The Generalist, the Specialist, and the Leader

I’ve been thinking a lot about different personality types and how they relate to one’s career. What does it mean to be successful in your career? How can you optimize your career trajectory? I came up with a model that helped me to quantify career success.

I realized that it’s possible to reduce the elements of any workplace down to two things: tasks and people. People are the members of an organization and tasks are the things that get done at the company to generate revenue.

Ok, now consider this: both people and tasks can be represented by vertices in a graph. Let’s name the edges between these vertices relationships, responsibilities, and processes. A relationship is an edge between two people, a responsibility is an edge between a task and a person, and a process is an edge between two tasks. Let’s label people as P and tasks as T.

Now I’m proposing this: the more connections a vertex has, the more important it is. The person with the most connections in any company is probably the CEO who is presumably also the most valuable. Similarly, the more connections a task has, the more valuable it is. For example, the task of managing a company’s largest client probably has many connections. There would likely be many processes associated with it and many people would be directly or indirectly responsible for it.

Since we agree that more relationships and responsibilities make you more valuable in the workplace, we can come up with several archetypes by optimally arranging the graph:

The Generalist

The generalist creates value by handling as many different things as possible and automating much of the work. By focusing on completing tasks directly and setting up processes, the Generalist creates value by accomplishing tasks directly rather than maintaining relationships.

The Specialist

The specialist creates value by focusing on a relatively small number of tasks that are difficult to accomplish. Most of the connections here are relationships that require the specialist’s expertise along with the responsibility for a few very valuable tasks.

The Leader

The leader creates value by inspiring other people to do good work. Most of the leader’s connections will be to other people. Generally, the leader doesn’t have many direct responsibilities (by this definition) but has many relationships of varying degrees.

By following this model, we know that the more connections we create, the more valuable we are in our careers. It also shows us that there are only so many ways of arranging the graph to optimize value. If this is true, the number of optimal career positions is actually quite small and we should chose one of these archetypes and create a path to achieving that in our careers.