January is a natural time to reflect on what we have accomplished, what we intend to accomplish, and how we might work to improve ourselves.
One of my favorite articles on personal development is “My Life as a Knowledge Worker” by the late management educator and author Peter F. Drucker. The article appeared in Inc. Magazine in February of 1997, and in it Drucker describes seven personal experiences that taught him how to grow, to change, and to age without becoming a prisoner of the past.
In “The Fourth Experience,” Drucker describes his experience as a young journalist. He was 22 years old and had just become one of three assistant managing editors at a newspaper headed by one of Europe’s leading newspapermen.
The editor-in-chief, then around 50, took infinite pains to train and discipline his young crew. He discussed with each of us every week the work we had done. Twice a year, right after New Year’s and then again before summer vacations began in June, we would spend a Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday discussing our work over the preceding six months. The editor would always start out with the things we had done well. Then he would proceed to the things we had tried to do well. Next he reviewed the things where we had not tried hard enough. And finally, he would subject us to a scathing critique of the things we had done badly or had failed to do. The last two hours of that session would then serve as a projection of our work for the next six months: What were the things on which we should concentrate? What were the things we should improve? What were the things each of us needed to learn? And a week later each of us was expected to submit to the editor-in-chief our new program of work and learning for the next six months.
What this story illustrates is that reflecting on and telling the truth about the last year’s performance is powerful. Drucker claimed to enjoy these sessions, but he didn’t begin to incorporate them into his own life until about a decade later, when he’d become a professor in the United States and begun writing books. Since then, he set aside two weeks each year to review his work the previous year.
I invite you to take some time—for yourself individually or with your team members—to reflect on the past year and honestly answer the following questions:
- What have we done well?
- What have we tried to do well?
- Where did we not try hard enough?
- What did we do badly or fail to do?
- On what things do we need to concentrate going forward?
- What are the things we need to improve?
- What are the things that each of us needs to learn?
While Drucker acknowledged that perfection continued to elude him, the exercise provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate and re-establish priorities, reshape expectations, and set new goals for improving performance in the new year.
To reflect and be empowered by the answers is part of being on a path to be remarkable.
Have a wonderful year!