The value of niche skill sets is changing; where once the challenge of having a narrow focus on something like programming or writing was a matter of simply being the best at that thing, today’s culture-concentrated companies expect more than expertise from their employees. You can be a whiz at SEO, but give off the wrong vibe at your interview and the job’s going to someone else.
This is particularly true for team leaders, who are no longer charged with a black-and-white role to fill, but who are expected to be versatile, vigilant, innovative, and highly aware of the many moving parts of their organization. As hierarchies flatten, a talent for wearing multiple hats, compartmentalized communication, and interpretation of ideas is more important than any degree or certification.
It’s All About the Bridges
Truly ubiquitous leaders have a rapport with everyone in the company, and not just because of their positional authority. They’re visible. They speak the various departmental dialects, and can transition in and out of them without skipping a beat. They’re able to draw analogies between independent spaces, and make robust, creative associations amongst them that contribute to the organization as a whole.
Most importantly? Universal leaders understand context and cross-cultural nuances. If they’re bringing an idea to the table that requires buy-in from sales and development, they’re not just talking to department heads — they’re involving key players from the whole team. By identifying unique abilities or personalities in groups that they don’t directly manage, they can shape strategies in a way that ensures ideal outcomes and confluence. In other words, they know how to build bridges out of characteristics and talents, without deferring entirely to role-related expectations.
The Mediator, the Cheerleader, and The General (All at Once)
Awhile back we took some time to research workstyles and vet them into eight major ‘personality types’, in the hopes of bringing some new insight and understanding to how different people work together. We called it Workology, the Workplace Zodiac — and what it helped us do was both acknowledge and identify the value of incongruity, while at the same time understand how to make the most of it in collaborative environments.
Of all eight personalities, a universal leader exhibits at least three at the same time — the Mediator, the Cheerleader, and the General — while being able to relate to to every one of them. It’s essential that they convey a sense of equity when contrary ideas and needs rub up against each other, with the added talent of re-imagining them to get the best out of both. Equally as key is their role as ‘cheerleader’; motivation and encouragement are so totally essential to successful, happy teams that I could almost scrap this entire article just to say “Being a universal leader = being a force of inspiration. Go.” Of course, the final piece of the puzzle is being an all-star leader (a General, if you will), which in addition to the everything else, means being authentic, understanding when to take action and when to yield control, and upholding accountability. It doesn’t hurt if you do it with enthusiasm, either.
Multiple Hats = Innovation
As important as being ‘well-rounded’ is for today’s leaders, it’s not worth much if they’re not able to smoothly transition from skill to skill or team to team. It’s a little bit like having multiple-personality disorder, only the person is intimately aware of each identity, and they’re able to flip them on and off as necessary (also, no weird blackouts or waking up half-dressed in the street. I hear that happens). The ability to exist alertly and comfortably within several different ‘cultures’ let’s these leaders actually think as part of one team or another, depending on the situation and varying needs. And that means innovation.
One of the great drivers of innovative thinking is disruption, so this constant rearrangement of thought gives universal leaders a great deal of competitive advantage and strategic ability. They understand natively how the organization works as a whole, and that’s reflected in their perception of the market and how the business is being interpreted by customers, much better than someone who is focused on a single aspect of the organization probably would. As a result, they can identify unmet market needs on a global level, with the added benefit of being able to communicate that back to different teams in the most effective way possible.
The age of the universal leader who can deftly handle today’s multifaceted organization is here — the question is, are you up for the challenge?
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