Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 69: Are You a Generalist or Specialist? Here's How You Can Know.

My role at work has been quite interesting as of late.

I was originally hired a year ago to provide a small, but meaningful service to the sales team. I was supposed to help with early stage deals and pass them off at a certain point to the more experienced individuals. Being the small company that we are, that quickly – and I mean within three weeks – morphed into taking on more responsibility, carrying deals further into the cycle than I thought I would.

I eventually landed a few clients some months later and with some organizational changes designed to provide our clients more dedicated relationships I was given existing clients as well. To use what I'm sure is an old analogy, these two relationships are very different; the first is more like dating while the second is more like marriage. Now try and picture – but don't attempt in real life! – both at the same time. They require you to be two types of people and utilize different aspects of your personality. Performing the tasks of both landing new business and providing solid service in an existing relationship can be done, but it's not advisable.

In recent months I've been required to dust off the old project management chops utilized in my role as an Executive Pastor at Mars Hill to help with several of my clients. This means coordinating between our CRM team, developers, and clients to deliver projects on time and within budget. I don't know the analogy for this one as I do with the others, but this too requires a very different side of me than those roles. Here I have to be detail-oriented and even clearer in communication with regards to expectations and deadlines. I have to strike the right balance between putting the client first and supporting my internal teams well.

Needless to say, the past two months especially have resulted in some busy weeks. But more than that, they've required me to wear many different hats. Perhaps it's like a high intensity, full body workout every day.

Here's the secret though: I really really really like it.

I'm not pretending that I do all of these things perfectly. Not by any stretch. But, I find that I perform at a much higher level when I am asked to do a lot of different tasks in some ways versus doing one task in a very focused, deep way. In other words, I thrive much more as a generalist than a specialist.

One clear reason is that as a generalist I am forced to make four considerations I never make when I only have one thing to do:

  1. I prioritize. Given that time is of the essence, I consider what is most important, knowing that it will easily fill up my day. The other side of that is I cut the fat and only allow room for the less important matters when the priorities have been complete. 
  2. I plan. If I only have one thing to do, like write a paper or something, it's much harder for me to plan. But when I have a thousands things, I work through the way in which I'm going to accomplish my priorities. 
  3. I seek efficiency. With so much going on, I have to consider how I can do a task, have a conversation, write e-mails, create documents, faster and with greater effectiveness.
  4. I empower. For everything I have to ask "what can only I do?" This is tough for me because I'm the type of person who likes to take on everything; that's why I'm a generalist. But you can only get so far with that. At some point, and hopefully that's sooner rather than later, I have to give others responsibility, let them share the load with me, and empower them to contribute. 

To be honest, I believe that if I asked someone who was more a specialist than a generalist, the four considerations above would still apply. I think that's because if whether you're a generalist or a specialist, you want to get to a place where you are regularly doing those four things. So you should ask yourself which of the two, generalist or specialist, would actually force you to prioritize, plan, seek efficiency, and empower.

Now that you asked yourself, what'd you come up with?

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