Don’t Be An Expert: Be a Translator

By Lynn Failing on September 25, 2018

As an executive recruiter, I speak daily with individuals at every career stage, from new graduates who are seeking advice on how to launch their careers to mid-career and senior-level executives who want to continue growing and succeeding on their paths. One of the most important pieces of advice I have to offer them is this: "When it comes to your skill set, don’t go deep. Go wide."

Don’t Go Deep, Go Wide

expand your skillset

Let’s say you’re a supply chain guru who is looking to advance in your career. It might seem like a good idea to pursue certifications that display your supply chain chops, or to take on projects that hone your skills. But that’s "going deep" into your specialty. The best strategic move in this market is actually to “go wide” - or pursue specialties and expertise outside of your core competency. Become an expert in finance or marketing, or pick up some IT skills. As the business world becomes more interconnected, there are now links forming between IT and operations, marketing and manufacturing, etc. Collecting these secondary skills will help you connect invisible dots and solve problems that your "deep-skill" competitors cannot see.

Ensuring that you possess a full suite of skills has another major benefit: when companies look at candidates for the C-suite, they are always looking for a portfolio of skills. For mid-career executives who are looking to make that leap or early-career professionals who are planning for the long term, diversifying your skill set now is a way to position yourself for serious C-suite consideration when the opportunity arises.

Experts Are Good, But Translators Are Better


Of course, I am not discounting the importance of niche expertise, which is a candidate’s unique selling point. But tomorrow’s leaders are not just going to be experts – they’re going to be translators. For companies, that means pursuing leaders who are "wide" not just "deep" If a candidate has about 75% of the subject matter expertise in a leadership role, that is sufficient to oversee the team and detect any issues. Between a candidate with 95% knowledge of their craft and a candidate with 75% subject matter expertise and a suite of other skills, the latter is the one you want leading your team in this new, interconnected market.

With ongoing developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, it is critical for companies to rely on multidisciplinary leaders. Be assured that your competitors are strategizing to stay relevant in this "brave new world" of business. And developing employees with broad skill sets and leaders with the ability to translate between specialties is a key component of that strategy.

The world is changing, and as the landscape of business changes with it, it’s simply no longer enough to be a subject matter expert. Diversity and variety are going to dominate - not tunnel-vision and specificity. The key companies in terms of profitability and growth are going to have leaders with both niche expertise and the ability to translate across disciplines. They’re going to have it all.

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Lynn Failing

Lynn Failing

Executive Vice President

Lynn began his career with Kimmel & Associates in our Waste Division in 1999 and started the Supply Chain & Logistics Division later that same year.

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