Thursday, July 7, 2016

Striving to be a Generalist: The Paradox of Leadership

I know many people are fans of the Strengths Finder concept – essentially you need to identify your strengths so you can pick jobs and careers that leverage them and not worry so much about fixing your weaknesses. Although that would be ideal, I don’t know many jobs that allow you to only do things that are strengths unless you have a very specialized role. If you want to be a leader, especially a senior leader, being a super specialist is going to be nearly impossible. Think about it, as a senior leader we need to know a little bit about the many things that are within our scope of responsibility. So the higher up you go, the more uncomfortable it gets. A lot of executives struggle with the thinking that, “I should know this piece of my business in detail,” or “I should have a handle on this,” or “I’m going to get asked a question and I won’t know the answer." And, in fairness, most people are promoted based on expertise in a specialty, but the strongest leaders actually understand the opposite is true too.
The reality is, to be a good leader you shouldn’t be involved in the nitty-gritty details of every piece of your business. It’s not practical because you create bottle necks or end up micromanaging too much; there are only so many hours in a day. You need a strong team of specialists beneath you, so you can focus on the strategic needs of your function. The last few times I had this conversation with senior leaders, they’ve looked at me and said, “Thank you.  You have no idea how much relief I feel right now to hear you say that.” Letting go of expectations that you should be omnipotent is the first step if you want to grow in a leadership capacity. Think generalist, not specialist.

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