Have you ever heard the phrase jack of all trades, master of none? This refers to the individual who is competent in many skills but does not spend the time and/or effort to become proficient in one. This scattershot approach may help you climb the corporate ladder, but it can also hold you back.
To become an expert, I rely on the 10,000 rule. Before I lose you, I’m not necessarily talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s popular, Beatles-based principle from Outliers. No, my 10,000 rule goes back to martial arts legend Bruce Lee who once said,
I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Leaders often need the skills of a generalist. We must comprehend the multitude of department duties and strategic priorities that make up our organization. This knowledge may be limited, however without at least a cursory understanding, we will quickly become strangers in our own company.
At the same time, we must dedicate time to being an authority on some aspect of the company. Otherwise, we lack the deep command needed to boost sales, product innovation, finances, or whatever skill set we lean towards. Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between becoming a generalist or a specialist, you can be a Generalizing Specialist.
Bruce Lee may have mastered a particular move by practicing it 10,000 times, but he knew more than one move. In the same respect, you need to master a particular function while maintaining the ability to handle a broader range of duties. Use focused repetition to build up your skills, while building a “Renaissance Man”-like approach where you absorb an expansive range of interests.
If this feels like a daunting task, just remember that 10,000 kicks begins with the first kick, then the second, etc. Get kicking.