Specialist to Generalist:
I happened to join a structural fabrication company in Trichy immediately after my engineering education in 1969 for the simple reason that my brothers were already working there and they gave me a reference. After six months’ struggle in the shop floor, I recognized that I was in a wrong forest searching for a right tree! As an youngster I always used to have day dreams and one of those was, standing in the shop floor which was adjacent to the railway track and staring at the Day express, the train that used to pass by every day majestically to Madras (Chennai today), I used to dream about migrating to Chennai which was a bigger city than Trichy and to work in a design department creating a complex gadget. Don’t ask me why, as I have no answer or rationale to explain those complex dreams that run in the human mind.
I am a strong believer of Deepak Chopra’s theory “7 laws of spiritual success” in which he says:
“You are the integral part of the cosmos which creates black holes and nebulae. You can create anything good for you if you strongly believe as the whole cosmos will conspire to create it for you”.
It became true in my case when I happened to move to Chennai working in a Design department in TAFE creating many tractor components on those days, thereafter in Best & Crompton, Lucas-TVS, and Crompton Greaves till I rose to the level of Chief Designer and Head of Technology & Quality. What was the outcome of these two decades of specialization in Design? It helped me to rise to the highest level in the technical stream.
In my early forties I suddenly recognized that I must head an organization as a CEO as I have reached the pinnacle of technical stream. All my efforts in my 20 years of experience went in sharpening my designing skills learning Finite element theory, writing software, finishing my research in IIT and so on. I hardly recognized the need for sharpening my General Management skills as I did not recognize that something like that existed!! I had the dream to lead as a CEO without possessing the necessary skills. It was a rude shock to me when my seniors gave the feedback that I am fit to lead only a technology stream which is one of the subset of an organization and not the whole!!
What that General Management skill is all about? Let me explore that in detail in this episode.
All of us without exceptions do the same thing as what I have narrated in my autobiography above - joining in any functional stream such as IT, design, production, maintenance etc and grow up to certain level and get stuck somewhere inbetween while we reach our level of incompetency. We all believe that knowing more technically in our functional stream will give us the leverage for moving up in the corporate ladder. It is true that a performer technically moves up till he/she reaches a stage where his/her people management skills would be an advantage to manage a team under them. Technical skills combined with people management skills give the leverage to some of us who could convince our seniors to promote us as the departmental heads. The Manager title and the team of people working under us give the notional power all of us are longing for.
Some leap frogs jump forward relinquishing their functional identity and become the CEOs which many of us are unable to do. In these circumstances, we end up blaming the whole world, resign to our fate and retire as a departmental heads. What is that these leap frogs do to break the barriers which many of us are not able to, is the main topic of discussion in this episode “Specialist to Generalist”.
One of the key learning from Vedanta is relinquishing the bondages if you wish to progress in your spiritual journey – what is that it has got to do with the “CEOs in making”. I am recalling my own days where I was very possessive of being a “DESIGNER” and never felt like identifying myself with anything else as I was drawing my power from that identity. In the process, I never felt that there are many areas of skills to explore outside my functional specialization. The skills that gave me leverage up to certain point in my career itself became a liability to move forward. In other words it became a bondage that prevented my NIRVANA. What are those skills that helped the “leap frogs” to jump out of the bins of “functional frogs”?
These Leap frogs move from a “Specialist” syndrome to “Generalist” at the most appropriate time in their career. I wish to package these skills as “Conceptual Skills” for want of any suitable terminology. Lets me explain some of them in detail.
One of the skills that are not taught in any academic education is “Visualizing the future ahead of time”. I may even say that it cannot be “Taught” but to be “Caught”. It is an art than a science which these people have developed intuitively. Does that mean it is a prerogative of the few who are born leaders with a DNA of Envisioning? No! Visualizing the future is the result of going beyond the “Inner circle of Concern” which Steven Covey explains in his 7 Habits of highly effective people. Most of us think that “It is my department” and not able to think that “It is my company”. Ridiculously simple – Is it not? The CEO leap frogs relinquish their departmental identity and go beyond it.
Less is More:
The Leap frogs relinquish the need to know “more about same thing” and switch to “Little about more things” which many of us cannot do due to our obsession about our functional specialization syndrome. A thirty thousand feet perspective is better than sitting in the cock pit of a plane in the airport. Shifting to the “big picture” of an organization is the skill these leap frogs have learnt which help them to manage the business than a department. In other words a chief designer of an automobile company may know how the car is moving while the CEO of the company knows how to make the company to grow.
The leap frogs shift their attention from functional focus to business focus by learning the complex way the organization functions through people, finance, process, technology and so on. They become a Generalist from a Specialist at the most appropriate time in their career. The let go is the most difficult part of CEO in making which many of us have not been able to do.
- CEOs are not born but developed
- Technical skills give us a leverage to grow up to certain levels in
- It has its own limitation beyond a functional head level
- Switching form Specialist to generalist is the key to becoming a leap frog
- Relinquishing the technical specialization and moving to general management skills is needed to become a CEO
- Big picture needs “Less is more” approach to know how the organization functions
- Going beyond the “Inner circle of Concern” to organizational “circle of influence” is the shift Leap frogs do.
- Stronger your belief, greater the chance of the cosmos making it a reality.
Learn the art of relinquishing and become a LEAP FROG than getting stuck in the functional well.
The Episode will continue next week. Till then Good bye.