This is a guest post by Joshua Leatherman, a former book buyer for Family Christian Stores, a small business owner, communications strategist. You can read more on his blog or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. If you want to guest post on my blog, please check out the guidelines here.

There seems to be a growing thought-pattern afoot that encourages individuals to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and then focus on strengthening those areas where they are weak so as to become “well-rounded”individuals. It’s not only a theory that encourages mediocrity but is also one that deters success.

Some context: Years ago Hospital Surgeons did not specialize in specific areas of medicine as they do today. Their studies were in general medicine and their education geared them toward becoming “well-rounded” surgeons so as to have some degree of knowledge for any affliction that they may be presented with.

Then, the practice of specialization and hyper-specialization began to take hold in hospitals. Today, many surgeons begin their studies in general medicine, then, as they mature in their profession and discover in what area of medicine their affinities lay, they develop exceptional skills in a specific area. For example, a cardiothoracic surgeon will abandon undeveloped skills in neurosurgery, and almost every other area of medicine unrelated to their specialty, in favor of multiplying their skill incardiothoracic medicine.

For hospitals and patients, the net result of specialization has been this: the mortality rate has dramatically decreased, recovery time and the patients length of stay in the hospital has dramatically decreased, and surgical mistakes have dramatically decreased. In short, your odds of walking out of a hospital after being admitted these days are significantly greater as a result of specialization.

Application question: If your son’s life depended on the successful outcome of a heart-transplant tomorrow, and you were given the choice between a surgeon who spent his/her life getting to know every intricacy of the human heart and who specialized incardiothoracic surgery, or a surgeon who had studied general medicine, who would you chose to entrust with your child’s heart?

If specialization is good for Surgeon’s, it should most certainly be something that is good for those of us in business, or in other professions.

I recall working with a Director who was dealing with extreme disappointment with one of the Manager’s she had promoted. Prior to the promotion, this person had saved the company substantial amounts of money because of his adeptness with crunching complex data, looking at the numbers and figuring out exactly where to save money. He had, in very short order, become a superstar within the company because he was performing optimally in an area he was strong at – finance. As a reward, he was promoted into Management.

His star quickly dimmed as he made poor management decisions, didn’t communicate with upper management well, and made bad personnel decisions. It became quickly apparent to me why he had failed. He had been unceremoniously extracted from a position that he was strong in and that extraordinary talent was expected to transfer as well. It did not.

Specialization is the forsaking of many inferior skills for the refinement of a few strengths. The net benefit is that you become exceptional at some thing (and isn’t that what we all desire) rather than mediocre at everything.



What do you think? Are you focusing on your strengths and forgetting about your weaknesses?