Specialized vs. General Knowledge – Who Wins The Race For C-Suite Roles?

Specialized vs. General Knowledge – Who Wins The Race For C-Suite Roles?

Many times, I have mentioned in my articles, that it can be quite a tricky question whether expert or general knowledge is more important. In an industry like Life Sciences this question pops up quite frequently. Some say that once you reach a certain career level, expert knowledge becomes less and less important – while others say that general knowledge is more of a hobby and actually becoming obsolete.

Complex Knowledge About Single Topics

With the general growing speed of innovation and developments in technology, in Life Sciences and in particular the “fusion” of entire industries (e.g. health IT), the knowledge you need in your field generally becomes more complex. You need to know more things and adapt to change much faster than, let’s say, 10 years ago. But you could also put it this way: you know more and more about less and less things. It’s inevitable that you develop more specialized skills and need to keep up with your job’s demands. So it’s easy to skip knowing about world politics when there is another update in the software you have to deal with.

Making Hard Skills Soft

Still when you climb up the career ladder you need to expand your skills in a more general fashion. You need to know less how the microchip is exactly built, and more about how to streamline processes to make chip building better. Does that also mean that you don’t need expert knowledge in your field, but rather, how to deal with these experts? Not quite.

The truth lies – like always – somewhere in between. You can’t really be a great leader without having any idea about what your employees do. But you can be a great leader without being able to do what your employees do as long as you know what they do and how to enable them. In a way, you need to soften the hard skills and apply them to your leadership style, methods, execution competencies and your overall strategic approach.

C-Suite Is A Place For Generalists – Or Is It?

Often you hear that the C-Suite skills are much more soft than hard skills. Let’s take a closer look. C-Suite skills are associated with leadership, management and strategy. What do you need for that? Do you need to know the technology and the industry on a deep level to be able to do that? Yes, you need to know the technology well enough to evaluate the impact on your business and how to manage it in the right way. It’s simply not possible to assess that without understanding technology. That doesn’t mean you need to have studied and actively worked within technology for years, but you must be able to understand it, while using soft skills to use this understanding strategically in the C-Suite. 


This article originally appeared on Industry In Motion here.