Why Search Specialization is a False Security Blanket

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Security Blanket

Specialists vs Generalists. The battle goes on.

Specialization is a great and wonderful thing. If I need reconstructive shoulder surgery or a root canal I will certainly plan on seeing “a specialist ” as opposed to my family doctor. If I’m deciding whether to invest in real estate or rock quarries, you better believe I’m going to tap into some specialist expertise before writing any checks. In so many areas of life we’ve been trained to trust specialists as opposed to generalists because the subject matter at hand is specific to an industry. That’s a good thing and, in many cases, the right perspective to have.

But here’s the catch: It’s not always the case for executive search.

In fact, the opposite might be true.

Many executives and individuals involved in the search industry falsely assume that finding top talent requires insights distinct to that field and that field alone. While seemingly logical, it’s simply not true and creates a false sense of security for organizations that rely heavily on outsourced search.

The key to a successful search is communicating to the right people in the right way the value proposition of that company and assessing their leadership capabilities and whether they’re a cultural fit for the organization. That’s the heart of it. The rest comes down to whom you’re talking to.

I have a tremendous amount of people I turn to for a search. Even though I’m not a specialist, I reach out to my incredible network and they to their networks. I’m not looking for a needle in a haystack. I’m looking for a needle in a stack of needles. No one else has my network. Period.

I might even go so far as to suggest that not being tied down to a specific industry is actually a benefit. Many industries become insular and ingrown and unable to see beyond the status quo when it comes to leadership. It’s a forest and trees scenario and more common than you might think. Standing above any industry or market silos allows you to see the landscape as a whole and identify great leaders, no matter what industry they’re in.

My ability to do just that is why I’m still around.

It’s hard to argue with a Rolodex full of winners. It comes down to the passion and attention of the person performing the search and all the specialists in the world can’t specialize their way into passion. Specialists can do a great job when it comes to search, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to be specialized, I’m simply pointing out that putting all your faith in the specialized focus is a mirage- It’s a false sense of security.