Photo: Ashley Van Haeften via Flickr
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a common maxim for leaders spread thin by their interests. “Focus or fail” is the prevailing career advice, and leaders are repeatedly told that specialization is key to success. But is there another way to succeed?
The Renaissance Leader’s World
Let’s outline the world today.
1. Globalization: Once a revolutionary concept, globalization is now widely accepted. Increased global outlooks and the velocity of international exchange present a landscape in which modern leaders grow and thrive. The interconnected world expands boundaries and the generation raised in it fervently applies globalization to daily living.
2. Technology Platforms: Three emerging technology platforms embolden a multifaceted world of leadership:
- Learning platforms rapidly train leaders about a skillset or issue (e.g., MOOCs such as Duolingo and Codeacademy, and online accreditation programs).
- “Doing” platforms broadly advance investment, execution or management of ideas (e.g., crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and Quora, and management platforms such as Basecamp and Asana).
- Sharing platforms bolster information exchange, feedback loops and competition (e.g., social media, websites and blogs).
Collectively, these three platforms dramatically reduce the transaction costs of making an impact. These platforms make it possible for renaissance leaders to grow diverse skillsets and accomplish great feats quickly, effectively and sometimes even simultaneously.
3. Flexible Business Models: An emergence of flexible business models systemize nurturing environments. For example, forward-thinking companies institute work-life balance policies designed for family life as well as the pursuit of personal passions or interests. Automation and additive manufacturing are more sophisticated examples of flexible business models that reduce the time workers need to accomplish traditional tasks, providing more time to spend on other pursuits. In short, across workforce and business processes, emerging business models empower leaders to have their cake and eat it, too.
Human potential has reached unprecedented levels. The combination of globalization, technology platforms and flexible career models enables the growth of multifaceted leaders.
Meet the Renaissance Leader
A renaissance leader is someone who has profound, diverse expertise and channels those abilities for purpose, problem-solving and unifying others. Unlike a polymath or multipotentialite, a renaissance leader is driven by causes beyond themselves.
There are three criteria for being a renaissance leader:
- Diverse field expertise: He or she has more than broad interests or superficial involvement in several fields. Rather, the individual possesses a profound knowledge, proficiency or expertise in various fields.
- Channeled fields: Renaissance leaders are masters at channeling various fields to accomplish focused objectives or to solve targeted problems. In other words, renaissance leaders combine learning from industries that other people may not view as complementary and use those learnings to address specific challenges.
- Unifier: Renaissance leaders are unique because they harness shared experiences by working with and unifying people from diverse backgrounds. Renaissance leaders inspire diverse peoples to take action.
Why Renaissance Leaders Matter
While human potential is higher than ever, the world’s advancements present us with ever more complex problems. Painful gaps exist within communities and societies that have serious social implications.
Renaissance leaders are valuable and increasingly vital on both micro and macro levels. Within teams, renaissance leaders are adept at complex problem-solving, unifying people, synthesizing skills, and empathizing with diverse customers, consumers and/or public interests.
On a grander scale, renaissance leaders are key integrators of people and communities. When channeled meaningfully, they serve vital roles that heal divides and coalesce fragmentations, while at the same time pushing forward various fronts.
In many countries, renaissance leaders play a vital role when there is strife. They achieve unity in times of polarity by climbing empathy walls, navigating social terrains and creating structures for shared experiences. These audacious challenges require sharp, refined and value-driven leaders.
Barriers to Entry
Significant challenges, barriers and gaps in business management stand in the way of further developing renaissance leaders.
For example, social attitudes toward generalists are subversively negative. In fast-moving businesses, decisions are often made based on specific titles, focused job descriptions and third-party certifications. In the employment market, individuals perceived to be renaissance leaders are frequently tagged as ineffective or undesirable because they lack specialized skills. Even the title of a “renaissance man” is pretentious and often warrants an air of the overly privileged.
There are leadership development challenges for advancing the skills of renaissance leaders. Few trainings, career planning programs or leader development tactics are built for people who aim to have diverse skills and experiences.
Improved professional development tools could focus on reframing difficult questions such as, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” which has one answer, to “How do you imagine spending your time?” Instead of questions like, “What are your goals?” and “What is your career path?” renaissance leaders want to be asked, “What is the legacy you aspire to build and leave for yourself, your family and your world?”
More tactically, new forms of project management, time management and investment strategies could be designed with a broader lens for renaissance leaders.
Mentorship is lacking for the growing generation of renaissance leaders. While renaissance leaders exist amongst baby boomers and Gen Xers, who might traditionally serve as mentors for emerging leaders, their stories, wisdom and energy persist largely uncaptured.
Luckily, an opportunity exists to share the perspective of renaissance leaders, identify a global network and capture learnings and experiences to be shared with the world.