The first thing to strike me about this book was its (lack of) size. Managing Oneself is a reprint of an article from the Harvard Business Review, and at 55 small pages it is a distinctly slim volume. 

However, Drucker doesn’t waste a line. The book’s central premise is that we need to know “how and when to change the work we do” to stay engaged throughout a working life. This means knowing our strengths, knowing how we perform best, how we learn and what our values are, in order to be able to work out where we belong and what we should contribute.

The responsibility for undertaking this is firmly placed with the reader. This probably sounds fairly standard, but the book is so beautifully written that each turn of phrase carries the force of an aphorism. 

The book takes a remarkably long view; early on, Drucker recommends feedback analysis, comparing one’s expectations with actual results nine or 12 months later. He then states that he has been doing this himself for 15-20 years; not a timespan you see very often in a management book. Throughout, the way we live and work now is set in a historical context.

The book’s measured tone and sense of placement is explained when you realise, as I did, that Peter Drucker wrote the original article when he was 89; still teaching, still consulting for businesses and not-for-profit organisations, still very much engaged. 

Managing Oneself is not a quick-fix or a how-to book. It is the kind of book that makes you think about your place in the world, and that you return to time and again.

Liz Hedgecock is a workforce improvement manager for NHS North West.


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