Recent Article, Self-awareness

Book summary: HBR’s 10 Must Reads – On Managing Yourself

HBR’s 10 Must Reads – ‘On Managing Yourself’ is a collection of articles produced over the last thirty years.  Unlike The Affect Theory Reader,  recently reviewed, ‘On Managing Yourself’ is one for the favourites list.

Structure and inclusions

I enjoy a good self-help book. This is hands down one of the best I’ve read.  It includes articles by academics such as Clayton Christensen, Daniel Goleman, Michael Porter and Peter Drucker. While it perhaps doesn’t have the immediately engaging quality of a book by, say, researcher and story-teller, Brené Brown, On Managing Yourself is still fascinating.

Read about managing your energy (not your time); about distractibility and impatience; how to realise moment of greatness, and drive great performance.



At first glance, a few of the articles might appear dated. However, they stand the test of time. Peter Drucker’s article Managing Oneself, originally published in 1999, is a case in point. So many insights have been built on their foundation, each makes a worthy contribution.



Who’s Got The Monkey?

This article by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass builds on earlier work, which dates back to 1974. However, it is a great reminder to consider where responsibility resides and when. Where is the monkey? Is it on your back or the back of your team member? (I have to admit to changing the language here from ‘subordinate’ to ‘team member’. Subordinate has too many associations with poor workplace culture, where ‘the boss’ takes contributions—and people—for granted).

The authors remind us to assess team member readiness to address problems and build capacity for independent action through a regimen of appointments, status updates, and coaching opportunities. Even as an experienced leader, this article presents as a good nudge. Who’s work are you doing, yours or theirs?

How Resilience Works

Diane L Coutu questions why some people suffer real hardships and do not falter and some crumble. ‘What exactly is that quality of resilience that carries people through life?’

Coutu explores resilience through stories of individuals. Resilient people, she says, ‘possess three defining characteristics: They coolly accept the harsh realities facing them. They find meaning in terrible times. And they have an uncanny ability to improvise, making do with whatever’s at hand.’

I remember the excitement I felt the first time I read this article. Finally, we could begin to understand resilience, not just see its outward manifestations. Except as Coutu says, we will never completely understand it. Fortunately, we can learn to cultivate it—in ourselves and in the workplace.


Best audience

If you’re looking for details of the research that prompted these articles, this isn’t the book for you. Most of the articles avoid the dry, data driven illustration necessary when an academic first presents research. Even now, the articles in On Managing Yourself are designed for experienced senior leaders and managers who want to understand how and when to implement particular strategies. Strategies which will allow them to address issues they themselves experience, but which also see benefits for those they manage.

If I had any criticism at all, I’d suggest the bonus article, How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, might be better placed at the end of the book.


On Managing Yourself might begin with self, however, with thoughtful implementation, the flow-on effects for workplace productivity and culture are potentially boundless.


Thanks for spending time with me today,






Published January 2011 by Harvard Business Review Press.


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