Management scholar Peter Drucker writes in the Harvard Business Review
that although we live in an age of unprecedented opportunity, employees can’t count on companies to manage their careers.
Instead, “knowledge workers” must effectively be their own chief executive officers: “It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years.”
To better manage yourself and your career, Drucker suggests that you answer the following questions:
1. What are my strengths?
Drucker points out that the only way to accurately discover your strengths is through “feedback analysis.”
Here’s how to use it in 2 steps:
- First, whenever you’re making an important decision or taking a key action, write down what you expect to happen.
- Then, 9 or 12 months later compare the actual results with your expectations – how well do they match up?
In a relatively short period of time, around 2 to 3 years, this feedback analysis will show your strengths, and just as important, those areas where you’re not competent.
2. How do I perform?
Drucker writes that very few people know how they work best and how they get things done – even though knowing this can be just as important as knowing your strengths.
He suggests asking yourself 2 questions to better understand how you uniquely perform best:
Are you a reader or a listener? People are rarely both: “Few listeners can be made, or can make themselves, into competent readers – and vice versa.”
How do you learn? Some people learn best by writing, some by taking notes, and others by talking – the key is to know what works best for you.
3. What are my values?
Organizations, like people, have values. To be effective in an organization, your values don’t need to be exactly the same as the organization’s, but they need to be compatible.
This is especially important because sometimes your strengths may not align with your values.
In Drucker’s own case, he’d been a successful investment banker, but didn’t see himself making a useful contribution to society. He later realized that his values centered on people, not money, and he “saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.”
4. Where do I belong?
Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, how they perform, and their values.
A key part of knowing where you’ll be most successful is knowing where you don’t belong. For instance, if you’ve learned that you don’t perform well in big organizations or in a decision-making role, then you should say no to such opportunities.
5. What should I contribute?
For Drucker, determining what you should contribute — and not just what you want to contribute — requires asking the following 3 questions:
- What does the situation require?
- Given my strengths, how I perform, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?
What results have to be achieved to make a difference?