Career Reflection: The 3 Stages of Self-Examination

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Managing Oneself" by Peter F. Drucker. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is self-reflection important in career development? What aspects should you reflect on with regards to your career?

According to Peter Drucker, the author of Managing Oneself, career reflection is part of the process of taking responsibility for yourself and will help you to advance in your career. Drucker says that, once you have greater self-knowledge, you can and must actively seek out situations where you’ll thrive. 

Learn about the three stages of professional self-reflection that Drucker recommends to manage yourself so that you learn who you are—and what your personal recipe for career success is.

1. Reflecting on Your Strengths

The first stage of career reflection is thinking about your strengths. Drucker states that this is necessary to success because working on your strengths is the most efficient, and thus best, way to make yourself stand out and advance your career. It doesn’t take much effort to improve something you have a natural ability in, and this effort could turn you into an exceptional performer. Conversely, it would take a good deal of effort to work on areas in which you’re less skilled, and the results would be less impressive—taking you from poor to mediocre. 

For example, if you’re already disposed to public speaking, you just need to polish these skills to be a great presenter, and this could open many doors for you. On the other hand, if you’re terrible with spreadsheets, it would take a long time to learn how to get better, and that effort would translate into only a moderate level of proficiency.

The Importance of Working From Your Strengths

Drucker’s advice to work on the things you’re already good at may seem counterintuitive, because you might assume that it’s important to focus on improving areas of weakness. However, Drucker is adamant that finessing your strengths is the way forward, and other authors have echoed this idea. 

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, suggests that it’s important to feel like you’re competent at your work, which is possible if you play to your strengths and choose to do what you’re good at. Competence is important because it’s a pillar of the principle of self-determination, or the intrinsic motivation to perform well. In turn, self-determination brings a sense of job satisfaction. Therefore, if you play to your strengths and thus feel like you’re competent at your job, your sense of job satisfaction will naturally increase. 

How to Identify Your Strengths

Drucker outlines a method to identify your strengths that we’ll call the future predictions technique. He asks you to write down a prediction of what you think will happen every time you’re at a significant crossroads in your professional life and have to decide on a course of action. At the end of each prediction’s time period, go back and evaluate how accurate your assumptions were. Drucker’s suggested time window for predictions is nine to 12 months.

How Does the Future Predictions Technique Work?

Drucker doesn’t explain exactly why he believes this technique to be so successful at predicting your areas of strength. To link the technique to your strengths, when you’re reflecting on the last nine to 12 months, frame your analysis around what went well and what didn’t go so well. Then use this to infer your strengths, presuming that your successes were thanks to your strengths. 

For example, if over the last year, you took control of your company’s social media accounts and doubled the number of followers, you can conclude that social media account management is one of your strengths. 

Applying the Results of the Future Predictions Technique 

When you’ve used the future predictions technique a few times, you should be able to identify your most promising strengths. Drucker’s next step is to act on this information by positioning yourself in situations where you work from your strengths, preferably in a company and role where these strengths are a core part of your daily work. This will help others to notice you, which may in turn lead to you advancing up the career ladder.

He also says that it’s necessary to spend some time and effort developing your natural talents to become extremely proficient, turning you into a star player. 

Developing Your Strengths

A central lesson of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You is to adopt the attitude of a craftsman and to hone your skills, which is similar to Drucker’s idea of working from and developing your strengths. Newport recommends that you consciously work on your skills, pushing yourself to regularly solve work-related problems so that you become quicker and more competent. He underlines that this will help boost your intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction, turning a job you’re good at into a job you excel in and that you like. 

It’s possible to combine both Drucker’s and Newport’s advice to achieve career success. You could begin by discovering your strengths using Drucker’s future predictions technique and then positioning yourself in situations where you’ll use those strengths. Then, adopt Newport’s craftsman attitude to hone your skills, which will have the dual benefits of increased job satisfaction and the possibility of career advancement. 

