It’s Time to Redefine the Meaning of “Jack of All Trades”

Posted by Rodney Kuhn

5/19/17 11:00 AM

Jack of all trades.jpgAs children, we’re asked by our teachers and parents what we want to be when we grow up. As adults, however, we know the answer to this question isn’t so easy—especially in today’s working world, where it’s common for employees to wear multiple hats and balance interdepartmental responsibilities. Just consider the evolving relationship between sales and marketing, where roles and dependencies are progressively converging.

Having one employee work multiple jobs in one organization has become the new norm. Despite this, however, we continue to see static work environments in which employees either rest on their laurels or managers fail to push them to broaden their skillsets.

This isn’t to say that excelling in one specialty is a bad thing; in fact, it’s a necessity. Every company needs a handful of employees who are nothing more than masters at what they do. For the rest of your employees, however, there are innumerable perks to becoming a jack of all trades (which translate into a plethora of organizational benefits). As a manager and mentor, you should challenge your employees to become more multi-faceted in their roles (or consider trying out new roles), but you must approach this the right way.

Redefining the Jack of All Trades

A quick Google search will show that the phrase “jack of all trades” has some negative connotations, so it’s important that we clearly define what we mean when we say managers should challenge their employees in this way. Simply put, managers should positively encourage employees to widen their lenses. Team members should be challenged to dynamically perceive the work they do (and their roles in the workplace) in order to continually grow, evolve and be satisfied in their organization.

Rather than pushing an employee to fit a mold, managers should seek to find that team member’s inner light—that innate ability or knack that he or she has—and draw it out to strengthen it. Becoming a jack of all trades should never involve pushing employees to take on responsibilities they don’t feel comfortable handling. Similarly, it doesn’t mean challenging them to take on projects they’re not passionate about.

What it does mean is that you may notice one of your copyeditors is very personable and has excellent communication skills, so you encourage her to consider sitting in on some sales calls moving forward. If she hesitates at the idea, respect it. If she doesn’t do well on the call, you at least tried. If she excels, however, she will feel an immense sense of personal fulfillment and growth, and she will be enhancing the customer experiences your company delivers in the process.

Fail, Succeed or Flounder: Just Try

At the end of the day, challenging your employees to cultivate new skills will help them better thrive and survive in today’s enterprise landscape. Just consider the profound results of having an open mind and a willingness to try new things: Jack Dorsey founded mobile payment company Square while serving as CEO of Twitter. Michael Jordan signed with a minor league baseball team shortly after his first retirement from basketball. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from being an actor and bodybuilder to serving two terms as Governor of California.

Some of these endeavors proved more successful than others (there’s a reason why Jordan retuned to the Bulls to win three more championships), but the important thing is that each person tried and became better for it.

In the end, being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean organizations expect employees to do it all. It simply means employees have an opportunity to continually grow in their roles and achieve more than they perhaps imagined. In redefining the “jack of all trades,” it becomes clear that success is rooted in a person’s willingness to boldly take on new roles and opportunities, which usually leads to more positive business outcomes and customer relationships. Nothing more, nothing less.

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