Generalists vs. Specialists

Should leaders be generalists?

Leaders are, ideally, generalists that can understand and handle many different parts of a company. Innovation is dependent on an organization�s ability to regularly access and sift through large volumes of available information, determine which is most important and pertinent and then to apply it to unique situations in new ways. This role � essentially one of direction and delegation � is the province of leaders.

The irony of this of course is that companies naturally specialize and the people working at modern day companies are trained to be specialists, managers. This is where one can really see Lawrence Peter�s Peter Principle in full swing. The great, highly talented specialists get promoted and eventually become mediocre company leaders unable to competently comprehend other essential parts of the organization � including other personality types and working conditions � and the environment in which it operates. People who have been socialized into mechanistic, bureaucratic [specialized] systems are less likely to be comfortable in organic ones. They are used to being told what to do and when to do it and having boundaries marked, expectations set and little change in tasks. Generalist activities like combining numerous sources of knowledge to find (and recognize) general thought are not natural for managers whose expertise is narrowly defined. It is a difficult adjustment for some and a company-stagnating impossibility for others. And those capable of recognizing what it is that they do best will admit as much.

After many talks with people I respect, I have come to believe that generalists do better as leaders for most purposes. That is what I am trying to make myself, much to the chagrin of my current employer (who wants to know why I can't remember technical details as well as I should). I'll blog about this again in 20 years and see if I made the right choice.

Zoho Books Review: The Best Accounting Software for the Smallest Businesses

via Fast Company Blog.