Depth or Breadth-Which provides more Value as a Leader?

I started my career in the sciences, obtaining a degree in Engineering Physics 43 years ago. While that may seem intimidating for many of you, I had a knack for understanding science and math and did just enough to get my degree in four years. While in school I did spend a significant amount of time developing my social skills. This enhancement has also proved valuable as my career has progressed.

In January of 2024 my Vistage groups had the privilege of hearing speaker Carolyn Strauss reference the book Range, written by David Epstein. Those who know me understand that I read often and this book is one that has caught my attention in a big way. I find it to be of such value that I’ll spend a few more paragraphs today helping you understand why the book is important and why you too might benefit from reading it.

At the highest level, the book Range espouses that having a wide range of knowledge and experience can be of great, even greater value, than having substantial experience in a more narrow area. If you saw my career background you might pause to understand how someone with a physics background ended up in human resources and then in leadership development. That will be explained more fully in a future post. We will talk more about Epstein’s work today.

Here are some of the key points from the book: (Helped by Blinklist)

  • Specializing may be of value occasionally
  • It’s ok to experiment with your career and your interests
  • The complexity of our world rewards a wide range of ideas and experiences
  • Slow and challenging is the best way to learn (You should also read The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter)
  • Don’t take too narrow of a focus
  • Broad experiences can drive innovation
  • Don’t rely too much on pundits and alleged expert predictions
  • Becoming a generalist involves an attitude change first

I have the opportunity to work with a wide range of leaders and often find that I draw ideas from one part of my career to help support or explain other ideas or theories that may seem to be unrelated on the surface. This book supports the value and power of having a general background and set of experiences in helping to lead to success in today’s VUCA environment. (VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).

What are you doing to diversify your skills, knowledge, and attitudes?

I would encourage you to make a list of SKAs that would be of value to you as you head into the next chapter of your career. Then develop plans to help you obtain those competencies.