2. Reflecting on Your Values

Now that you’ve identified your strengths, the next step is to think about your personal values. Drucker says that this is essential because your values are connected to your motivation to succeed in your career. If you work in an organization with the same values as you, you’ll naturally want to work hard, which will help you advance. 

According to Drucker, your values in a work context are the way you operate and the goals you strive for. On an organizational level, this concept of values could translate to what we now call a company’s culture. Different examples of values are how much oversight the company believes it’s necessary for managers to have or how open the organization is to adopting new ideas. 

How to Identify Your Values 

Drucker talks about work and organizational values in a general sense, but he doesn’t give a detailed guide to how to identify your values. 

Brené Brown outlines a process of identifying values in her book Dare To Lead. She suggests that your values are ideals that seem so much a part of you that they’re central to your identity (or, in the case of a company, your organizational identity). According to Brown, you identify your values by recalling moments where you believe you acted with integrity and other moments where you had to do something that felt wrong. These will reveal your internal values system.

Teamwork is an example of a workplace value. If you value teamwork, a time you acted with integrity might be when you stayed late to help a colleague finish her presentation. Conversely, acting without integrity could be taking credit for a colleague’s contribution to a project. 

How to Apply Your Knowledge of Your Values to Your Career

Just as with your strengths, try to work for companies that have values matching your own. Even if you have a role using your strengths, Drucker states that working somewhere with different values to your own will ultimately lead to failure because if you’re not doing what you believe to be right, you’ll eventually lose motivation. 

For example, you might feel you do your best work using your strength of project management in a collaborative environment, working with people from many disciplines to deliver a project. However, perhaps you work for a company that values projects produced by homogenous teams of “product developers,” “sales,” “marketing,” and so on. The company thinks this motivates each team to achieve, as everyone is responsible for their own success. If you try to manage projects in these conditions, you may excel at the technical side of your job, but you’ll eventually start to underperform because the company’s values contradict your own.   

Drucker says that a sign that the company’s values are incompatible with yours is that you gradually become unhappy within yourself, questioning why you give your time and effort to an organization whose principles you question. 

How to Find a Job With Compatible Values

Drucker underlines the importance of finding a job with similar values to your own, but he doesn’t discuss how to do this. Judging a company’s values can be difficult, especially when you don’t have firsthand experience of working for them.

Glassdoor is a site where employees can anonymously evaluate the companies they work for. The site lays out a plan to help job seekers to first identify their values and then find a compatible employer, suggesting:
Asking family and friends about their jobs and their organization’s valuesResearching careers you’re interested in and applying to similar open positionsAsking about company values during the interview process 

3. Reflecting on Your Learning Style

Now that we’ve covered reflecting on your strengths and values, Drucker’s next step of managing yourself is to think about how you learn. This is important because you can only achieve outstanding results if you follow the learning style that suits you best. 

Drucker believes that your learning style is part of your personality, set from a young age. As with your strengths, your effort is best spent identifying your learning style and then favoring that style so that you can learn the necessary information more efficiently. 

How Do We Learn?

Drucker doesn’t discuss in depth what a learning style is. It’s generally defined as the way that students best absorb and process information. Drucker implies that there are only two learning styles—readers and listeners—but Fleming and Mills (1992) outlined the VARK model of learning styles, with Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic learning options, as well as multimodal options for people who use a blend of styles. 

However, the authors of Make It Stick refute the idea that each person has a predetermined learning style at all, as Drucker suggests. The authors say this belief hinders learning and, although you may have a preferred learning style, you actually learn best when information is presented in a style complementary to the subject matter. Therefore, you may be better off taking a nuanced approach, seeking out different kinds of materials to support the learning required for your job. 

This might mean, for example, seeking visual information to understand data about the company’s performance, but asking your boss to explain aloud why one style of client relationship management is preferable. 
Career Reflection: The 3 Stages of Self-Examination

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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