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Specialists Work for Generalists
Episode 456th November 2023 • Business is Good with Chris Cooper • Chris Cooper
00:00:00 00:11:30

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Starting your own company often means wearing many hats and mastering a wide array of skills. When I founded my first business, a gym, I had to be adept at various tasks from entering daily sales to ensuring a clean and welcoming environment for my clients. While I considered myself an A-level trainer, my skills in other areas, like bookkeeping and cleaning, were decidedly less polished. I quickly learned that entrepreneurship demands generalist abilities—you can’t just be an expert at your service, whether it's personal training, hair styling, or driving a cab; you need to have a competent understanding of all aspects of the business.

However, as the business expands and staff are brought on board, a shift occurs. You're no longer looking for jack-of-all-trades. Instead, you seek out specialists—individuals who excel in a singular field. This is evident in any large company, where specialists are often employed by generalists. The key is understanding when to bring in these specialists to fill roles you are less adept at handling.

Consider the wisdom of John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, who knew how to position his players to their strengths. Unlike most coaches, Wooden didn’t force his players to become proficient in every aspect of the game. He observed where each player excelled and then designed plays to optimize their strengths, significantly increasing their success rate. His strategy illustrates an essential leadership principle: put people where they can succeed the most, rather than trying to make them good at everything.

As a gym owner, I juggled multiple responsibilities—crossfit coach, client success manager, cleaner, nutrition coach, among others. But as Michael Gerber explains in his book, "The E-Myth," good leaders excel at assigning the right people to the right roles. For instance, hiring an account manager requires someone with a keen eye for detail, a strong handle on bookkeeping and math, and a diplomatic touch—not necessarily someone who's an excellent crossfit coach.

Growing a business means recognizing you shouldn't be the best at everything. My own experience led me to hire an account manager and a client success manager who were better suited to those roles than I was, freeing me up to focus on other areas. This concept holds true in any small business—aim to fill specific, narrowly defined roles with people who excel in those areas, rather than looking for a "unicorn" who can do it all.

We live in a gig economy where it's feasible to find and hire specialists for particular tasks. As a business owner, your role evolves from doing to connecting—finding the right people and creating systems that enable them to collaborate effectively. Placing staff in roles where they can't succeed is detrimental to morale, retention, job completion, and overall culture. A misguided approach, like expecting everyone to share cleaning duties or to participate in round-robin sales, can backfire by reducing productivity and damaging morale.

To conclude, it's imperative to understand your role as a generalist and entrepreneur, while also recognizing when and how to employ specialists to further your company's growth. This approach not only fosters a successful business but also creates a culture where every individual has the opportunity to excel in their niche. If you're keen to explore this topic further, join our free Facebook community at, where you can connect with fellow generalists and discuss hiring specialists. For more insights on this subject and others related to the entrepreneurial journey, head over to the Business is Good website and click "Join the Movement." Let's continue the conversation there.

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