The wheelhouse is where you steer the boat. In some ways, your professional wheelhouse steers your career forward.
“What’s in your wheelhouse?” was popular shorthand for personal branding, job searching, or positioning yourself to get on a project team.
The wheelhouse became a business buzzword a few years ago. It’s a place of centralized power, but it’s also a confined space. A quick look at Wikipedia lists at least three origins of the term, as it applies to most highly developed professional skills.
A few years ago, a small business owner asked me how she might outsource her core services in order to take on more client work. Her concerns were that training and managing remote employees would be an extra challenge, and this might lower the quality of her service, and negatively impact her clients’ experience of her brand.
I advised against it because outsourcing the things you do well in order to scale your business is typically a bad strategy. It is better to delegate or outsource tasks that are not central to the outward expression of the brand. This gives you more time to do those things that are.
However, sometimes you must leave your professional wheelhouse behind. You may need to do certain activities yourself because they are critical to your client’s experience (or to your employer’s peace of mind) during a project. These impact the reputation of your business, department, or function long afterward. So when is it beneficial for you to step away from those activities that are in your wheelhouse?
4 Signs You Need To Leave Your Wheelhouse Behind
1. The skill is not the task, or vice-versa.
You’re a great writer, but there’s more to blogging than just turning out good prose. You’re a great graphic designer, but there’s more that goes into a winning proposal than a well-designed document. To get the most value out of a given task, project, or activity, you may need to give it to people whose mix of complementary skills are organized to produce measurable results where none existed before, or where previous results can be improved.
2. Your growth skills are more important to your business than your core skills.
Contributors need to grow into successful team leaders and resource managers. Managers need to develop as strategists to prepare to take on executive level responsibility. You have skills you need to develop with practice. You’ll get that practice doing more work that uses them. When activities that use your core skills are lower priority, they should be tasked off to others. While this may be good for your business, negative emotions can make this change difficult. You may experience loss, dejection, or even anger at giving up the joy or comfort of a familiar task. You may fear that you’re missing out on exciting work. You may even worry that someone else isn’t doing the work as well as you could. Even if that turns out to be, in fact, true, you have to let go in order to accomplish more for yourself and for your company.
3. The task doesn’t need you anymore.
Sometimes, a mission-critical routine that doesn’t challenge you anymore becomes understandably boring. (The only challenge is staying awake to do it!) You may be all too happy to give that up. Projects that still interest you though may be well documented or understood by others. When this is so, you can stop ironing out wrinkles, step back, and give the work away to someone you can supervise — and work with, if necessary. Two sets of eyes on a project are always better than one. This promotes shared understanding, introduces different perspectives, opens up alternative methods, and increases attention to quality. This lightens your workload, and improves the organizational knowledge around you. It can even refocus you on achieving higher-level goals. Your company still needs you, but the task doesn’t.
4. The task is big enough that a partner is needed.
A growing financial firm’s IT department suffered two successive quarters of problematic report delivery before they recognized that their quarterly reporting process had grown too big. Even their most experienced person could no longer do it alone. Adding a second, resource to the project would require this expert to become a manager and trainer. He would have to divide up the work, communicate more clearly, write better procedural documentation, and coordinate a group effort. The company’s culture hadn’t yet evolved to support this kind of close collaboration. Putting two resources on one project was a difficult but necessary step to ensure that this critical project happened on schedule.
You may need to leave your professional wheelhouse for your company’s sake. Your own professional growth, and that of the people under you, depend on it.