Do You Need a Doer or a Leader?

should you hire a doer or a leader

When it comes to hiring for the role, too many companies want it all - 15 years of experience, but you need to be hands-on, get in the weeds, roll up your sleeves - and be able to effectively build and manage a team. Is this realistic?

In this episode, Gareth breaks down his thoughts behind hiring a doer or manager, his approach, and questions employers and job seekers can ask themselves to find out what they really need.   

What you'll takeaway: 
  • Why the Individual Contributor role is too often played down and why startups should reconsider early on
  • The spectrum between IC and leader and how this fits into org structure & company size
  • Questions job seekers need to ask themselves to make sure they find the right fit



[00:00:00] Gareth: So what's on the agenda today.

[00:00:02] Jake: So we are going to be talking about hiring a doer versus a leader or manager, or maybe an IC individual contributor versus a manager. And wanna bring this one up for two main reasons. I feel like I've been trying to hop in on client calls more frequently and and looking at my notes and I've been writing things down.

[00:00:18] I feel this topic's actually come up quite a bit, which I was a little surprised by.

[00:00:21] Gareth: What do you mean, do you think it would be more defined that people will want more of a pure leader?

[00:00:27] Jake: Yeah, and and I think thinking back to our breakout ATX series, that also came up as well in our startup panel specifically.

[00:00:35] So there seems to be a topic that's been brought up a couple times, so I wanted to talk about a little more in depth. I think it'll be a little bit of a piggyback on. Potentially some of our org design [00:00:45] conversations, we had a few weeks back. So I guess to start out, let's further define, what we mean by a doer versus a leader. I just mentioned a little bit ago. IC, or individual contributor and manager, I think are other terms for this too, but wanna get your take on that?

[00:00:58] Gareth: Yes, I think I. Preface or state at the very beginning of this conversation, that there is a continuum of IC, like lone Wolf doesn't talk to anybody really just gets a certain task or function done. And then there's obviously manager or leader, either managing a team or managing managers and very hands on.

[00:01:23] In the nature of how you manage people or there's like a step beyond that, which could, you could say is like exec right. Of like a [00:01:30] more strategic, oversees management. And in between that there's a scale of how much time is spent doing work like deep work or executing versus the kind of increased percentage of work, which is management and leadership and overseeing others.

[00:01:49] Often the IC title gets played down when we're talking to clients and they'll say, oh no, we just need an IC or, oh, we were thinking of hiring a head of this but actually we just want an IC. So you can still have, you still have an IC that's ahead of, or a leader of a function. But they could be kind of more of an operator or a player coach.

[00:02:09] So I think that's kinda where startups tend to gravitate towards [00:02:15] is when they're talking about getting work done versus probably the other thing that people talk about wanting is just to offload a part of the business to somebody. So often founders or leaders of smaller companies are desperate to offload an entire function, which is a departmental shift.

[00:02:34] And they're creating as a department. I understand that. So someone, for example, that can deal with all people issues it's like ahead of people, right? We need ahead of people because they're execs and the, or the founders don't want to deal with people, HR related matters. But you don't necessarily need like a VP of people, there's run like a big org, but you do need someone to build out processes own the. [00:03:00] Scaling of a culture and make sure our staff are taken care of and make sure that time acquisition is happening properly. The, I think the definition for me is where people believe to be categorizing in IC is someone who carries out a function narrowly and executes it and potentially owns it in the startup context versus leader being, maybe they oversee it, but they don't do it.

[00:03:24] So they own the people. Carry out each particular function. And yeah we tr it's not as binary as like many things. If someone says, oh, we need an IC or we need a leader. What do you mean by that? And what kind of IC and what's being, is it being done or is it being built and is there plans to scale underneath them?

[00:03:44] Or [00:03:45] will someone be coming in over them at some point? And that's also a bit murky in startup land. People will bring in an IC to get certain job done with full intention of bringing in over that person later, but they don't necessarily, so I there's just this continuum of like, IC, manager, leader and in between all those categories is different grades off, but yeah, in essence, it's the.

