I search for some depth in my career.
Oh, I have breadth. I am a modern business manager. I have experienced a wide range of responsibilities with very separate and different groups reporting to me. I was there to understand just enough to keep it all rolling well. I had (and have) terrific management and staff working for me with strong specific skills and related experience. They have depth. Indeed I would need a good shovel and lots of time to catch them. Yes, I do recognize that my role requires my breadth of responsibility. Nonetheless, at times I do yearn to be that expert, on that one topic, that everyone comes to see for advice.
I have prepared well for my career of breadth. A funny story from college. A few months after graduation I went back to school to get my official diploma. I could not wait to open the envelope and see the diploma. To my surprise there was a small ribbon attached to the diploma stating, “Distinction in General Scholarship”. Say what? I went back and asked the clerk what it means. Without missing a beat he said, “It means you had no clue on what to study here so you studied everything”. Alas, my future management career with all the breadth that comes with it was born.
I worked in Human Resources for 10 years – a classic area for breadth vs. depth or as they call it, being a “Generalist” vs. a “Specialist”. We had a few specialists, but being a generalist was the way to go. As the training person I dug deep (wait, nevermind) into being a generalist. Confession time … I taught some classes where I was just one book ahead of the class. No depth. This disconnect lead me to seek a position in operations. While I have learned much, I have really added more breadth and not depth to my career. I have very good folks with strong depth of experience and ability working for me. I admire their depth as I see it in action each day.
Why a yearning for depth? One of the aspects of my leadership style is to provide the sense of authorship for my group. Each person should be able to step back and look at their work with pride. “I created that.” “I am the author.” I follow that this is a basic human trait – to create and be an author. It does not need to be high art; it may be processing the daily invoices. As leaders how can we design the process to allow the employee to gain a sense of ownership and in a way, authorship? As the more senior leader I am not immune to wanting this level of depth.
But I do have depth. I tilt my head and look at my responsibilities from a new angle. From this side view breadth becomes depth. My knowledge, my experience, my responsibilities from this new perspective is my depth. Yea, I still want that shovel and yearn to dig, but I would just take that shovel and hand to someone else and encourage her to dig.
All the best and let’s keep moving together.
Another great post Michael. I too yearn for subject matter depth…but find it is difficult to acquire without sacrificing other duties. I constantly struggle with how far to dial in. I remind myself that in my seat my job is to engage the best available talent and assist and guide them when necessary…
David well said. As I mentioned in the post, our breadth is ultimately our depth. Thanks for taking this ride with me. We are not alone – keep spreading the good word. No pressure – but I can not wait for your next post.