Is Being a Generalist Bad as an Entrepreneur?


If you ask me, my answer will always be, "Absolutely not."  Being a generalist is a must-have requirement for all entrepreneurs.

That’s the answer to the question.  As much as I just want to finish this post right here (as I tend to look for excuses not to write), I know I need to explain, not only how to become a good generalist, but also why it is important to be one. I will do exactly that. So, stay with me. 

Premature Delegation – The Most Common Mistake First-Time Entrepreneurs Make

“Forget your weakness, focus on your strength."

One way or another, you must have heard this age-old business/career advice.  Just as any other business advice, when the right advice is implemented at the wrong time, it becomes a disaster.

I agree that we should all focus on strength, and delegate out the stuff we are not good at AFTER WE GRASP All ASPECTS OF OUR BUSINESS.

My issue with this overly genetic advice is some do it way too prematurely. 

I call this, "premature delegation."

I have been a witness to “premature delegation.” Entrepreneurs who have had very little knowledge of any given business areas (i.e. accounting, sales, ops) and, are dead set on disliking the tasks involved with it are ready to hand them off to their poor employees like a plague.

"It takes too long for me to learn this."

"I'm just not good with XYZ (accounting, content marketing, operations, you take a pick.)"

“I just want someone else to do this for me.”

Well, I have news for you. "That's too bad."

We, as entrepreneurs, must own our "command center."  You sit in it, you oversee your console, and you orchestrate with clear intentions which you communicate to everyone involved with your business. If you don’t understand some knobs, switches, and blinking lights on your command console, you’d better bust out the manual and read up! Plain & simple.

Let’s take a moment to really think about the below question:

If you don't know how to explain what your expectation is for this task, how this task needs to be carried out, what is the appropriate budget range, and what you envision as the end results, how do you think the task will be performed?

You guessed it. “Poorly.”

"No one has any loyalty to my company."

"They can't think for themselves & I'm losing money because of it. AND I ended up scrambling to get them done myself!"

Naturally. You didn't even invest in the effort to OWN the area you dislike. What makes you think the rest will just pick up where it’s left off without a hitch?  They are not a bunch of psychics, you know?

Really, let me ask you again, what do you expect for your team to perform?

Premature delegation one of the major source of creating chaotic organizations.

To be clear, none of us needs to master everything.  We do, however, need to be "dangerous enough" on everything to do with our business so that we can operate our command center in the most optimal manner.

This is what I mean by being a generalist. 


Being a Generalist CEO (Founder / President) = Freedom

Ultimately, having the basic understanding of all aspects of your business will set you free. Yes, it will SET YOU FREE.

If you are thinking about another age-old business/career advice, “Don’t be a generalist,” you can stop thinking about it right now. 

This advice is appropriate for positioning your services or being an employee of a company.

As a service or product provider, you do not want to be a generalist to serve everyone everything. This is where the concept of "ruthless niching" comes in.  (Read more about niching down, click here.) Your business should not take a position of being generic to a wide range of audience in the market.  However, this has nothing to do with you as an entrepreneur on how you run your business with a team behind you.

If you want to get ahead of the pack by being the best at a specific profession in your industry by being employed, being a generalist also does not serve you, either.  It’s because you ARE the product/service to your employer.  So, you need to niche yourself down.  But then, while I appreciate it, I am not sure why you are reading this post. 

Ditch the “Don’t be a generalist” advice if you are still reading this post & are an entrepreneur with a team.

If you don't know the basics of Facebook advertising, you shouldn't be hiring a Facebook ad specialist or an agency just yet because you cannot access their performance without the basic knowledge. Facebook ads can be very complex. If you just scoffed at this remark, then it’s the telltale sign you know nothing about Facebook ads. Might as well, just throw money out of the window for dismal results.

If you don't know how to read basic financial reports and rely on your bookkeeper or your accountant to review financials or don’t even look at reports at all, then learn the basics.  It might seem intimidating to you in the beginning, but the gist of financial reports is not that complicated.  This is why many celebrities found out later on that their business managers stole their money or they haven’t filed taxes for years.

If you don't know how to draft a simple SOP for your business workflow, you must give it a shot first before pushing the task onto your employees. If you don’t know what SOP is…Google, please.

You get the idea as to why you need to cover all the basics.

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Freedom = Understanding Exactly What You Are Delegating

Once you become “dangerous enough” with all aspects of your business, you will gain power and control, which will free you up from daily minutiae tasks and allow you to focus on more important tasks that cannot be done by anyone else. Isn’t that the whole point of you being the commander in chief of your own business?