[00:04:10] The execution and the functioning or the um, carrying out more narrow task versus owning and building out the function and running the function,

[00:04:20] Jake: Thinking back to my previous company IC was a completely new term to me. Coming here and seeing, I think different tracks, and I know that as you've been thinking [00:04:30] about how our company's going to scale and giving some of our talent team, various paths to, go on their own still, or yeah, take a management role and continue to help build the team out.

[00:04:41] We only had the ability to do the management role. There was no other like individual track.

[00:04:44] Gareth: At Abercrombie you could only go upwards into management.

[00:04:47] Jake: Yep. And there's nothing I guess, wrong with that. But at the same time if you don't want a management job or maybe you're not ready or whatever it might be you're going that path regardless.

[00:04:55] So it's just interesting. So I hadn't heard that. So I'm kinda curious is it a common thing to how different tracks and does that differ by like company size? What's the, what are the characteristics of that?

[00:05:07] Gareth: Yeah, I think it's an old school mentality in a way. Isn't it? Going up means managing and also that very [00:05:15] high performing functional specialists probably don't always make great managers.

[00:05:21] Cause if they're very good at particular task, why on earth would they be a good manager? If they've never done it before or in my first job out college, like I was performing well and I was pushed into the management route far too early. I should have just stayed doing what I was doing, executing and talking to clients.

[00:05:36] Creating revenue. But it's people want examples and they think they see certain traits. It's oh, it's great. Look, we promoted this person the way up here. And now they're head of product or head of but I think there's been companies not to focus on the outliers too much, but there is there's some good case studies of Microsoft, for example there's guys there that.

[00:05:55] Historically over the years, gone up into leadership roles, but there's also people at [00:06:00] high income, high title roles that are just individual contributors on the engineering side or the product side, like they're create smart, creative individuals who putting them into management roles, just stifle that.

[00:06:12] I think those companies where you have lots of required brain power, put it that way that you don't want to. Suppress. So keeping people as individual contributors is a really good thing, or at least partially, maybe they're lead. So you have titles in roles and engineering roles.

[00:06:28] Sales is different. You get some really good senior sales folks that just sales that just own their territory and earn a lot of money, and they don't lead anybody, necessarily. I think it stemmed probably from bigger technology companies. Then you had like Google. Got pretty flat [00:06:45] hierarchy in terms of job titles and structure. It's probably less so now, but like in its early years and when it went nuts, when the growth was really big, you didn't have

[00:06:57] as much. You just,

[00:07:03] that's probably, I think what's given people, the options is because I, if you look at how work happens now, anyway, Pre COVID, but especially post COVID you don't really have like boardroom drama and intercompany politics at the same level, cuz not everybody's around each other as much. So it's, I'd argue it's more democratized in terms of communications and slack and zooms and yeah.

[00:07:28] Faster, shorter [00:07:30] coms. So there is the there's definitely I think anyway, like growing our business should be, if someone categorically demonstrates leadership traits, then they, that should be discussed with them. But if they're really good at function and they just they're happy doing that, don't try and them away from it, like it's detrimental to everybody.

[00:07:49] Yeah. Thing is like the old school mindset of career growth means leadership. And now it's not that you could arguably be happier, make more money, not leading. I think a lot of people don't wanna lead. Anyway. I think the whole manage. Thing has been proven to be very difficult. Complete is different skill set and managing people now is tough because everybody's the way that people.

[00:08:10] Want to treat work or what they want to get from work is very different to even [00:08:15] when I moved here, three or four years ago, it's hugely different. Just a level of empathy required. The level of patience required. The level of understanding individuals is much more is not like business school management anymore.

[00:08:26] Not that I'd say ever was, but I think, yeah, that's definitely crept in.

[00:08:29] Jake: So you kinda talked about these categories right from, IC on one end to kind of manager in the middle to like leader on the other side. If I'm a employer or startup company thinking about bringing someone on how am I thinking, how should I be going about thinking about that?

