Last year at this time, I made the life-changing professional decision to sell the shares of my ownership in a global economic research and strategic advisory firm in order to launch my own consulting practice.
The decision was not a sudden one, and I, like many others before me, outreached to a wide range of third party resources in the years and months leading up to my transition to initiate and formalize my thought process about my future. I sought out the input of long-time professional colleagues and mentors, resumé and career specialists, and even former college professors about my ideas and goals. I engaged in a number of exercises to refine my background and vision, revealing a number of enlightening and important findings.
As a senior-level manager and (now) three-time business owner, I have interviewed and placed hundreds of candidates throughout my career, so I was perceptive enough to recognize that if I were to return to the “employee” side of the equation, how difficult it could be. I knew who I was, what I was passionate about, the skill set I offered and the type of organization I wanted to be a part of. However, documenting that “pitch” into a consolidated statement of qualifications for others to consider was a formidable task. It became quickly evident to me that because of my broad and diverse skill set, it wouldn’t be easy to concisely communicate all that I was capable of doing…especially knowing that some clients are focused only on hiring from narrow niches of specialization. I started wondering if being a generalist might actually be a hindrance.
Thankfully, I emerged from that process with significant clarity regarding my professional mission, vision, strengths, goals, passions and capabilities. At the end of the day, all roads lead back to the value I bring as a generalist.
For more than 20 years, I have been the go-to resource that employees, colleagues and clients can come to for help with a wide range of needs. I invest heavily in research and networking to make sure I know meaningful aspects about every cross-disciplinary function of the business and am able to communicate on a significant level to the most critical aspects of any operation.
A recent article asserted the ideal COO is the “ultimate generalist – able to identify and retain the big picture, willing to learn something about everything, and consistently contributing on a meaningful level to every aspect of a business as well as the greater community”. I certainly fit that profile, although I had a notable interest in the external aspects of the business environment as well. Coupled with my entrepreneurial tendencies, I am sure that is how I evolved to be a CEO.
For the past few years while I considered launching my own firm, the million dollar question on the table was whether I needed a more technical specialization in order to escalate to the next level. I can happily say after a successful inaugural year as a strategic advisor to companies who need someone exactly like me, that the answer to that is an unequivocal “NO!”. I have seen firsthand, the higher you climb on the corporate ladder, the more important a diverse skill set is. I am confident that generalists like me are better at adapting to change, are provided with more options for growth as a result of their breadth, and are more astute when it comes to broad-based business acumen, culture building, emotional intelligence and teamwork. Of course we need the technical specialists to give us ideas and content and this discussion is not meant to diminish their value on any level….however, we need to recognize it is generalist leaders like me who help put their expertise into context and help them thrive.
The second niche area I have recognized relates to my role within aggressively growing and diversifying organizations. My expertise evolved out of marketing and business development, but I made a point to extend my capabilities and managerial involvement into nearly every critical aspect of business operations. Having led development efforts for Inc. 500 Fastest Growing entities, one of the hallmarks of my career is that I have championed cross-disciplinary vision and execution for multi-faceted, emerging and diversifying firms in a number of key roles.
My experience also reaffirmed my passions and commitment to my family, a balanced quality life, and making a positive impact on my community by supporting pioneering organizations that promote exceptional culture, unparalleled values, corporate philanthropy and strong business ethics as the foundations of their mission and achievements. I have a particular interest in supporting other women business owners.
I expect there will always be those who celebrate generalists as the “jack of all trades” and those who criticize us for being “masters of nothing”. In our rapidly evolving world, there is no question that specialists are necessary, particularly in highly technical environments. Yet at the end of the day, I am confident there will always be a need for leaders like me who can see the big picture and bring all the cross-disciplinary pieces together.
Here’s to the generalists.