This is the classic example of why rockstar entrepreneurs focus so much on frontloading work as well as things that do not scale in the beginning stage of their business. They get their hands dirty.  That’s the difference between those who spend loads of money on high-end business cards and those who are wildly successful.

Rockstar entrepreneurs have a rough idea of each section of their business just enough to be able to articulate what they want.  They are less likely to mistakenly hire wrong vendors to carry out projects. Since they have done those tasks themselves, they have a clear picture of who to hire or outsource, in many cases, by opting to hire the best of the best with premium prices if they want to, and they know how to assess the performance of these services. 

They are confident with what they are about to delegate. Therefore, they generally spend top dollars to hire help as they have already done the math on their ROI.  

From here on out, this positive cycle will start spinning by itself.  Because they are educated enough, they know how to delegate properly to others. As a result, they gain even more freedom by letting their company run without them.

They are forever curious, fascinated, and obsessed with optimizing and expanding their businesses. They don’t stop learning. A common comment I hear from these entrepreneurs is,

“I just want to learn everything there is to know about business. I’m totally obsessed with it.”

Once again, I had this feeling that I wanted to end my post here. But, deep down, I knew I couldn’t just do that without telling you how to do it. So, read on!

How Do You Become “Dangerous Enough” with Everything?

There is no shortcut per se, but there are ways to speed the process up by coming up with a system you can stick with.

Here is my method: I combine continuous daily learning and occasional pin-pointed speed learning.

Daily Learning Routine

1.    Load up my phone with podcasts & audio books.

2.    Do a quick scan in Flipboard on my phone.

3.    Keep a small notebook in my bag to take notes if necessary.

This is good enough for continuous learning.  If I feel the need to dig deeper, I would take notes either on my phone or my notebook.

Audio is the most suited format for continuous daily learning as I can do other things as I listen. However, when it comes to something more technical, I would still listen but be sure I follow up with videos to see how it’s done visually.

Another thing to point out is to regularly check out other podcasts to maintain the balance between general business podcasts and how-to podcasts. You don’t want to be just listening to someone else’s success story non-stop.  Find the ones that provide implementable values.

Pin-pointed Speed Learning

For me, this is on an “as needed” basis. Normally, I go over the below in exact order:

1.    Scan several blog posts,

2.    Read up avg. 3 to 5 books audio or paper,

3.    Skim YouTube videos with the same keywords for “how-to” related researches,

4.    Ask around. Find someone who knows the topic and ask questions.

5.    Check out training courses.

I set aside about 45 mins to 1 hour surfing online to get the bird’s eye view first. This helps me to pick up the right books.  I rarely result to training courses.  However, there are a few topics I consider opting for as a solution for the future.  The good ones are designed to provide everything you need in one course. It’s the fastest way to achieve positive results without going through numerous trials and errors on my own.

Food for Thought

Sean D’Souza who runs PsychoTactics and The Three Months Vacation Podcast defines what learning is in one of his podcast episodes:

“Learning is all about finding patterns and eliminating errors.”

Simple, isn’t it? 

What’s NOT simple is this: No one can teach you how to be curious, fascinated and obsessed. This drive of “wanting to know” needs to bubble up inside of you. 

If you ever experience having a hard time getting in the groove with any topic, my only suggestion is, “Learn to love it.”  Pretend at the beginning as if you love it and try tricking your mind.  I hype myself up by watching inspirational shows, reading favorite quotes aloud, looking at arts, or listening to music I like.  Think of this process like a boxer warming up before an important match.

Once you find a tiny “a-ha!” moment, I don’t think you need any more motivation to dig deep into it. But, until then, you just need to fake it. I do.


“How do I know I am dangerous enough?”

Good question.  There are 2 indicators.

The major key indicator is whether you speak the same language as others who are specialized in the area. There are many lingos for, for example, technology (i.e. IoT, app dev, SaaS products, etc.), digital marketing, accounting, project management… pretty much all areas.  Do you understand what they are?  Do you know why they exist?  If your answer is yes, then you are dangerous enough.

Another indicator is whether you can negotiate with service providers comfortably.  The confident ones never hesitate to ask questions to so-called “experts” because they know “enough” to ask intelligent questions.  As a result, you will be taken seriously and will avoid overpaying or wasting time with under-qualified vendors.

So how about it?  I am sure your first impression on being a generalist is rather a “blah” to you.  But if you can envision yourself to be the one on your command console completely in control with full confidence, I bet you would be OK with the idea of being a generalist. 


In the Nutshell

1.    Be a generalist who is dangerous enough will all aspects of business,

2.    Stop “premature-delegation,”

3.    Own your command console,

4.    Dangerous enough = Speak the same language,

5.    Don’t stop learning.