Leadership 101: A Secret About Skills
There's much to learn by watching the arts and artists.
Let me take a shot at explaining a good way to approach work and domain expertise. So, everyone knows: There are guitarists, and then there are virtuoso guitarists. But even among those, there are two types of virtuoso guitarists.
The first type (Type 1) of virtuoso guitar player is usually easy to characterize as an "athlete" - with blazing fast guitar work defining their style. They've mastered themselves, their craft and their abilities to an inhuman level. Their fingers move faster than the speed of sound, and they can practically play anything playable on a guitar and the highest possible speed, without missing a beat. Take Alexi Laiho (of Children of Bodom), widely considered one of the virtuoso guitarists of our times. He is an absolute master. You'll notice if you watch him closely, the guitar is almost secondary. He does most of the work, using the guitar almost as a "pipe" (or as engineers like to think, an API) for his music. Joe Satriani is another guitarist in this category.
The second type (Type 2) of virtuoso guitar player is difficult to characterize as "athletic" - with clearly peculiar ways of handling the instrument and a relatively unique sound. They are generally dependent on a specific guitar, set up in a certain way to function. Their peculiar style creates a symbiotic relationship between the guitarist and his guitar, wherein it's almost difficult to define where one ends and the other begins (emotionally speaking). Take Guthrie Govan for example, a guitarist's guitarist, and among the most revered of our times. He is another master. However, watch him closely you'll notice how he plays in ways that make you think "A guitar shouldn't be able to do that". The guitar isn't a pipe, but a part of him. Steve Vai is another one of these crazies.
Skills at work are similar, and virtuosity can be achieved in multiple ways. Whether it's communication, operations, code, negotiation, contracts, strategy, financial analysis - it's fundamentally not that different from the guitar. It's a skill. Importantly, for every skill, you need to make a decision early into the learning phase what you'll be to that skill, a Type 1 or a Type 2. Naturally, in the course of learning, based on the skill in question and your own skillset, you'll be forced in one direction, but recognizing that early and making a decision simplifies learning significantly. For e.g. knowing in month 1 of sales that you'll have to Type 1 your way through negotiations, while you're a Type 2 at relationship building. The decision is crucial. And the self-awareness is critical to the decision. And there is a decision to be made for every new skill you learn.
The secret to skill building? You have to know your path to expertise and virtuosity right off the bat. Else:
1) Wrongly believing yourself to be a Type 2 ("natural") and not spending time/effort mastering yourself + turning into an athlete at that skill can be disastrous.
2) Wrongly believing yourself to be a Type 1 when you have a deep intuition/feel for the skill can straightjacket you into an overly process-driven mentality that always keeps you below par.