Episode 123: The Leadership Tent—Balancing Specialization and Generalism

The 90th Percentile: An Unconventional Leadership Pocast

Published: October 23, 2023


Leadership can be a little complicated so in this episode we wish to reduce that complexity to a model of leadership that is more easily understood. You see, Leadership behaviors are knit together, much like the complex network of the human brain. There is a great deal of interdependence between them. Research shows that there are behaviors that are far more powerful in separating highly effective leaders from the rest. But the most effective leaders have a balance of strengths from five different sectors. In this podcast episode, we are exploring Zenger Folkman’s tent model.

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Key Learnings

1. The Tent Model of Leadership: Effective leadership isn’t about excelling in just one skill. Think of leadership as a tent, with a center pole and four corner poles holding up an expanse of canvas. The space inside symbolizes the leader’s effectiveness.

2. Character as the Center Pole: The core of all effective leadership is character, encompassing traits like honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. Great organizations can be decimated by just a few key individuals lacking these traits.

3. Specialization vs. Generalism: While it’s crucial to specialize and hone in on strengths, leaders must also be generalists. They need a diverse set of skills and knowledge to adapt in a dynamic world.

4. The Four Corner Poles:
– Personal Capabilities: This includes technical acumen, problem-solving, innovation, and learning agility.
– Focus on Results: Leaders need to be results-driven, take initiative, make decisions amidst ambiguity, and be willing to take risks.
– Interpersonal Skills: Command and control leadership styles are outdated. Modern leadership requires effective communication, motivation, relationship-building, and collaboration.
– Leading Change: In a constantly changing world, leaders must be champions for change, have a strategic perspective, and maintain a customer-focused mindset.

5. Powerful Combinations Drive Results: Zenger Folkman’s study revealed that leaders who excelled in both “Focus on Results” and “Interpersonal Skills” had an 82% probability of being perceived as top-tier leaders. It showcases the significance of mastering multiple competencies.

6. Expanding Leadership Skills: Extraordinary leaders don’t solely focus on one thing. Success comes from expanding skills across various areas, and the combination of multiple strengths leads to more effective leadership.

Connect with Joe Folkman


Zenger Folkman hosts an exclusive live webinar every month, where you can meet Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman and talk about their latest leadership development research. Find out more information and register here.


Leadership Under the Tent Microscope— Article by Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger