At first, it was embarrassing to admit. Whenever I was asked about it, I would shrink and stumble around for the right words.
The good news is I finally found a cure for what was ailing me and I’m no longer embarrassed.
This might sound like a commercial for Psoriasis. It’s not.
Instead, it is me admitting that I am a ‘well-heeled generalist’ and have never been satisfied committing to one single area of interest, whether in business or my personal life, for an extended period of time. I’m too curious with all this world has to offer to specialize in one area of expertise. Do you feel the same way? If you do, I have good news. Below are the 7 Reasons Every Business Should Consider Hiring a well-heeled generalist.
I might love Change Management and Leadership Development and be considered a specialist in that area. But in reality – I do a lot more. And if you’re like me, you too possess a lot of creativity, curiosity and varied interests and thrive in areas of ambiguity while focusing on building trust-centered relationships. You like considering ‘what-if’ questions. You enjoy fleshing out ideas with novel approaches such as utilizing design-thinking concepts or iterative experimentation. Offering ‘disruptive-thinking’ is one of your super-powers.
I heard Scott Miller, Executive Vice-President at FranklinCovey discuss the fact that he is a proud generalist in a FaceBook live-stream. While watching Scott explain his position, I kept thinking ‘that’s me, that’s me!’ I was relieved that someone I respect so much also stumbled at first with their preference for being a generalist. Like Scott, I’ve discovered the gold which lies deep within my generalist framework and my life-long obsession with learning and continuous improvement.
The controversy between generalists and specialists is hot in today’s talent-hiring arena. Of course, it is critical to have only specialists in some areas demanding high-level expertise, such as physicians and bomb-detonation teams. In fact, specialists are needed everywhere. I know I don’t want to have a surgeon who is hasn’t spent many years focused on their area of expertise. And I am mesmerized by the level of specialized skill displayed by Yo-Yo Ma.
Someone in the Human Resources area once told me I have a ‘highly-stacked skills deck.’ That is because I am unabashedly curious and love accessing new knowledge. Are you the same? In fact, with today’s lightening-speed advancement in technology, I’m able to access a course online in almost anything my imagination fancies from the comfort of my couch.
Do you find, like me, you’ve hit the ‘Gladstone Benchmark’ of 10,000 hours for mastery in several areas? How is this possible? I believe it’s because we like learning, reading, and practicing. But I wonder, is this something we should even aspire to? There are areas of my work where I feel completely competent, am far short of the 10,000-hour mark, and yet I get great results.
My point for mentioning this is often, simply because of my sheer enjoyment of the task, I get better results without having practiced something for 10,000-hours, such as design-thinking. This is relatively new for me. But the curiosity and ‘aha-moments’ design-thinking manifests are startling.
I contend the well-heeled generalist is a secret-weapon of multiple foundational skills, ingenuity, critical-thinking, and resilience every organization, department, and team can benefit from. Those with knowledge in a wide range of topics are an asset that savvy organizations should be looking to hire.
Here is a sampling of what organizations can expect by having knowledgeable, curios, life-long-learning generalists on their team.
7 Reasons Every Business Should Consider Hiring a well-heeled generalist
Pattern Recognition: A generalist will have worked with the many and varied types of people, personalities, and communication styles found throughout any business enterprise. The generalist will not only feel comfortable communicating with every level of seniority but can recognize patterns and will assimilate this information to weed out what works and what doesn’t faster than non-generalists.
Acute Listening: Having experience with a multitude of communication styles, the generalist can hear, discern, recognize, and extrapolate through acute listening. Their listening skills are not only active but focused to hear differently than a specialist. They can put things together faster and better, similar to a highly competitive jig-saw-puzzle savant.
Meaningful Interpretation: Having worked in various multiple lines of business operations, the generalist will cull together nuances, trends, alternatives, and workarounds which will be unseen by those with narrow specialization.
Agility: Knowing various systems and business operations, a generalist is an ideal utility-player, able to pull together cohesive and strategic thinking based upon their broad knowledge and apply it across an enterprise, plugging holes and gaps along the way.
Resourcefulness: A generalist knowing many different kinds of industry, lines of operations, and communication styles has a wide-breadth of real-world experience. They innately know they can show up, learn quickly, pivot, adapt and above all else identify what is missing. Generalists are comfortable with ambiguity.
Identifying What is Missing: Generalists can identify gaps for the benefit of an organization because they have experienced this same thing only in a different application. Often these gaps are not noticed by specialists because they are unable to see from the ‘observer’s position.’ Generalists are skilled at big picture thinking and can spot what is missing and this makes them invaluable. Use generalists in the ‘what-if’ position during team meetings or brain-storming sessions.
Confidence: Generalists are confident in their well-rounded experience. Even more important, a savvy generalist isn’t afraid of asking clarifying questions. An exceptional generalist knows that setting expectations is key to successful communication and results in meeting and exceeding organizational objectives.
Having a flexible and highly-stacked set of skills the generalist is head-and-shoulders above a specialist when it comes to personal awareness and the ability to integrate, engage, and connect with all stakeholders at every level.
Successful organizations need leaders who are great at listening, relate objectives clearly, able to communicate with a multitude of personalities, understand they don’t really want to be the smartest person in the room, allow for alternative thinking and opinions, and know-how to support their team from in front as well as behind. A utility-player understands what position is right in any given situation.
Every organization will benefit from the agility of the well-heeled generalist, today’s modern version of the highly revered renaissance-man/woman, sought after for being well versed in a multitude of skills and talents.
It’s having a beautiful mix of both specialists and generalists that makes the most sense for forward-thinking organizations who want to continuously improve and get better.