep insight into work performance as well as health and well-being. More sophisticated tracking also allows us a clearer view on where we are allocating our resources, something that Christensen calls for. Many of us are often drawn toward work because that offers a clear view of progress—a new customer, product, or presentation—yet progress in other areas of our life has traditionally been less tangible and more difficult to measure.

With the current focus on the 4th industrial revolution and the impending upsurge in progress and change, just as with the 1st revolution, I think the human factor will be critical in it being able to flourish. I believe these additional 6 factors to better care for that human factor.

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