Creative Leadership

Being Good at One Thing Doesn’t Mean We’re Good at Everything

There’s a frustrating trend I’m seeing among leaders in both the religious and secular worlds regarding expertise.  I’m talking about people who are highly successful in one area, then seem to assume they’re experts in other areas as well.  Of course, sometimes it’s true.  I love the concept of “Renaissance people” who have multiple talents.

But for most, expertise in one arena doesn’t assure expertise in others.  For example, because a pastor achieves numerical success in building a large church, doesn’t automatically make him an expert in leadership.  Some are, but most aren’t.  Some of these misled guys are out there writing leadership blogs that are largely hooey.

In other cases, pastors who have a successful church school assume they’re experts in education.  On the secular side, some successful business leaders consider themselves experts in non-profit work, politics, or creativity and pontificate regularly on what’s wrong in those worlds.  Again, mostly hooey.  The list of subjects goes on and on.

The point is, success – even great success – in one arena doesn’t automatically make us an expert in other areas.  I’ve certainly wrestled with the pull myself.  Proceed carefully, because the platform you’ve legitimately created in one place can do great damage when those people follow you into other places where you’re not so gifted.  Perhaps the primary key for avoiding this kind of embarrassment is humility.  When we approach everything with humility, it forces us to re-consider our gifts and the grave responsibility they bring.

Have you had this experience?

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  1. It’s rough for leaders to admit their lack-of-giftedness.  Much of it has to do with expectations: those that follow them expect them to be good at everything.  It’s not really a fair expectation, but it’s almost always there.  One of the best examples that I can think of that has embraced the fact that he’s not good at everything is Andy Stanley.  He’s always talking about the fact that he lacks certain abilities, but he surrounds himself with people who excel in those areas.  Smart move.  I pray that I can find people around me that excel where I lack.  It’s a long list, so it requires many people!

  2. The roof above all excellence, every skill, must be humility.

    Troops hope their general is humble and asks for correction.  Proud generals get their troops slaughtered, because in pride is automatic, self-destructing error. 

    Good generals ask for correction from all sources possible, because their love is so great for their troops, they will humble themselves to attain maturity, or near-perfection in deed.  That way the troops don’t die.

    But then again, I could be wrong… 🙂 

  3. I agree with Robert.  Humilty is the key.  Better is a wise poor youth, than a king who will no longer be instructed.

  4. Brilliant observation Phil – I too am amazed that some mega pastors talk and promote their leadership skills but when you see their organizations from the inside, you realize how “wheels off” and dysfunctional their own organizations are.  Everything is not as it appears .

  5. A lot can be said about a person’s title as well.  I think we all have run into a few creative/production services/director/media/pastor/manager/leaders.

  6. J Michael Strazynski (creator of Babylon-5) had a term for this attitude:

    “I’M AN M.B.A. AND…”

    From the B5 production war stories he’d tell on SF convention panels, he’d run into the attitude a LOT.

  7. I learned early on — staff your weakness.  Identify what you do well and what you do badly.  Then find the best out there to fill in the gaps.  Anyone who doesn’t will climb to a certain point…and no further.

  8. While singing along with the radio years ago, my husband told me with a smile on his face, “Honey, you’re good at a lot of things, but singing is not one of them!” We laughed about that one for a long time because we both knew what he said was true. Admitting that we’re not good at everything and even bad at some things is actually a good thing. It means we don’t have to compete with those who are gifted in those areas or embarrass our selves doing something we were never meant to do. Self imposed expectations to keep up with the Jones’ talents will eventually humble you, publicly. Humility is a good place to start as you said.

  9. Yep. And when I have expertise in an area, I really see some silly pontification.

    Okay, but here’s a question. So say I’m  .. newer, smaller, and II want to learn. I’m looking for what I’m missing. So I read guys who have large churches or claim to be leadership consultants.  Only to be reading hooey. Any advice to learning Joes and Jennies?

    1. Great question Sharon. I’ve discovered that the best BS detector is learning. If you’re reading guys like Maxwell and others on leadership, it helps you to see through the wannabes.

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