Jobs in Management, part 2: Career Modes

The big difference between generalist and specialist managers has an impact from the very start of higher management careers. These career tracks can be very complex, but the baseline is that definition. It's worth having a look at how these career modes are developed, because some dazzling careers have been created by these modes.

Business managers

Generalists are essentially business managers. They excel in this area. Their stock in trade is doing business. They're invariably very good businesspeople. They know how to make a profit, and how to run a business efficiently on all levels. The ultimate form of the business manager is the type who's brought in specifically to get a business operating efficiently. They're frequently hired to turn businesses around, and usually do. Many become business consultants.

The great value of the generalist manager is that their grip on business is transferable across industries. This is where the media image of a generic manager comes from, but it couldn't be less appropriate. The true business managers are experts, real professionals. They don't come in batches of clones, or get churned out by the management training industry. They're as much virtuosos in their own field as the specialist managers. They can go from industry to industry, doing this work, but it's because they know what they're doing.

They're also fixers, problem solvers and often innovators. It's no coincidence that business managers often have big reputations to go with big salaries. Their career modes thrive on successes. Their CVs include major achievements. They're usually on speed dial with headhunting agencies. Their career mode is based on their talents.

Specialist managers

Specialist managers are as different in their career modes and career tracks as their jobs are from business managers. Specialists are technical managers. They'll run the research, finance, or sales divisions, while the generalists run the business. They often work well with generalists, because of their strong competence in their fields. Business managers appreciate competent people, and will often be the ones hiring or promoting the specialists.

The great career advantage for specialists is that they're the real experts in their own fields. Their career mode is somewhat limited compared to generalists, but compared to their peers; they're the cream of the cream. A Chief Financial Officer is as likely to get poached by a headhunter as a Business Manager. Their skills are often so well known they've got a career inside track to any job in their industries.

The career track, however, is so different from the generalist managers that it needs some explanation. Because of the specialist categories, their careers are targeted, not expanded across a genre. The guy who worked his way up from the mailroom, in the case of a specialist, is the guy who worked his way up to managing research at IBM, Microsoft, or Google. The career potentials are huge for specialists. They become the top level managers in their specific fields. They may never change employers, or even their parking space.