One thing you should know about how one performs is to know how one learns. Many first-class writers (Winston Churchill is one of many examples) did poorly in school. They remember their years of schooling as pure torture. But very few of his colleagues remember him in the same way. They may not enjoy school too much, but the worst they suffered was boredom. The explanation is that writers, as a rule, do not learn by reading and listening. They learn by writing. Because the school does not allow them to learn in that way, they are left with low grades.
Schools everywhere are organized under the assumption that there is only one correct way to learn and that is the same for all students. But being forced to learn in the way that a school teaches is a deep hell for students who learn in a different way. In fact, there are probably half a dozen different ways of learning.
There are people, like Churchill, who learn by writing. Some people learn by taking huge amounts of notes. Beethoven, for example, left an enormous number of notebooks, but he said that he never reviewed them when composing. When asked why he kept them, he said “if I do not write it immediately, I will forget it at the moment. If I write it in a notebook, I will never forget it and I will never have to revise it again. ” Some people learn by doing. Others learn by listening to themselves speak.
An executive boss I know, who turned a small and mediocre family business into the leading company in his industry that he is today, is one of those people who learn by talking. He had the habit of calling all his staff to his office once a week and talking to them for two or three hours. He could deal with problems with policies and then present three different positions for each one. He rarely asked his associates questions or comments; He just needed an audience to talk to. That was the way he learned. And although he was a particularly extreme case, learning by talking is not an unusual method. Many successful trial lawyers learn in the same way, as do many medical diagnosticians (and me too).
Of all the important pieces of self-knowledge, understanding how you learn is the easiest to acquire. When I ask people “do you know how you learn?” Most of them know the answer. But when I ask them “do you act according to this knowledge?”, Few respond “yes”. However, acting on this knowledge is the key to good performance; or, otherwise, not acting according to this knowledge condemns one to non-acting.
“Am I a reader or a listener?” And “How do I learn?” Are the first questions to answer. But they are not the only ones at all. To handle yourself effectively, you must also ask yourself “do I work well with people, or am I a loner?” And if you work well with people, then you should ask yourself “in what kind of relationships?”
Some people work better as subordinates. General George Patton, the great military hero of World War II, is a good example. Patton was the best commander of US troops. But when he was proposed to an independent command, General George Marshall, the chief of staff of the United States and possibly the best selector of people in American history – said “Patton is the best subordinate that the US military has ever produced, but he would be the worst commander. ”
Some people work better as team members. Others work better alone. Some are exceptionally talented as coaches and mentors, others are simply incompetent as mentors.
Another crucial question is “do I produce better results as a counselor or as the decision maker?” A good number of people work better as counselors but can not with the burden and pressure of making decisions. A good number of people, in contrast, need a counselor to force themselves to think; They are capable of making decisions and carrying them out with speed, self-confidence and courage.
Strong decision makers often place someone they trust under the right-hand role as their counselor, and in that position the person stands out. But in the command role the same person fails. He or she knows what the decision should be, but can not accept the responsibility of being the one to take it.
Other important questions to ask yourself include: Do I work well under stress or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment? Do I work better in a large organization or in a small one? Few people work well in all types of environments. I have repeatedly seen people who were very successful in large organizations slip miserably when they moved to smaller ones. And the opposite is equally true.
The conclusion deserves to be repeated: do not try to change yourself – it is unlikely that you will achieve it. But work hard to improve the way you act. And do not try to take jobs that you can not execute or that you will execute poorly.