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Lessons in Leadership

Be Your Best: Specialize


  • There is a direct link between your level of performance and your degree of specialization.
  • Most people fail in life because they major in minor things.
  • Spreading yourself too thin leads to failure more often than success.

Specialization can lead to you becoming the very best at something. Rarity and exclusivity play a significant role here. Basically, the more specialized you become, the more your chances of success increase.

Got a specialty?

Specialization isn’t a new idea. Over two thousand five hundred years ago, Confucius saw the folly in trying to be too many things, when he said, “The person who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

The more you try to be, the less likely you will achieve

The concept is no less true today. We’ve all heard the old mantra, “You can’t be all things to all people.” Well, my work has proven to me that this is no less true in reaching your highest level of performance. There is a direct but inverse correlation between the levels of performance one achieves and the scope or degree of specialization they have. Lower to middle levels of performance tend to correlate with broader less specialized business, whereas the higher levels of performance correlate with higher degrees of specialization. In other words, the more you try to be, the less you will likely achieve. Think about some of the other professionals you know for a moment, like doctors, lawyers, scientists or coaches.

In the medical community, we see a clear association between “the best” and the degree of specialization. Medical professionals have created some of the most specialized levels of practice in any industry. The orthopedic community, a specialization in and of itself already, has developed specialists in the hand, sports medicine, spine, upper extremities and lower extremities, even those who specialize in just elbows.

No big business says, “We do stuff, lots of stuff”

In business you see the Unique Value Proposition where businesses communicate their specialty. Walmart specializes in huge selection at the lowest price. Bentley Motors, the exact opposite. Ever see a billion dollar business that proclaimed, “We do stuff, lots of stuff”?

In the classes I teach for business consultants I ask the question, “Who are you and who is your ideal client?” The surefire sign that new consultants are squarely on their way to folding up shop and going back to getting a job in corporate America is the answer, “Anyone with a pulse” or “Anyone whose check clears.”

Anthony Robbins captures the importance of rarity when he talks about success: “One of the reasons I think a lot of people fail to achieve what they truly want is that they never direct their focus; they never decide to master anything in particular. In fact, I think most people fail in life simply because they major in minor things.”

Want to shine a dim light or start a fire?

The problem with trying to be all things to all people is that it fails to focus all of your talents in one targeted area. Like the light of the sun focused through a magnifying glass, the more diffuse the focus, the less power it has. The more focused that beam of light is, however, the stronger it becomes. If, as a child, you ever used a magnifying glass to set a leaf on fire on a hot summer day, you understand what I’m talking about. Spreading yourself too thin has the same diffusing effect on your potential. It just doesn’t work. Do you want to shine a dim light all over, or do you want to start a fire?

What action steps can you take to be more specialized in your craft?

What’s your specialty?

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