As a mentor, I get asked for advice on how to go about creating a successful career; one that is upwardly mobile, filled with opportunity to have a meaningful impact on Shipmates, and builds a meaningful legacy. That amplifying information about what makes a successful career is important, for those who don't include the last two components in their definition of success are not people I am likely to consider a protege. In fact, that is why I value significance far more than success (click here for more on the difference). Recently, I asked a protege what advice she was receiving from other mentors. She quickly replied with what seems to have become the standard, "sustained superior performance" and "be well-rounded." I must admit that I have heard both and have grown numb to such advice over the years. "Sustained superior performance" is a way we choose to encourage others to do whatever we ask of them and do IT well (or at least make sure it is reflected positively on your performance evaluations). I bought into that years ago and will agree that it is part of the equation, but it fails to express the value we should be placing on the accumulation of specific experiences that result in the development of the knowledge, skills and abilities we hold in highest regard. Personally, I believe WHAT we do is often just as important as doing IT well. The second piece of advice has shaped me over the years, but you won't catch me advocating that anyone should focus on becoming "well-rounded."
Don't get me wrong, I know what type of person we intend to build by encouraging them to be "well-rounded." Generally speaking, well-rounded individuals are good at many things, have varied experiences, and have minimal character flaws. Advocating for well-rounded individuals is a way of creating cookie-cutter personas in an effort to build predictable and repeatable skill-sets shared by each person on the team. Put in those terms, it is a way of building clones who think and act in similar fashions. It is a way of deliberately countering any of the objectives that our diversity (of thought) initiatives are attempting to address. In fact, it is a way of dumbing down the team by making shared mediocrity the standard.
If I was building a baseball team, I wouldn't care if my pitcher could play the outfield; if I was building a football team, I wouldn't care if our left tackle could catch the ball at all; and if I was choosing an Orthodontist, I wouldn't care if he knew anything about fixing a broken leg. If other professions that valued specialized expertise made being well-rounded the mandate, think about how mediocre we would be. How much of the specialized expertise we now take for granted would have never been realized? By promoting a "jack of all trades" mentality, we are telling the team that mastery is not something we value. We are telling them to address their weaknesses vice play to their strengths. We are telling them to take jobs in which they may have little interest, instead of encouraging them to follow their passion and create unique value. Truth is, I have grown up "well-rounded" and I want to break the cycle to an extent.
To build upon a recent Seth Godin Blogpost, I don't want to be surrounded by "well-rounded" mediocrity, I want to be a part of a team that is "well-rounded" in the aggregate, yet made up of "sharp" specialists. Right now, I have the privilege of being a reporting senior for some of the Navy's finest. With that privilege comes the responsibility to help shape the future Wardroom and Chief's Mess. I will make the most of that opportunity by facilitating front of the line privileges for those who have something unique to offer, who are more oblong than round (current climate will never make being sharp acceptable, at least not in the wardroom), and who are passionate about fully developing and contributing through their specialized skills.
I will do my part to promote diversity across the team, to encourage specialization, and to build a well-rounded team made up of sharp individuals. My hope is that others choose to use their influence to break the cycle of mediocrity that our emphasis on sustained superior well-rounded Sailors is promoting. We can be less relevant and well-rounded or we can be pioneers and sharp. We cannot have it both ways...
As a father, I will encourage my son to be a master of "The Golden Rule", to follow his passion, and to make a self-defined meaningful legacy his mandate. I hope that he aspires to more than being "well rounded."