When is the right time to stop being an ‘expert’?

Throughout school, university and your finance training, you have fought to become even more of an expert. You’ve worked hard to become the most knowledgeable in your area, so that you can position yourself as best-in-field.

Sound familiar, but not sure where to go next?

It’s time to think differently, starting from now.

If you want to be a contributing member of the C-suite, you need to generalise.

Look to your CFO, or CEO. Apart from pointing to their key strengths as a leader, or what you like about them, I bet you can’t identify one key area of expertise. Likely, they have multiple – they are broadly experienced and know a lot about, well, a lot.

In fact, many people would say that the mark of a great leader is the ability to synergise the knowledge of others to create winning strategies, across diverse and broad business verticals. Leading outcomes through people, rather than leading via your own expertise is the key point you need to keep in mind. And to do this, you need to develop a broad generalist skill set and knowledge of other functions so that you can bring a more holistic understanding of the organisational value chain to your role.

One step (and competency) at a time

You can’t develop this skill set over night. You need to consciously aim your current role, and ones beyond it to give you experience and exposure to functional areas and leadership challenges you haven’t faced yet. This broadening of experience is key to generalist leadership, and will give you plenty of material to showcase your accomplishments in future career discussions.

Core leadership competencies: strategic thinking, decision making, problem solving, conflict management, communication skills, influencing, negotiation, leading through change, managing underperformance and establishing cultures of high performance.

Key areas you could consider branching out into, or gaining project expertise in, include: MIS/IT, BI/analytics, supply chain and demand planning, commercial management (bids and contracts), risk management, corporate governance and internal audit.

But I’ve been told that becoming a ‘specialist’ makes me more attractive in the jobs market?

For sure, developing a USP will make it easier to get a new job quickly. For example, if you’re a Financial Accountant with US GAAP and Oracle experience, you’ll probably get a Senior Financial Accountant role utilising your skills in US GAAP and Oracle very easily. More money in the back pocket, but beware, it’s only a quick win. Think back to your long-term career goal in light of what we’ve discussed above and instead focus on how to develop these skills, perhaps within the remit of your current role.

In fact, developing a portfolio of more ‘general’ skills and accomplishments may make your next career move, and the one beyond that, easier, and more lucrative. You can only showcase so many achievements in one niche, so proactively taking the opportunity to gain experience outside your specialisation could be invaluable. Even beyond ‘looking for a role’, developing skills in areas you are not an expert in will only strengthen your skills as a future leader or executive.

Don’t be afraid to let go!

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