Learn from Peter Drucker

By Bruce Rosenstein
Source: Leadership Excellence

If as a leader you are to model best behaviours and best practices, paying attention to your self-development is crucial. No one addressed personal growth for knowledge workers better than Peter Drucker, whose centenary was marked in 2009. Drucker believed that the person who best helps develop other people is one who best develops himself or herself.

People most associated Drucker with business and management, but his work extended beyond those areas. He wrote about self-development for more than 50 years. In 20 years of serious study of Drucker, I’ve seen how relevant his ideas on self-development are to leaders.

Central to taking advantage of Drucker’s ideas about developing yourself is to design a diversified, multidimensional life with fulfilling work and satisfying personal relationships. But you must put in considerable thought and effort, as Drucker did in his own remarkable life. He died in 2005, at 95, after a highly productive 70-year career as a writer, consultant and teacher. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. Even though he was long at the top of his various fields, he never stopped learning and trying to improve himself. For instance, for many years, he kept to a regimen of three years of self-study on a chosen topic. In later years, he shortened it to three months.

Considering these 10 ways to develop a multifaceted life:

1. Focus on achievement. Continuous improvement leads to excellence through self-motivation and self-direction. Focus on what you can do in any given situation, rather than on what you can’t do, or aren’t allowed to do. Drucker told me that if you focus on achievement and leaving something behind of value, you will never be finished with worthwhile things to do. And if your motivation wanes, just thin of what tasks need to be done, rather than what you want to do, or what is easiest.

2. Contemplate and reflect. Make time outside of work hours for periodic focused thought about your life and career. Drucker did this each summer, and said he was continually surprised at how things turned out differently each year from the way he thought they would go. “Every year”, he told me, “the things that worked are not the things I expected to work. And the things I expected to work are at best not failures. And every year I redirect my priorities as a result of that test and a year later find out that I have not lived up to my priorities but have done something quite different.”

3. Practice systematic abandonment. Look for activities inside and outside of work that can be eliminated to make way for something more fruitful. Aim to increase activities within your core competencies (your areas of excellence), or that would contribute to your legacy. But beware: you may have to give up some activities you enjoy doing.

4. Get outside your four walls. Make the most of leisure opportunities. You might deepen your experience by taking formal lessons or classes. Drucker incorporated his love and appreciation for art, literature, and music into his life. The people you meet in these endeavours are likely to be different from the ones you associate with in your job, and will broaden your perspective.

5. Develop a parallel career. Start planning this type of career, no matter how well your work life is going. Things can change instantly, and your parallel career (such as teaching, writing, or working in a non-profit organization) can make all the difference if you experience a layoff or another personal or professional setback,

6. Volunteer. Volunteering will add new meaning to your life, as well as new challenges, new people, and different types of leadership opportunities. If you are not sure how to get started, check the web for everything from local volunteering agencies to Craigslist. Drucker had a simple observation for finding these opportunities: look for an organization that represents a cause you believe in, and the make yourself useful to it.

7. Become a mentor. Drucker wrote eloquently on the benefits of mentoring, both for mentor and mentee. This is also a way to recognize and pay back the mentors who have guided you. There are mentoring possibilities in workplaces as well as within professional organizations.

8. Learn how to learn. When it’s vital to learn something, stop to think about how you go about it. Do you learn best by reading, writing, listening, teaching others, or a combination of some or all of these methods? Drucker said most people don’t go through this exercise. He said one of the reasons he liked teaching was because that was one of the ways he learned the best.

9. Become a teacher. Drucker believed that no one learns as much as the person who must teach his subject. Consider getting into teaching, not necessarily as a career, but either as a volunteer or as an adjunct professor. A valuable prep exercise to get you started is a “guest lecture,” in powerpoint or some other organized form, based on the work you do, for an imagined course on your subject. If you were to speak for 30 minutes, what would you tell the class about how your work is done and how you would prepare for it?

10. Take the self-management challenge. Go into personal diversification with your eyes open. Think about whether or not you’ll dilute your strength by branching out into other areas of life. You will have to practice effective time management to incorporate new activities and people. Recall past setbacks past and extract lessons,

Not everything can happen at once, and not all of these items will make sense for you. Drucker believed that underlying your development was a sense of integrity. He wrote, “The one quality demanded of you will not be skill, knowledge, or talent, but character.”

Developing yourself in a multidimensional manner would be a fitting way to honour Peter Drucker’s life and legacy.

Action: Create a personal development plan.

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