You Don’t Put a Brain Surgeon in Charge of a Hospital

For most of us there is an unquestioned desire to move forward and upward. To expand our responsibilities. to get promoted, to grow a larger business. Deep inside us as humans living in a capitalist society, we assume growth is good.

In many businesses you see people promoted out of their skill set, from waiters to managers, salesmen to sales directors, gardeners to team coordinators, only to fail spectacularly.

What can we learn from hospitals where different skills are celebrated and kept in place? Brain surgeons spend around 15 years in training before they begin operating and are then expected to continue their training and learning throughout their careers. They are highly specialised with a great deal of technical skill. They do not seek promotion; instead they seek mastery so that they can improve outcomes and save lives.

Imagine them running a hospital. The first board meeting would be interesting. Of course this is an extreme example where skills are not matched, but the point applies in many different circumstances. Understanding where your skills lie and are best applied is crucial to a having a fulfilling career and life.

Many clients worry that they are generalists not specialists. We talk about the three aspects of this as Role, Sector and Geography. The world needs generalists as well as specialists. Whether it is entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses or managers and leaders, many people move seamlessly between one, two or very occasionally all three aspects.

Just as there is a right match for your skills and that growth or promotion is not always the right answer, I believe the same is true for businesses. They have a “right-size”. This can be determined by many different factors such as market competition, team, location and especially ownership, structure and expectations. Often, trying to grow your business past its right-size can lead to disaster. I will blog more on this in the future.

As an optimist I believe in the best of people, that we all have skills and talents that once matched to the right opportunity allow people to soar. Sadly many of us spend our lives putting our shoulders to the wrong door. We may break the door down but we do not like what we find on the other side. Spend time now figuring out what your shoulder looks like and what door is the best match and you will be well on the way to an extraordinary life.

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