What’s Better? Being an Individual Contributor or Manager. Producer or Performer?

A long time ago, I decided to just be an individual contributor. Truth be told, it was pretty much a decision by default.

As a result of what all those 16P and Myers Briggs tests told me about myself combined with a honest tete-a-tete with an executive outplacement counselor once upon a time.

Before that conversation, I had never heard of the term “individual contributor.”

But I did know what managers did. That’s because early on I had a job being one of those (of people). I also remembered that I sucked at it (though I was in denial at the time).

In the company that availed me of those outplacement services, I was mostly a “manager of things.” My job was developing marketing promotions. I was judged on one main metric: my projects coming “in on time and within budget.”

I also worked solidly with the seven member sales team. But since they didn’t directly report to me, any managerial tasks I performed were seen as tangential to my real job.As an aside, I enjoyed the interaction with the sales team but I was also a hard a**.

It’s the “T” in INTP, my Myers-Briggs type.

As a general rule, I don’t like managing people and being accountable for their often inane behaviors.  Even though truth be told, I’m not exempt from behaving inanely at times myself.

As a manager, you are supposed to get results through others and not grab projects or ride colleagues nor direct reports like white on rice when they aren’t producing the results you’re being held accountable for. However, I do love ” managing” when I am working with high functioning, self-directed people or teams.

Okay… who doesn’t love that.

Anyhoo after that conversation along with a hard self-assessment to decide whether I would ever succeed on a managerial track, I opted for finding individual contributor positions.

Which as a marketing-sales-intrapreneur type that insisted on staying in and around education and publishing…and in the Midwest mind you, NOT a publishing mecca like New York…looking through the rear view mirror that wasn’t the smartest career move.

Because I took what are on paper little more than entry-level positions, which acted to peg and box me in. I thought that my strength at figuring out “Here’s what we need to do to capitalize on the trends, beat off the competitors and make some money” ideas and plans that I developed in those positions would be enough to break those boxes and take me on up to a big office on the East Side (read: higher, better paying positions).

I was wrong.

Now on the plus side, I got an insider’s view of every major player in the education-publisher value chain. I understand the value drivers, business models, and can plan out strategy.

These are things I do intuitively.  It’s what’s used to be known as “a calling” or doing what you love even when the money DOESN’T follow.

Despite those times when people at my company look at me like I have two heads because they can’t fathom why I am bringing up such stuff when my job title says I am a X (not a manager nor in this case even part of my individual contributor job duties).

It do these things because I am a producer type.

While my actual job is really about being a performer.

This is the conclusion I come to, anyway, after reading this article on strategy + business that asks whether you are a producer or a performer.

Which also helps me see why so many people in so many companies I’ve worked for look at me like I have two heads. Otherwise known as “you be crazy” as Penelope Trunk explains about how most people look at us INTPs.

Some people are predisposed to being producers: They are skilled at conceiving new ideas and bringing them to market. Others are consummate performers: They know how to optimize the known systems and products of an organization, and how to make the most of existing practices.

from the s+b article: Are You a Producer or Performer?

Of course that doesn’t mean that people won’t look at you like you have two heads anyway…




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