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GM Tenure - Why is it lower than other managers?

LeBron James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar last week for the most points in NBA history. Another notch in his belt, but he could probably compile another half dozen more personal records and still not be considered the GOAT. To be fair, there isn't any defined criteria so it's a bit of a silly (though fun) debate.

What does contesting the best basketball player of all time have to do with Club GM tenure? Well, I'd say it boils down to the lack of appreciation for a generalist. You know, the "Jack of all Trades, Master of None" mantra - Maybe it's just me but I've never found it to be a complimentary saying. LeBron James is really, really good at many facets of the game; leading, passing etc. and despite having the most points ever many do not consider him the greatest player. The thing is, in a world full of people trying to become specialists, it’s hard to truly respect what the generalists does.

Specialists have a certain expertise that establishes instant credibility, and, we can easily see it and identify it – an academic with a PhD or a gold medal Olympian, a plus handicap and even an auto-mechanic, a software programmer or pianist… there is a long list of specialists that we appreciate because their craft-mastering is something we can easily identify. This is what stands out. This is what we are in awe of.

The Club GM meanwhile is a generalist. Sure, you can make the case they specialize in leadership, but that's intangible. It's a skill that is very difficult to see and certainly tough to appreciate.

We pulled the average tenure of some management positions at the club. Which is really the basis for this post (gathered between Oct 2021 - Jan 2023)...

GM turnover is high, battling with Executive Chefs for the highest in the club. Important to note that asterisk dictating an anomaly, and why the average Chef number is also low.

Ultimately, watching a GM in their element; educating board members or dealing with staff conflict is just not as elegant and awe-inspiring as watching a Chef create some delicious cuisine or playing golf with a PGA Professional. You, or more importantly your board, will have a greater respect for for a CFO/Controller after diving into a balance sheet with them as you will listening to a Superintendent discuss the science of turf.

Ironically, almost all Club GM's are, or recently were, specialists in something before reaching the summit of the staffing hierarchy.

David Epstein the Author of 'Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World', which is summed nicely in this TED Talk, makes a case that generalists are oftern overlooked and misunderstood. In one example in his book he compares Roger Federer to Tiger Woods, claiming one took a zig-zag approach while the other, was more straight-lined, putting in that 10,000 hours early to specialize. Epstein states that golf, and chess, is a "uniquely horrible model of almost everything that humans want to learn" or a "kind learning environment" that provide you with direct, accurate feedback, well-defined rules and goals that are clear. This is the opposite of real life.

I think we, or you as a Club Manager, strive for this sort of clear, 'kind' environment to work within but it's usually very dynamic and ever-changing instead. When, likely, 90% of your job is dealing with people it only makes sense.

Club GM's are often told they need to be more visible, as it seems 1/3 - 1/2 of their time out of the office isn't enough. As a generalist, you have to be malleable, adaptive, with your finger on the pulse of so many things at once. This is simply too hard to appreciate, at the board level or even from those working underneath you.

There's very little respect and acknowledgement for a specialized-generalist, which may be the best label for a GM/COO.

I've often referred to the Club Manager's role as the centre of an hour glass, with the board situated above and staff below. It's lonely, and isolating.

Last year we asked Club GM's what they thought the two most important skills are that are needed to be successful in their role. There list was long but contained essentially everything but technical skills...

I realize that suggesting the reason why the GM position is the lowest tenured position in the club is because they're a generalist is anecdotal, but I think there is some compelling evidence to at least consider it. At the very least, we should open up our own eyes to the generalists out there. Those that juggle an Executive position while being a parent, a son or daughter, a volunteer, a brother or sister and more. I applaud you all!

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Thanks for the great article Ryan.

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