As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, at the moment I’m reading eight books on repeat every morning. One of these is Peter Drucker’s magnificent Managing Oneself. I’ve actually gifted it to a couple of Critical Friend clients as it’s so good.

There’s some great insights in there, and some sections in particular I’d like to share here. First off, it’s worth defining terms. Thomas Davenport, in his book Thinking for a Living defines knowledge workers in the following way:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge.

So I’m guessing that almost everyone reading this fits into the category ‘knowledge worker’. I certainly identify as one, as my hands are much better suited touch-typing the thoughts that come out of my head, sparked by the things that I’m reading, than building walls and moving things around!

Drucker says that we knowledge workers are in a unique position in history:

Knowledge workers in particular 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?

This is a difficult thing to do and, to my mind, one that hierarchies are not great at solving. Every time I’m re-immersed in an organisation with a strict hierarchy, I’m always struck by how much time is wasted by the friction and griping that they cause. You have to be much more of a ‘grown-up’ to flourish in a non-paternalistic culture.

Drucker explains that knowledge workers who much ‘manage themselves’ need to take control of their relationships. This has two elements:

The first is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. They perversely insist on behaving like human beings. 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.
The second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication. Whenever I, or any other consultant, start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these 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.

The answer, of course, is to become a much more transparent organisation. Although The Open Organization is a book I’d happily recommend to everyone, I do feel that it conflates the notion of ‘transparency’ (which I’d define as something internal to the organisation) and ‘openness’ (which I see as the approach it takes externally).  For me, every organisation can and should become more transparent — and most will find that openness lends significant business advantages.

Transparency means that you can see the ‘audit trail’ for decisions, that there’s a way of plugging your ideas into others, that there’s a place where you can, as an individual ‘pull’ information down (rather than have it ‘pushed’ upon you). In short, transparency means nowhere to hide, and a ruthless, determined focus on the core mission of the organisation.

Hierarchies are the default way in which we organise people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the best way of doing so. Part of the reason I’m so excited to be part of a co-operative is that, for the first time in history, I can work as effectively with colleagues  I consider my equals, without a defined hierarchy, and across continents and timezones. It’s incredible.

What this does mean, of course, is that you have to know what it is that you do, where your strengths lie, and how you best interact with others. Just as not everyone is a ‘morning person’, so some people prefer talking on the phone to a video conference, or via instant message than by email.

Drucker again:

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”


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. Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier, or a distributor, one owes that responsibility to all one’s coworkers: those whose work one depends on as well as those who depend on one’s own work.

Reflecting on the way you work best means that you can deal confidently with others who may have a different style to you. It means it won’t take them weeks, months, or even years to figure out that you really aren’t  going to read an email longer than a couple of paragraphs.

[This] 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.”

It’s a great book and, reading it at the same time as The Concise Mastery by Robert Greene is, I have to say, a revelation.

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