Towards the end of his career, the world-renowned management thinker Peter F. Drucker identified the next frontier as ‘self-management’. He argued that the rise of individual longevity and the decline of job security (and as we’ve seen, the gig economy) individuals would have to think hard about where their strengths lie, what they can contribute, and how they can improve their own performance. In 2005 he wrote “The need to manage oneself is creating a revolution in human affairs”.

This is becoming more and more true, as we all experience the call for each of us to rise to the challenge of self-mastery, whether we work for a large firm, run our own business or work part time.

And you may ask – how do I make the jump from self-management to self-mastery? Because when we move from the position of being managed by others who are concerned to get the most out of us in order to achieve better performance, and we go to managing ourselves, becoming the best we can be, is meeting the intrinsic need for all human beings. It goes along with the idea that our abilities are infinitely improvable and that new talents can continually be found, if and when needed, in meeting new challenges.

It is a mindset that develops with opportunity.

Self mastery is not motivated by the external rewards of money, position, power etc, because the desire to achieve all that we can be is intrinsic to all people. Hence, self-mastery.

It begins as Peter F. Drucker identified – with searching for and recognising our own unique talents and strengths – both innate and hard won from our experience in life. It’s identifying what liberates us into greater expression and what limits us into mediocrity. Whether it be in the environmental context we choose to operate, the organisational or management values within which we will work, or the activities that our work will take us into. It expands also into the type of people we wish to be in relationship with, the purpose we choose to serve and the contributions we wish/need to make.

It involves a hard look at our values – what we will accept and what we won’t, in terms of behaviours, focus, health and well-being, work-life balance. Autonomy is necessary. So being able to choose what you do, when, with whom and how, are the key requirements to creating the flow of high performance, that leads to mastery. Outdated notions of management can interfere or stop the flow as old-school management processes create hold-ups and checks on activities.

Self-mastery calls for being autonomous and self-directed, setting one’s own goals, disciplines and dealing with the obstacles along the way. Being accountable for results requires disciples and standards and these need to be self-imposed. To achieve self-mastery requires effort, practice, resilience and persistence.

Success realised can mean very different things for different people. For one person with their specific mental, emotional and spiritual frameworks can mean the success of being able to continue their journey into growth and development. For another, it means delivering a consistently high-quality product or service that meets the needs of their customers. For another, it means the continual creation of new ideas, solving problems and seeing into the future for what will be needed next in technology.

Self-mastery is the unique achievement of each individual’s life and the purposeful contribution only they can make into the world. We all benefit from each person’s success – the path less travelled – that they take.


Penny Sophocleous

1 July 2019