Mar 28

Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: On Managing Yourself


Managing yourself

Forests have fallen by writing books on topics centered around personal management and self improvement. A significant majority of them, especially the ones with gawky titles do not make much rational sense to me. I believe that one can learn and grow more by reading auto/biographies of business and political leaders than by reading the kind of books that claim to teach an MBA in 10 days. I find them superficial and detached from the realities of life.

Things, however, take a 180 degree turn if two of the world’s most influential management thinkers talk about subjects like “managing yourself”. Management gurus like Clayton M. Christensen and Peter F. Drucker have defined the course of management and invented concepts that have not only pushed forward the boundaries of management theory but have profoundly influenced the way corporations operate, both at the macro and the micro levels.

The book HBR’s 10 must reads: On Managing Yourself, consists of 10 articles by top business thinkers. A quick surf on the names of authors who contributed to this splendid book was enough to fire my curiosity. The insights presented on self improvement and self management by Clayton Christensen and Peter Drucker are especially inspiring and worth sharing. I will discuss Clayton Christensen’s article in this post and Peter Drucker’s definitive article in one of my subsequent posts.

In How will you measure your life? , Clayton beautifully ties the successful principles and models implemented in organizations to the individual development.  He believes that innovation theories and models that help build strong companies can also help people lead better lives. The article uses management practices to answer three questions relevant to (almost) everyone’s life. How can I be happy in my career? How can I be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness? and How can I live my life with integrity?

The great american psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, who gave the world “The dual structure theory”, asserted that money isn’t the most powerful motivational factor in a person’s career. It is primarily the opportunity to grow in responsibility, contribute and be recognized.  I think money is a consequence of these prime motivational factors. People who have the most gratifying carriers are usually the ones who pursue their passions and have a hunger for taking ownership and responsibility. In the words of Clayton, “More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling and investing in companies. Doing deals doesn’t reap the rewards that come from building up people”. These are powerful and thought provoking words.

The organizational theory that answers the second question deals with how strategy for resource allocation is defined and implemented. There are thousands of organizations that mismanage the critical resources at their disposal and shortchange their investments in initiatives that are vital for a long term gain and sustainability of their businesses. The consequence of this mismanagement of resources is usually very different from the strategy the organizational management intends to follow. Likewise, in life too, if there is no sense of purpose or a strategy defined, people will fritter away the limited and critical resources (time and energy) they have at their disposal. The author talks about how, many of his HBS classmates lived fractured personal lives primarily due to a lack of a definite purpose. Like organizations, it is important for individuals to think about a metric by which their lives will be judged.

One of the most reflective sections of this article discusses the authors own experience in cultivating a clear sense purpose in his life. As a Rhodes scholar in Oxford university, Clayton had very demanding academic commitments. Since having a clear sense of purpose was essential for him, he devoted one hour every night reading and thinking about why God put him on Earth. He further discusses, how he was conflicted about weather he could take an hour off from his academic life but instead stuck with it and ultimately figured out the purpose of his life. Based on my limited readings about lives of other great people like Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, etc, this is not an aberration. People who go on to achieve great feats  align all their activities and short term goals to the ultimate purpose they defined for themselves.

The section that discusses integrity and the related question makes an interesting read as well. The financial theory that states that ignoring the sunk and fixed costs and instead base decisions on marginal costs and marginal revenues when considering alternative investments can have implications for corporations. It many times causes bad decisions. Similarly, this marginal cost doctrine gives birth to  mentality that allures people to do wrong “just this once” . This consequently, can lead people astray. Both in the business world and the personal world of many individuals, disasters happen because of lack of integrity that usually gets ignited by “Just this once”  thought. Justification for dishonesty in all its manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “Just this once”. Having principles and sticking to those principles builds conviction and plays a positive role in the long term. In the resounding words of Clayton Christensen, “Its easier to hold to your principles 100 % of the time than it is to hold to them 98 % of the time”.

As someone with a keen interest in management theory, I found this book in general, and the articles by Clayton Christensen and Peter F. Drucker in particular, engaging. The way Clayton connects different dots and relates seemingly unrelated concepts provides a stimulating experience.

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