Experts vs Generalists

I’m currently listening to the washing machine in our kitchen squeak away, as it desperately tries to spin but unfortunately can’t muster the strength to revolve as it should.


He and his helper were great guys, really friendly, nice and seemed to know a bit of what they were talking about. Brilliant! They came in, fixed what needed fixing, and went on their way.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end happily. the next time we needed to use the washing machine, we discovered it was still painfully trying to spin around (as a washing machine generally does), and just not able to make it. And now as I hear it squeaking away (sounds worse than it did before!), I’m reminded about an important lesson of leading, building teams, and gifts.

There are tons of people out there. There are tons of people that may know a little about this and a little about that. There’s also a lot of people out there who like to think they are an expert in something, when in fact they are a generalist in something.

Experts are well placed, well competent, trained if necessary (or show hints of expertise during training), called, and are in their ‘sweet spot’ when exercising their strength in their particular arena, role, or job.

Generalists are OK or good at more than one thing, but not necessarily expert in it. In many ways we are all generalists. In music I am a generalist. I can play a bit of guitar, know most chords, but couldn’t get up and join our worship teams on a Sunday. I’m a generalist at administration. I can keep my own diary (just about!), I can do a basic excel spreadsheet and manage various administrative tasks at work. But I am no expert at administration. A generalist may talk a good talk about a subject, and may be a really nice person, but they simply won’t be as good at certain tasks as an expert would.

For the short-term, generalists may be helpful, but really, the trick is to seek out what each person is an expert in. I once heard someone say ‘there are no bad people, just misplaced people‘. Leaders need to seek to find the expert in each person. What makes them tick? What are they excellent at? Maybe with the right bit of training and encouragement they will be exactly the right person for that role. Every person is an expert in something, its down to us to figure it out! I would argue that if you can get the right people in the right roles and whatever you are leading is likely to fly, and develop 🙂

Seek the experts, don’t settle for a generalist.


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