5 ways to ask for the development support you actually need as a generalist
We dive into: The 4 Archetypes of a Generalist, a framework for squiggly career progression, I'll then spin these into real-world examples of what a *delightful* generalist career flow could look like
And then... a pinch of spice 🌶️ I'll be busting the myth that generalists can't reach mastery
🖐️ 5 ways to ask for the development support you actually need as a generalist
As a generalist, your career path and development needs may differ from those of specialists. This is particularly important when you are reporting to a specialist, who might inadvertently push you to specialize.
To get the development support you need, it's important to clearly communicate your goals and interests to your manager. Otherwise, your development conversations might go something like this:
Manager: “You’re so amazing at XX things. Most people in your role are good at this set of YY things. Why don’t you spend time learning YY things so you can be on par with them.”
You respond: “Um…..no thanks? I don’t desire to become the subject matter expert on YY, so I’ll pass on the 2-week course that will make my eyes glaze over.”
Then your manager is puzzled as to why you aren’t excited about development opportunities.
They mean well, they just don’t see the world through the same lens.
💡Know what you need and ask for it
Your manager wants to help you grow and develop in ways that make sense for you. They just need more direction to be effective.
Best practices for generalist development:
Write a development roadmap and share it with your manager. It can be as simple as a few bullets that describe your learning focus. Make it explicit.
Tell your manager and mentors your areas of interest. For example, if you're eager to learn about APAC markets, even though you work in operations in Kansas, let them know. This way, they can keep you in mind should any opportunities related to your interests arise.
Join programs that focus on communication and leadership skills. These skills are transferable across different roles and industries, making them valuable to generalists. By becoming an effective coach, facilitator, or public speaker, you can set yourself apart and succeed in your current and future roles.
If your company provides development dollars, use them all. If not, consider finding interesting opportunities outside your company and pitching them to your manager. Some companies sponsor membership in clubs or organizations and send people to events, so don't be afraid to ask. You can also request to go to conferences or events that overlap with what you do today and what you want to learn. For example, if you work in tech but want to move into an HR role, attend a tech talent conference to meet interesting people and build your network.
Find or ask for mentors with a broad range of experience. As a generalist, you love to learn, so take advantage of the knowledge and insights that experienced mentors can provide. Ask for a monthly or quarterly coffee date and come prepared with questions to make the most of your time together.
Find like-minded people who understand exactly how you feel, because they’ve been in your shoes. Generalist World is home to 100’s of career generalists who are incredibly supportive & knowledgeable.
To sum up, as a generalist it's up to you to chart your own course and steer the ship when it comes to your development. By communicating your goals and interests to your manager, joining programs that focus on communication and leadership skills, using development dollars, attending conferences or events, and finding mentors with a broad range of experience, you can learn and grow in new domains and become a more effective generalist.
✍️ A final note on working in a world of specialists
I spent two years proving my chops as a credit analyst. The company I worked for valued that skillset highly so it was a rite of passage before going on to more generalist-centric roles.
Sometimes you need to learn ‘enough’ about the subject matter to be credible and effective in your role. Don’t skip past this step, your manager can give you insights that help you draw the right line. View it as an investment in your generalist future.
About the author:
Kathryn Montbriand spent a decade championing culture change at a Fortune 500 company. She pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ that focused on employee engagement and creating authentic connections in the workplace. She used that same spirit of positive disruption to create Montbriand Services which provides Fractional Chief of Staff support, and Lived and Loved which enables people to access their stories in an innovative way.