What I Learned from Bert Campaneris, and Why Connected Generalists are Important

In the fields that I touch professionally in the Jewish community – communal service, rabbinate, leadership and education, there are lots of specialists. I know rabbis who specialize in laws pertaining to the eruv, the legal marker that allows carrying in a public area according to Jewish practice. There are colleagues in communal service whose expertise focuses on social media or fundraising. Some leaders like to be “thought leaders”, leaving the practical day-to-day hands-on work to others. In Jewish education, I know a good many folks who just write curriculum or only teach. These are all great specialties, and I wholeheartedly honor these and many other specializations.

At the same time, one of my favorite baseball players when I was a kid was Bert Campaneris. Why? Because in 1965, he became the first major league player to play all nine positions in a single game. As much as I was a huge fan of players like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams or Sandy Koufax (the lone non-Cub — how could I not cheer on a fellow left-handed Jew?), they all played just one or a few positions in their entire career (specialists). But here was a guy who was so athletic, so well-rounded, that he could play every position if it were to ever become necessary (generalist). As I think about it, I’ve also tended to choose doctors that way: I like the ones who are board certified in both a specialty as well as in general internal medicine. Those doctors are seeing both the specific issue as well as the big picture.

And so, I decided that I, too, would have a few things that I’m particularly expert at (relationship management, network weaving, teaching of text) while also learning, enjoying and practicing many other areas that would diversify my portfolio, as it were (counseling, professional training, project management, etc.).

It was just a few years ago that I read a great book, Future Focused Leadership by Gary Marx, in which he articulated what Bert Campaneris and I had already learned for ourselves: To thrive today, leaders need to have their specialties, but also need to be generalists who are good at many other things. They need to be connected to others who have knowledge that complements their own, since no one can know everything there is to know about any field. They need to be able to easily work across disciplines in a world in which boundaries crumble. Dr. Marx refers to this leader for the future as a “connected generalist”. You can sneak a peek at this idea at http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105009/chapters/The-Leader-as-a-Connected-Generalist.aspx or just buy the book. It’s an easy read and has some great ideas for building your future oriented work in whatever field you might be in.

I thank you both, Dr. Marx and Bert C. for the insight into why I work the way I do, choose the doctors that I choose, and continue to learn and grow in areas far beyond what my work may demand in any particular day.

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