How to Manage Oneself

There is a fascination, or maybe a fixation, in real estate and construction on the latest tool, technology, or gadget. My eyes start to glaze over when people ask me about Gantt Charts, Project Management Software, or specific types of contracts, AIA or otherwise. Why? Because these tools skip a fundamental part of any construction or real estate project, the people.

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High rise construction crews

Do you really need to worry about the contract type if you have no relationship or no trust in the group with whom you are contracting?

Do you need a Gantt chart if your team or the collective project team lacks the discipline to keep the information up to date?

I can’t tell you how many times we have seen top notch general contractors and developers both issue project schedules that are instantly out-of-date.

The most basic part of any team is the individual.

Rarely do you hear the terms accountability, responsibility, or discipline when referring to the people that make up any team in the business world.

It is even more rare that you hear discussions around managing yourself as an individual.

I remember being new in the workforce at a larger firm, complaining to my co-workers and supervisors about the lack of training. It was OJT (“on the job training”) all the way. Following directions from the senior managers was the norm. You learned by doing, which actually is a great thing.

But you know what? It was my own deluded perspective that somehow the company was responsible for my own performance.

Looking back almost 15 years later, I realize it was my job and my job alone to improve my own performance.

I am an adult in the workforce, so I might as well act like it.

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

-Harrington Emerson

Harrington saw himself as an efficiency educator. He founded the management consultancy firm Emerson Institute in New York City in 1900.

It is simple “math.” For teams to perform better, individuals need to perform better.

To improve your own performance, it helps to know your own strengths and weaknesses.


By the time Robert Greene was thirty-six years old, the author had accumulated sixty different jobs. He was searching and exploring for amazing experiences. 

Robert Greene, Mastery, Penguin Publishing
Mastery, By Robert Greene

“All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe- our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated.”

-Robert Greene

It can be difficult to find a sense of purpose in our daily lives.

By my count, I have racked up at least twenty-two different jobs in my young career. In each of those opportunities, I was searching for my own purpose, exploring new worlds, overcoming obstacles. 

Honestly, I still am trying to discover my Life’s Task as Robert Greene calls it.

How often have you asked yourself: 

What am I good at? 

What are my strengths? 

If you really want to make yourself uncomfortable, ask your co-workers, your friends, or if you dare, your spouse, what do you think I am good at?

Peter Drucker got it right when he said, 

“One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”

Let’s be clear. There is balance to being well-rounded enough to realize your full potential.

Being a strong analytical thinker is worthless if you cannot deal with other people.

We all know the stories. The engineering or architectural firms that are run by great thinkers who happen to be terrible at leading people.

Drucker warns about this one-sidedness and ignorance that can hold a person back, “First-rate engineers, for instance, tend to take pride in not knowing anything about people.”

The number of engineers I graduated with who are no longer in engineering is a testament (or maybe indictment is a better word) to the lack of quality managers in the field of engineering.

It is no secret. People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.

Whether you are in engineering, architecture, construction, private equity, or real estate finance, you need to learn how to deal with people. Better yet, you need to learn how to be GREAT at working with people.

For anyone in charge of performance reviews, consider the following:

“For a superior to focus on weakness, as our appraisals require him to do, destroys the integrity of his relationship with his subordinates.”

-Peter Drucker

No matter what kind of team you are on, it is important to know everyone’s strengths. For the team to be successful, you should play to their strengths. This does not mean you avoid improving your weaknesses, everyone should no matter their field.

A typical example in the construction world is the construction manager or development manager that is strong tactically at leading the efforts in the field, such as working with the GC (general contractor) or architect, but is weak administratively when it comes to reporting and general strategy. But that is ok. 

When was the last time you thought about your strengths? Ironically, sometimes strong performance in any job is as simple as doing common things uncommonly well.

While you should play to your team’s strengths, it is most important to know your own strengths so you can maximize how you perform.


All one can measure is performance. And all one should measure is performance.”

-Peter Drucker

Drucker goes on to discuss that how one performs is a unique matter of your personality.

You might work better in a team setting, while your co-worker does better working alone.

You might perform better with structure and routine, while someone else on your team thrives in the chaos of the unknown.

In real estate private equity, there are so many things outside of one’s own control – the local, national, global economies, inflation rates, interest rates just to name a few.

In the construction and development world, performance looks like projects that stay on schedule or under budget. But guess what, it is RARE that budgets and schedules are always correct. 

Why? Because there are so many forces conspiring to throw you and your team off track.

Material cost escalations, limited skilled labor, jurisdictional delays are just a few of the challenges any construction project faces these days.

But think about your own performance. Am I engaged and actively listening during meetings and conference calls?

Do I take notes and follow up on tasks that I am responsible for?

Do I understand what others are doing and when they are struggling?

Do I know how to ask for help when I run into an obstacle?

