Several years ago, I was the sales and marketing director for a small software company. One day, my boss said he wanted me to work on my tech support, since that wasn’t a very strong skill for me.
“Because you’re not very good at it,” said my boss. “Since it’s a weakness, you need to improve it.”
“Does that mean the tech support guys are going to start learning to speak in public?” I asked.
He looked puzzled. “Why would they do that? They’re not marketers,” he said.
“And I’m not a tech support person.”
He was undeterred, so I spent the next two weeks helping out on the tech line. Since I already knew how to use the product, I held my own, but never benefitted from getting better at it. Sales didn’t increase, I didn’t make new presentations, and it didn’t change our approach to marketing. Since this was back in the mid-2000s, we were still doing brochures, trade shows, and sales presentations. It would have been more helpful if I had actually learned how to do one of those things better instead.
The problem was, my boss had identified a weakness that wasn’t an important weakness, because it wasn’t anything I actually did. If he really wanted me to get better at my job, I would have spent my time taking Photoshop classes, learning new copywriting techniques, or reading up on the latest in web design. Either that, or we would have sent the tech guys to Toastmasters.
You don’t have to be good at everything
The idea of the well-rounded generalist is, if not a myth, at least an inefficient use of anyone’s time.
We live in a world of specialization now. When you look at the amount of knowledge in the world today, and the amount of knowledge in your own field, it’s nearly impossible to be a generalist anymore. You can’t know most things about your field. Gone are the days of the marketing generalist or the attorney for all seasons. Even general practitioner physicians are becoming endangered.
If you have a job where you use a few different skills, prioritize them in terms of personal preference and most used, and then work on getting better at the top two or three. Read about them. Practice them. Go to conferences. Attend training sessions. Practice them some more. Spend as much time as you can improving and getting better.
The skills you don’t use that often should either be ignored completely, or practiced only to help you get your job done properly. As you continue improving your skills, be on the lookout for jobs that let you use the things you excel at and no longer have to do the things that are lower on your list.
(Of course, you may want to talk to your boss first and make sure he or she is okay with you adopting this strategy.)
If you work in a team, department, or small business, imagine how much more efficient you all could be if you each handled the tasks that you were best at. Rather than each trying to handle all the same issues and doing them badly or at a mediocre level, give tasks to the people who are best suited to doing them, and watch your productivity and performance soar.
By getting better at the things you love to do, you’ll not only find more satisfaction with your job, but you’ll make yourself more desirable to future employers if you can specialize in one skill.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, a newspaper humor columnist, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, and The Owned Media Doctrine.