[00:08:45] What's the line and where I'm drawing or thinking about pulling someone in.

[00:08:52] Gareth: So you said, you mean if I. In terms of hiring or structuring your own team,

[00:08:57] Jake: both.

[00:08:57] Gareth: Right.

[00:08:57] Jake: Let's go

[00:08:58] It depends size

[00:08:59] Gareth: and [00:09:00] stage of business,

[00:09:01] like founders of hands on. In some capacity, whether they're a technical founder or a product or marketing or ops, like your hands on and you should be as, for as long as possible. Really. The, I think you just have, you have to start to talk, you have to figure out org design, which is not easy. You have to look at options.

[00:09:29] You have to look at critical mass. You have to look at putting best people in seat. And that doesn't always mean. That it's exactly the job that they want at the time, necessarily. Like you hear many stories of people in startups that get asked to do jobs, perhaps they, it, wasn't what they [00:09:45] signed up for initially.

[00:09:45] And some people will be all about that. And some people definitely don't wanna do it. So I think leadership is important, but we've worked with some startups where there's too many, but there's too many chefs. And it's really obvious. And everyone's trying to be the strategic leader and there's sort of like deemed to be a glamorous thing.

[00:10:04] People talk about strategies if it's like about everything else. It's important, but when you're a smaller company executing and iterating is arguably much more important. So the, I'd say if you are like an earlier stage business, the focus. Should be on, obviously there's gotta be some vision coming from somewhere, but then the rest of it is about everybody being all hands on deck, which I think is what [00:10:30] we were talking about with the panel and the whole notion of, if you have, you want, as you probably do want as many hands on specialists, as you could possibly get your hands on.

[00:10:39] So like our sales specialist is really effective and marketing specialist that's really effecti. The visionary, which is typically the founder and then a technical specialist, which is why you probably wanna bring in that Swiss army utility player, chief of staff that is not, that's doing

[00:11:03] head of interim, head of ops, head of people. Or things, but it's an individual contributor role. So you just have this flatter structure, more defined by roles, pile on everybody. Pile on strengths. Hiring is [00:11:15] my argument. And my advice for earlier stage businesses is make sure everybody doing their job is as good as they can be.

[00:11:21] And as equipped as they can be, and then pull anything away, that's holding them back and then give that to somebody that would thrive on kinda owning. I don't even wanna call it the more generalist, but it's the, that is the skill as well. Being organized and being like Jasmine here now head of people, ops and performance.

[00:11:40] I know that the people side of things, isn't the preferred part of her job, but she's doing it until she doesn't need to do it and someone else could do it. But the ops performance analytics. She's doing a lot there in other companies, that's probably two or three jobs, but that's kinda what you sign up for.

[00:11:55] When you, a 10 person company, as you get bigger, [00:12:00] then you can, you still, those groups or teams of functional expertise where there's more minds coming together, but you then have to look at these how those units move together. And then you're talking about management. So I think the bigger, the, obviously the bigger the company, the bigger the teams or the greater, the number of teams that are working together, then you need orchestration and you need management.

[00:12:24] So I think it's a bigger company problem then. And then you look at management as a skill which is why you see some very good managers coming out of these corporate programs, like in an old sort of fashion context you have I guess management consulting. Which can work, like people coming out, those organizations and seeing lots of different types of management, you [00:12:45] have people coming off, the graduate schemes of the GE management program was historically like a well regarded footing into management.

[00:12:52] You go these rotations and you learn different techniques um, relevant. That is to today's world where everything's so drastically different. But yeah, I think just starting out with real strengths. Based teams. So they are individual contributors who are amazing at that job. I think taking is what you can away from them to another IC, but then the bigger the company, then you are looking at management as a skill.

[00:13:19] There's probably a way more sophisticated way of answering that question. And there's probably some PhDs in org design and some folks out there that would argue otherwise. But that's what I see anyway. And that's what I see working [00:13:30] well versus. Not working well, I'll give you a 20 person, 30 person startup.

