“Managing Oneself” Revisited
by Julia Wang

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In a networked world, opportunities for individuals to develop, create and grow are available everywhere. Whether they can successfully capture the opportunity or surf on the wave of the changes, depends heavily on the individual ability to manage oneself. At the 11th Global Drucker Forum on “The Power of Business Ecosystems” on November 21, 2019 in Vienna, one plenary discussion on the theme of “Managing Oneself” drew on Peter Drucker’s 1999 article of the same name to bring new perspectives on leadership, innovation, and organizational resilience and agility in the context of ecosystems today.

Art Kleiner, Editor in Chief of PWC Strategy+Business, kicked off the discussion by revisiting Drucker’s original text. According to Drucker, managing oneself is about discovering strengths, understanding values, and taking responsibility for self-reinvention. To be effective in an organization, an individual’s values must be compatible with those of the organization. Why do such things matter in the networked society? What commitment to learning should an organization/ecosystem expect from its people and vice versa? And what challenges is one liable to face in managing oneself? In other words: what does it actually mean to manage yourself/oneself in the world of ecosystems?

Drucker Forum 2019

There is no doubt that in today’s workplace wellbeing has been seriously compromised by the anxiety and stress caused by overwork. In this context, managing oneself is about both self-protection on one hand and the healing of others on the other. To be resilient, agile and happy, you must learn to manage yourself, counselled executive coach Michael Gelb; in the same way organizations committed to healing the anxiety and suffering in the world turn out to be more financially profitable as well as healthier. The number one skill required for leadership in such organizations is the ability to self-manage and choose love and compassion as the basis for making big decisions. Quoting Leonardo’s “men of genius sometimes work best when they work least”, Gelb suggested that “to smile as Mona and to think like Leonardo” is a practical route to better thinking, creativity and personal effectiveness.

In “Managing Oneself”, Drucker reminds us that the changes brought about by the internet make savvy self-management a must for knowledge workers to be effective. Drucker’s body of knowledge is about creating human energy and human vision. Julia Wang, President of Peter F. Drucker Academy (Hong Kong), reflected on the context of Drucker’s writing. Today, everyone has an opportunity to become or at least to think as a chief executive officer. Managing oneself is about discovering who you are, then focusing on what you can contribute, as well as taking responsibilities for relationships and communications. This is especially true in the world of ecosystems, where trust and collaboration are essential for both individual and organizational success. 

Nowadays technological speculation and hype are endless; but human skills remain central to business endeavor. Venture capitalist Scott Hartley shared his views on cultural aspects of big tech. The business of both liberal arts and technology is either understanding or improving the human condition, and both deal in human values. We cannot separate the two when we try to understand the fundamental problems of society and the value technology can bring to solving them. The ability to ask the right questions is critical, especially in the face of uncertainty, and training in the humanities sharpens skills in this regard. Managing oneself means looking at oneself as a person and reflecting on how we interact with others. To succeed in the era of AI, robotics and technological disruption, human skills, creativity and empathy are fundamental.     

Self-management is about doing things in fresh and different ways, innovating and thinking creatively to push the envelope of current possibility. When people or organizations reach their capacity, they have to find a new way to build out new ones, suggested Whitney Johnson, CEO of WLJ advisors. The idea of S-curve learning demonstrates the self-disruptive learning path that eventually can lead to creativity and innovation.

Digital anthropologist Rahaf Harfoush shared her perspectives that managing oneself is mainly to do with accountability and impact. The networked society is created by ourselves as human beings, and it is up to all of us to make it what we want it to be, whether happy, angry or sad. This reminds us that we are accountable for choosing how we invest our time, attention and energy, and those actions and choices impact on people around us. Will our actions as individuals positively or negatively affect the digital environment? It’s essential for us to understand our own behaviour, habits and biases, to enable us to become a more positive impact on the whole network.

The panellists shared insights on how to create conditions for individuals and organizations to nurture creativity, resilience, agility and collaborative cultures through conscious self-management.

In summary, the most important takeaways from the session were:

  1. Leaders who make strategic decisions do, and should, listen to their inner voices. 
  2. A courageous decision on the basis of love and compassion can make a big difference.
  3. Technology is a human activity. Leaders with human insights have a better understanding of others as well as themselves. The liberal arts are foundational to our way of thinking and our ability to ask the right questions. Human skills, values and empathy are central to success in the era of technology disruption.
  4. Managing oneself is about doing things differently – a mindset change that leads to creativity and innovation.
  5. Managing oneself is about taking responsibility for relationships and communication.  In the era of complex ecosystems, the starting point for leading others has to be the ability first of all to understand and manage oneself.

About the Author:

Julia Wang is the President of the Peter F. Drucker Academy (Hong Kong)

This article is one in the Drucker Forum “shape the debate” series relating to the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Power of Ecosystems”, taking place on November 21-22, 2019 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF19 #ecosystems


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