As I move along my Stoic Summer Reading List, I am reminded again and again of the importance of knowing yourself. A quote by Plato instructs one to “know thyself” and the ancient philosopher’s words echoes today with more truth that one can ever imagine.
Everything we do in today’s bustling economy is influenced by what we see. Regardless of what you may think or feel, your daily actions, habits, expectations and goals are affected by things we see: on television, in advertisements and through social media.
We are have reached a peak of massive cultural influence that is almost beyond our control.
The first step to regaining some of our personal power is to realize that it is happening. To know thyself, as Plato quipped, and then to know of the other things, the external things.
I must surmise, this is no easy task.
Peter Drucker, in his classic on self-management posed several key questions that can help one reach this critical point of intervention.
What are my strength’s?
How do I perform?
How do I learn?
What are my values?
Where do I belong?
Knowing these five things about yourself will be crucial in building a foundation of success- at your current job or station in life and even when you make the bold attempt to move onto something else (Drucker suggest that we should aim to do so at some point).
Ask yourself these questions and look deep within for a honest answer; one that will guide you to a better path. A more fulfilling and rewarding existence can be contrived through a compilation of these answers.
Lead from Within
Through the lens of a leader, one that Drucker often uses, lies the inherent success of a company, organization, or military unit. Napoleon was a great achiever because he understood this concept very well. He was not a master of battle, but a master of emotion, knowing how to influence and inspire his French Army.
Drucker talks of past presidents that fell into a operational system that was established by their predecessors. Not for them, listeners for example flopped when they were given a daily memorandum of key events, notes, talking points, and insights. This tactical strategy pales in comparison to a morning update brief that would have enabled the success of a person that learns best from listening.
How do I perform? Someone who does well with analysis may be a poor briefer and when attempting to brief, would appear to be a poor analyst. In knowing this, this analyst can construct a method for distributing information which would in turn ensure that her talents are recognized. Through this process, a person can gain respect, influence, and even affluence.
But it starts with the process of knowing oneself.
Slaying the Internal Dragon
When you learn how to manage yourself, you will see the flaws that have thus far enabled the mediocrity of your life.
As humans, we are programmed to default to the easiest, most enjoyable way to live. We exist for pleasure and comfort, and if not acted against, our habits will default to the lowest common denominator; the easiest way.
This is why you hear of poor kids rising to become rich, while the kids of the rich grow to become spoiled babies that lack the resilience and internal drive to succeed.
Even the grandchildren of Genghis Khan were not immune to this mortal fact, as they sliced into shreds the empire built by one of the greatest fighting generals the world as ever seen. Khan himself was just a poor kid struggling to survive in one of the most hellish places on earth; the Eurasian Steppe.
But Genghis Khan knew himself and possessed the unique ability to see what isn’t there (most great leaders do).
He knew how to motivate his Army to charge against impenetrable Chinese walls. He enslaved societies by using their values against them. He carried the torch of victory because he knew how to leverage his talents and the talents of his inner circle.
We can guess now, several hundred years later that at some point Khan realized that he did some things well and that other things were done best by someone else on his team. He must have, at some point, pondered the best way to go about winning battles in which he was a decisive underdog.
He must have realized that his Army was relentlessly ruthless, terrifying, and able to endure the hardships of battle better than any other force that he encountered. He must have then formulated a strategy based on his strengths and then leveraged that against the values of his people and disseminated that information in way that they would understand.
A true genius of human emotion. And warfare.
He evolved until he became a force that was without limits, one that nearly conquered all of Western civilization.
But how can such a simple person rise to such greatness?
By knowing thyself.
Read More: Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker
In Pursuit of Excellence
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