In this article, we return to the topic of specialising versus generalising as a career strategy, and expand on Protagion’s previous writing to share the views of Scott Adams, Tim Ferriss, and Erik Torenberg with our readers.
Scott Adams is most famous as the creator of Dilbert*, the renowned cartoon starring an engineer in a business setting. Scott’s own career includes majoring in economics, picking up an MBA, and working at a bank and a phone company before becoming a cartoonist. He’s naturally a fan of MBAs, advising: “...Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.”
Tim Ferriss is also likely to need little introduction. He’s a multiple-bestselling author and popular podcast host of The Tim Ferriss Show. His books include: The 4-Hour Workweek*, The 4-Hour Body*, The 4-Hour Chef*, Tools of Titans* and Tribe of Mentors*. He’s been referred as a polymath and believes “it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year”.
Erik Torenberg is a venture capitalist and co-founder of Village Global and On Deck, “where top tech talent goes to explore what’s next”.
Read more to dive into the worlds of specialists, generalists and specialised generalists, including Scott, Tim and Erik’s thoughts on the advantages and dangers, and tips for combining skills. We briefly revisit our previous article (In Pursuit of Knowledge: Specialising vs Generalising as a Career Strategy) and conclude with a 6-minute video of Tim.
In preparation for a series of interviews with Non-Executive Directors (including independent ones i.e. iNEDs) for my profession’s magazine, I’ve been doing research around the topic, and came across a helpful report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) in South Africa. The report is based on an online survey by the IoD on the recruitment, selection and appointment process for NEDs. It also references a spread of international reports for those interested in wider reading, and concludes with an overview of advice for potential NEDs and advice for nomination committees themselves.
In this article, I focus on its advice for individuals rather than the companies. Some of the advice is specific to NED roles (such as treating the interview as a discussion among potential peers), while some is relevant to general job applications as well (such as tailoring your application to the role and its requirements). In future months, we’ll share with our readers aspects of my interviews with individual NEDs, their career journeys and their tips for others considering becoming NEDs too, alongside publication of their profiles in the professional magazines.
Read more to explore the reasons companies search for new NEDs and where they look, the attributes required of NED candidates, and the IoD’s advice on preparing your application, preparing for the interviews, considering an offer, and adding value once on board.
The roles of Chief of Staff (CoS), Business Manager and/or Executive Assistant (EA) are still evolving in modern organisations. They have the potential to be valuable to both the executive being assisted and the individual performing the role. The executive is looking for support to become more productive, get more done and have a broader impact i.e. to optimise their use of time, energy and attention.
To achieve exclusively this objective, their choice of CoS would need to be an experienced business generalist who can thrive in almost any business area, seeing critical projects through to completion. Seasoned consultants engaged in this way can provide a sounding board to the executive and help remove delivery challenges and improve visibility and communication across the business. Such a role can be rewarding and satisfying professionally for the individual.
Often though, the executive has an additional reason for the role: to develop future talent in the organisation by giving them exposure to senior challenges and decision-making. In this case, the individual is doing the role to learn, and hence wants to maximise the insight they can gain from the executive (and time spent with them). This extra commitment for the leader can add to the pressure they face i.e. may not achieve the objective of making them more effective.
Where development of the individual is a major reason for the role, we find that having another independent mentor/coach as a support for the high-potential employee can help. This gives them a further source of professional insight who believes in their ability, talks through potential issues with them, and helps them rise to new challenges, while also freeing up the executive’s time.
Regular readers will know that the Chief of Staff role is a topic we’ve written about before. Our first article on this (Executive Assistant roles – a worthwhile seat at the executive table?) shared insights from people who’ve done the role. In it, we also highlighted the two main types of individuals who these roles appeal to: (i) ambitious individuals seeing the role as a stepping stone, and (ii) people committed to supporting executives for the longer term. Roles for the first category are rotational ones, lasting roughly a year or two. These are often springboards to bigger jobs because sitting in the board meetings allows the individual to build relationships and credibility with the leader’s direct reports. In contrast, people in the second category often remain Chief of Staff for five years or more as a career choice. Our second article Shadowing Executives: Top 10 Lessons discussed what the Executive Assistants, Business Managers and Chiefs of Staff learnt while working with their executive teams.
In this post, we expand on our previous work by exploring Dan Ciampa’s Harvard Business Review article called ‘The Case for a Chief of Staff’. We agree that the role has had a fluid definition, and that article helps by providing a framework for the principal duties of a CoS, three different levels of the role, the skills needed to perform them well. Read more to explore Dan’s insights, as well as see Harriet Green’s reflections on what makes a great CoS / CEO relationship.