The reason this resolution seems so impossible is because it doesn’t offer boundaries. How much is too much? When you try to know everything, you end up learning nothing.
This is probably a good time for my to say that my views don’t represent Patrick Gray’s views. Patrick wrote a post not long back about five New Year’s resolutions IT leaders should adopt. I’m writing an article for each resolution, giving you insights on how to turn resolution into reality.
Patrick’s second resolution is to “broaden your knowledge base.” In his original article, he argues that being a well-rounded individual will help you lead better, manage better and help you “become a more interesting and dynamic human being.” I agree with Patrick, but his version of “well-rounded” may differ from mine, so I wanted to say that upfront.
“Well-rounded” (my version)
In my mind, society has loosely connected “well-rounded” with a college education. I can’t back this up with hard evidence, other than to say that I associate the term with someone who is highly educated, and who can speak on almost any subject presented. But nobody teaches why this is a good thing (e.g., Patrick’s reasons, which I discussed above). Therefore, I’d like to offer a better, more succinct definition of well-rounded:
Someone who knows enough about various topics to form connections. When this person doesn’t know enough to form a connection, they learn it so that they can.
Good leadership achieves results. And one of the foundational ways you can achieve results is to form connections. When you can concretely draw a connection between a direct report’s work and the positive impact it has on the company and the world, that person will see meaning in their work and strive to do it better.
Maybe a narrative example will help.
James is your direct report. He works closely with marketing. The problem, though, is that the marketing department has embraced the BYOD revolution. He’s becoming frustrated because Marketing expects him to fix problems and bugs, but they won’t communicate about which devices and/or third-party apps they’re using. Consequently, James runs in circles trying to get the information he needs just to fix little problems (can’t connect to the network, the app won’t sync to the desktop, etc).
What do you do? Your first, and the most obvious option, is to limit Marketing’s use of devices and apps to a select few approved kinds.
Except (in our scenario) you know a little about marketing. Your roommate in college was a marketing major, and you took time to learn about his profession. You know that marketing people are “creative,” and that they do their job by trying new things, ditching what fails and keeping what works.
This knowledge gives you the power to do something special: build a connection, and thus a balance, between James and Marketing. Because you know a little about marketing, you can help James see the need for Marketing to use various devices and applications. And because you’re the IT leader and know a little about marketing, you can help Marketing employees see the need for James to be part of the technology process, so that he can help them achieve their goal without compromising the rest of the company.
Could you have done this if you knew nothing about marketing? Likely not. You wouldn’t have had the necessary knowledge.
Drawing the line
And so the original question: How much is too much?
I think - and this is my opinion borne of experience - that you seize the opportunities around you. When you consistently come across a book that is outside of your area of expertise, take it as a sign that you should read it. When someone invites you to a new and unusual activity, give it a try. When you meet someone who does a job you’re not familiar with, quiz them about it.
The world is trying to connect with you. A well-rounded person seizes those moments to connect back with the world and incorporate what they learn into their everyday life.
How have you rounded yourself out lately?