Generalists versus specialists – where do you fall within the spectrum?

Before starting out today, I just want to say thank you again to everyone who ventures around these parts regularly and welcome to those here for the first time.  The traffic spike yesterday from Duke’s post is absolutely incredible and humbling.  First, I can’t imagine the number of readers he gets daily and second the fact that you’ve taken the time to stop by here.  Hopefully you’ll stick around.

And now back to our show…..


One of the great things about working in the CRE realm is the very broad situations that we can run into.  Very little of what we do is of the “find me 10k square feet in the this 5 block area” type problem.  To be successful in CRE you have to be able to understand both the spoken and unspoken client need, be flexible in adapting to uncertain conditions, and make firm recommendations backed up by solid analytics and data.

Much is often made about some being overly specialized or others that are so general that they aren’t good at any one thing.  There is space in our community for both.  Without the financial analysts that understand page 4,326 of the third volume of this years compliance and tax codes we would all be a little poorer off.  But without the generalists we wouldn’t understand the business situations that lead us to needing that particular page in the book.

I very much consider myself most broadly to be a generalist.  However I do have some specialization in the realms of portfolio strategy, technology, process analytics and logistics.  What this means in practice is that I have a comfort level walking semi-blind into any client situation, assisting them in diagnosing what the real problem is, developing a framework for a solution and helping them find the right people to solve it.  If it happens to fall into one of my specialties I might even be that person.

Battles between these two worlds arise when either of the following happens:

  • Specialists start pointing clients to their particular solution even when it isn’t solving the right problem.
  • Generalists keep clients at too high of a level and never completely get to the needed solution.

Both situations can arise through no fault or intent of the involved parties.  But when you specialize, you tend to look for the same signs and signals that may exist even with others around.  And generalists can easily find themselves looking and looking and looking without nailing down the first place to start.

There’s no harm in either world but with anything a good deal of self-evaluation goes a long way.  The more you understand your own strengths, weaknesses and habits the better you will be at helping your clients get to solutions.  Without self-understanding it is difficult and sometimes impossible to get past our own baggage and roadblocks to fully help those we set out to assist.

So be what you are whether Specialist, Generalist or somewhere in between (no judging here).  There’s no harm in either and they both can provide much needed client help.


One thought on “Generalists versus specialists – where do you fall within the spectrum?

  1. Segregating people into behaviour categories that relate to work activities can often be helpful (I’m an analytical , you are an Expressive etc). It helps to know that people may think about things in a different way to you so that you can do something to help them understand you. Some people are great at a job because they have personal preferences that they built into competencies.

    The challenge when you move up in an organisation is that you don’t have the choice between being good at either using a microscope or a compass. Great managers (put ‘Leaders’ in there if it suits) need to develop versatility across a broad range of ways of doing things, even when they may not have the attributes to be highly competent at anything that need either tool.

    Great managers need a helicopter. Carry the guy with the microscope and the compass. Look ahead for the client (“hey – that way looks like the place you said you wanted to go”) and drop down to take a look at the ground conditions (“don’t waste time on this bit – lets go back over there”).

    I agree with the article above – seek to know yourself. As your career (helicopter) rises (analogy here…) keep looking for those people that can do what you can’t – that think differently to you.

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