[00:13:35] You shouldn't probably need more than four, five kind like leaders and everybody. And even those guys should, all those people all be ICS.

[00:13:42] Jake: Wanted to pivot a little bit, talk about this whole flattening of structure or organizations. Just more as a trend. I'm curious to your thoughts on that too.

[00:13:53] And if, I don't know, I guess your thoughts on remote, how that's impacting potentially a more flat organization structure and maybe certain areas or certain size businesses or if there's a broader effect on that.

[00:14:05] Gareth: Yeah. I don't think we know yet. It's still quite early to say isn't it, but I would guess that people feel like they work in flatter orgs cause a you get left alone a bit.

[00:14:14] [00:14:15] If you are not in the office all the time you can answer questions and communicate in real time with slack or other types of tools where it's shorter, sharper meaningful communications and it's documented, right? It's like logged. It's not hearsay. So you then have fewer meetings. Maybe you have far, maybe you have more meetings with slack, with zoom, video calls, but they're shorter, sharper, there's less, hudling up in a room for an hour than I can remember doing 10, 15 years ago.

[00:14:50] I think it's probably two sides to that. I sure some people want. Hierarchy and structure and that's not there for them. So I know that companies are [00:15:00] figuring out how that, how staff remain engaged when remote and even people want people who want to be remote are disengaged at times. Cuz they, their, sometimes their bosses are their managers or their leaders are leaving them alone too much.

[00:15:13] And we've experienced that where people have been onboarded and they haven't had as much FaceTime as they'd wanted with their leader. The leader's probably thinking I'm just letting you get on with it. And so again, hard to please, everybody management's hard for those reasons. But I think overall it's, as long as it's, the, their, those expectations are laid out early, like as teams are formed and people join companies and you have your regular cadences for updating.

[00:15:41] I think that's what works really well. And you can slightly more than you [00:15:45] need and you can, if you don't need one, you can shop it. But I think having them is good.

[00:15:48] Jake: I wanted to flip it a little bit and talk about, on the candidate side. Yeah. think that's something kinda important here too, to think about, I guess what you want as a candidate, or again, for me, not even really seeing these two or have hearing.

[00:16:04] Like more of the doer individual contributor role prior to, I kinda only saw like management as my only route in a way . That's not the case. And I think having known that I would've thought about things a little differently. Luckily I ended up right where I think I needed to be.

[00:16:17] But yeah, what's the advice or any words of wisdom for candidates and thinking about this conversation?

[00:16:24] Gareth: Obviously the easiest thing to think of, which is what size of business do you want to go [00:16:30] to? There's another layer to this is like the ultimate individual contributor is probably a freelancer or a contractor.

[00:16:35] So if you wanna just completely run your own world and universe, it's a little risk. Uh, Depending on what you do as a freelancer, but if you have the ability to either go in for three, six months or a year or run multiple clients I did it for a while back in UK, before I joined, hired really great, like I was working for clients at any one time and doing one or two days a week for each and it, the variety was fun.

[00:17:03] Your hourly rate or day, rate's quite fun. But you don't have skin in the game and you feel like an outsider as well. So stuff you're suggesting, could work and it's not instituted. So that's like the ultimate individual [00:17:15] contributor. Then once you're in a business probably just gotta decide on the size and then that, that for that therefore determines the exposure.

[00:17:24] Or the input that your work might have. So there's obviously smaller the business, the more access you get and the more input you can have and impact. So I think you've gotta think about that. The other end of the spectrum there is you are an individual contributor, a huge company, and you probably like, paid, left alone slack, occasionally zoom occasionally take the biggest end of the spectrum, right?

[00:17:46] Like a Microsoft or a whoever. But you're probably in a framework that might, you might find stifles you like a leadership management framework. And there's I have no clue what it's like to work in anywhere that big and don't we hear of people that love it [00:18:00] there and they feel very safe.

