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November 25, 1995

Broaden Your Horizon

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Stepping Stone Four directs us to cultivate a broad portfolio of “developed and discovered” competencies.
In my hometown, there’s a one-lane bridge called the Tilly Willy Bridge. On either side of the bridge (which is really more like a half-lane bridge) is the rushing water of a filled-to-the-brim ditch. Jerk the wheel to the right or to the left just a hair, and you’re in the water. You have to stay in the middle of the lane.
That’s the daily reality for the effective leader. On the left is the over-emphasizing of one’s strengths and the neglecting of some of the real needs of the business. On the right is the omni-competence, trying to do everything. If you jerk the wheel to either side, you head straight into the creek, killing all progress while you wait for a rescue.
What I encourage leaders to do is to strive for excellence but to accept adequacy (not mediocrity). In the areas where you can excel (your built-in strengths), become one of the absolute best and center your core tasks around those skills. In the areas where you struggle and (let’s be honest) never excel, work to get a passing grade. My kid might excel at math, but he’d be thrilled with just a solid passing grade in history or art appreciation.
This balance is what I mean in talking about the levels of competence in Chapter 3. In all the key areas of our work, the effective leader must move to at least conscious competence. She might not be able to do certain tasks well without even concentrating, but she should get to the point where she can do each key area. Understanding that you need to be working toward conscious competence in your weaker areas along with flexing your “strong muscles” is the key to wholeness as a leader.
So where do you go from here?
You go to work.
You accept the fact that the executive specialist is dead, but that the opportunities for a modern effective executive are still present. And you figure out where you need to focus in order to increase your effectiveness, not just your efficiency.
The good news? If you want to become effective, you’re in good company. Listen to Drucker one last time, speaking a half century ago:
“In forty-five years of work as a consultant with a large number of executives in a wide variety of organizations—large and small; businesses, government agencies, labor unions, hospitals, universities, community services; American, European, Latin American and Japanese—I have not come across a single ‘natural’: an executive who was born effective. All the effective ones have had to learn to be effective.”
I couldn’t agree more.

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