How do I prioritize internal targets and goals while supporting the external project team?

But what is in my control? My performance. My effort. My results.

When you are measuring your performance, think about what your team and your company are asking of you.

Am I a reader or a listener?

Thomas Edison perfected the phonograph for recording sounds in 1857. So for over 2,000 years, if humans wanted to remember something they needed to write it down.

Some people learn by reading. Others learn by listening. A few might even learn by writing.

For me, I know that I am a reader. I like to write down everything. Read it. Then I can remember the important things later.

Say your name to me the first time we meet, and I forget it almost instantly.

Yes, I realize I am not a great listener. I am still working on improving this weakness of mine.

But if I visualize your name written out, I’m good to go.

Podcasts, while a wealth of knowledge for me, are worthless if I don’t write anything down. It is hard for me to learn by listening alone.

That is why I take notes. That is why I prefer to review written reports from various project teams, especially from the perspective of the contractors, the designers (architects/ engineers), and the developers. Each report is neither right nor wrong. It is simply from the perspective of a different person or team.

Have you thought about whether you are a reader or a listener?

Knowing your preference will likely have a dramatic impact on your actual performance.

To improve your performance, you need to learn more about yourself.

Always be learning. In case you don’t know, learning is a lifelong pursuit. At least it should be for all functioning humans that want to contribute positively to those around them.

How do I learn?

Peter Drucker mentions that

“Some people learn by doing, Others learn by hearing themselves talk.” 

George Washington was not the best scholar of his day. He was however a doer and a leader.

“…writers do not, as a rule, learn by listening and reading. They learn by writing.”

-Peter Drucker

Can you handle the responsibility and pressure of making key decisions?

Or do you prefer to be an advisor to the decision-makers?

Some jobs require performance under stress.

Some jobs have highly structured, predictable environments.

Larger organizations have a different feel and experience than small, spartan organizations.


Hard work recognizes hard work.

If you work with enough organizations and people throughout your career, you might notice a pattern. The people you enjoy being around value similar (not necessarily the same) things.

Do you believe in the importance of family?

Do you realize and empathize with people today who are managing a lot?

Do you prioritize your physical and mental health?

Do you work to support what is best for the team or the deal?

Do you focus on solutions as opposed to bewailing the countless problems?

Drucker made it known that he lived his values, making a career change that was not only best for him, but also best for the countless organizations and individuals that he helped throughout his long career.

“Many years ago, I too had to decide between my values and what I was doing successfully. I was doing very well as a young investment banker in Long in the mid-1930s and the work clearly fit my strengths. Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager. People, I realized, were what I valued, and I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery. I had no money and no other job prospects. Despite the continuing Depression, I quit- and it was the right thing to do. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.”

He understood where he could make the biggest impact. 

When I started my career as a Forensic Engineer, I enjoyed being outside. I enjoyed solving problems. Engineering seemed a natural fit. But the excitement of reverse engineering the many challenges in the development world led me to a new pursuit.

How can I help investors and developers proactively make better decisions?


When you know your strengths, how you work best, and what you value, making decisions becomes easier.

Finding work you enjoy becomes easier.

When I started my career in forensic engineering, it was fascinating. Every day was a new problem, a new puzzle to be solved. 

I thrived on the variety.

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2014 Historic Building Roof Collapse

We “reversed engineered” disasters and their consequences. After a while you start to see patterns emerge.

Even today I still enjoy the variety, but the patterns and challenges continue to evolve.

There is a hard and soft skill associated with the many developments and renovations of the built world.


Wherever there is success, there has to be failure.

-Peter Drucker

In today’s world everyone is quick to show you their highlight reel. It is harder to talk about your failures, your screw ups, your mistakes.

When I started in Forensic Engineering, it was fascinating to me how little closure there was after we investigated a defect or mistake. People almost wanted to act like it didn’t happen.

There was no attempt to share the lessons with the design, development or construction teams.

Nowadays, it is almost worse. Everyone is winning (at least on Instagram or LinkedIn)…or everyone is a victim to “inflation,” “supply chain issues,” or some other magical force outside of their control.

I can list the many ways I have screwed up or failed, but that is probably for another time. 

One thing that I know has remained constant is my attempt to always be better today than I was yesterday.

How can I be more effective? Notice I did not say efficient. I think I heard Tim Ferriss say a  while back that you can be efficient at all the wrong things.

Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught. Effectiveness is, after all, not a “subject,” but a self-discipline.

-Peter Drucker

It is a daily pursuit. It is a process that does not end. It is a goal that is always changing. Imagine if teams and the individuals on them really were focused on their performance. 

Am I doing enough? Can I do more? 

Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself, Best Practices, Harvard Business Review

In effect, managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive officer.”

-Peter Drucker

You are in charge of your performance. So you might as well act like it.

This last line is as much a reminder for me as it is for any of you reading this far.

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