[00:18:01] And we hear of people that get really St really stifled by it. So I think that you can, that if you're going into bigger org Again, everything's slightly more extreme. And then there's everything in between. So you probably have to just understand, what's the size that I want. What sort of team culture do I want?

[00:18:17] Do I want to work it mostly within a big team and have some collaboration with external teams or I don't want to be sat in a product team talking to sales and engineering on the same day, which I think is more of a smaller, like a higher, more, a high growth, smaller business. So I think size is definitely important.

[00:18:35] And can you dip your toe in the water? So trying out management, it doesn't have to, you go from to manager there's ways of [00:18:45] doing that through mentorship or team leading going on training program and some companies offer management training and Some don't so you probably want to know okay are these things on the table before joining?

[00:18:56] Is there evidence having happened before is always a great thing to

[00:19:05] started role and then took on a greater responsibilities? People with director level titles that are individual contributors as well, and they get paid really well. And look for evidence, ask for evidence, look for examples, talk to those people. Potentially this is all stuff that I don't think can think about enough.

[00:19:25] They think are merely about getting the job. So it's the, can I just get the [00:19:30] job, which is partly cuz the system's a little broken. But the ability to think about business and think, okay, assume let's say I get the job. Where would I wanna be if I stayed there? And is the company able to do that? So there's in a bigger company, always gonna get churn people moving on, leaving in, you'll get that in a small company, but it's less certainty.

[00:19:54] So I think it's just kinda having that foresight to. Look at the paths others have taken and think about the business goals and is that's why people have joined us. I know that for sure. Cause people have told me that they want to get in as the first sort of 10 20 hires, knowing that we want to grow so that they can move into leadership probably in an [00:20:15] accelerated manner, which as long as people can perform, then that's absolutely on the table.

[00:20:20] Yeah, just knowing what you want and then looking for the evidence for it, looking at other examples of people who've been in the business,

[00:20:28] Jake: it's interesting. Like just the, almost having blinders on, of get the job. And then you almost open up. And then you're like, oh wait, is this.

[00:20:37] All the details there that I actually want. And they align with my values. I do feel like that is of backwards. Even from some personal experience, too, and me thinking about interview processes, you get almost further down the road and then you're like, okay, I can start evaluating other things.

[00:20:50] But to your point, that is

[00:20:53] a little backwards.

[00:20:53] Gareth: There's, I think people look at the wrong things. So I think people look at the job [00:21:00] title, they look at the product, they get a sense of culture. They go on glass door which I've never really understood. Cause I think you get extreme views.

[00:21:07] You get people who are told to write reviews potentially or lifers, and you get people who have left. And then they get angry and they go hit the keyboard. Whereas no one necessarily, I don't think people necessarily talk to people outside of the interview framework. So they're talking to decision makers and hiring managers and maybe to people that they're set up to interview with, but talking to people out of department or people who have been there for two, three years, they'll know the real deal of what place is like and what's on offer.

[00:21:34] Jake: Quick on that too. And then we up here in a second so you mentioned that they're looking at a couple of things that maybe are not the right signals or things to be looking at any tips for. [00:21:45] What's look at instead, and then a quick follow up of that. Any tips for how to engage with someone, maybe outside of the interview process to get some more of that.

[00:21:54] You

[00:21:54] were just talking about,

[00:21:55] Gareth: some companies are really good at showcasing people that have worked there for a while and they moved around or rotated and done different jobs. So I think the step beyond that is actually talking, asking to talk to those people and how they did it, how they found it.

[00:22:10] No, company's gonna say no to that. If they like you and just ask yeah. Talk to somebody that's been in the role for the last two or three years or somebody that's moved into a management opportunity and how they were supported. They're probably is documentation around how companies do that as well for bigger firms.

[00:22:27] You won't get that in smaller firms obviously, but yeah, I [00:22:30] would just be explicit and be demanding. If someone was coming to our business and ask those questions, I would love to have the team talk to them and I would want them to it out in the good and the bad say, Hey look. Yeah. