‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’

These are the words of the Greek poet Archilochus, made famous by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin.

Are you a fox or a hedgehog?

Berlin suggests that leaders can be divided into two categories – hedgehogs, who lead by expertise and mastery, or foxes, who are versatile in multiple areas and yet masters of none.

Berlin’s categorization is an interesting one.  Consider how we select or evaluate leaders – do we favor one type over the other?  What type of leader would be better served to lead an organization through troubling times?

The expert hedgehog or the versatile fox?

I would suggest neither.  There are clear strengths and trade-offs for each type.

I believe that organizations need leaders who are a cross of both.   Leaders with the laser-like mastery of the hedgehog, combined with fox-like versatility and openness to possibilities.

Berlin suggests the Russian thinker Leo Tolstoy as an example.  Tolstoy was one who “was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog.”  Imagine that!

Similarly, any leader who is disposed to and excels in one approach can start thinking and acting his/her way towards the other.

The term “T-shaped leaders” describes people who posses deep capabilities in a core function (the vertical part of the T), with broad capacities in diverse areas (the horizontal part of the T) – just like Tolstoy, though the T was not named after him.

While leadership is often seen as a vertical progression of mastery, it is equally important for leaders to seek experiences that would widen their horizons, challenge their perspectives, and develop fox-like agility.

With this in mind, how can we develop T-shaped leaders?

What part of the T are leaders lacking in organizations today?

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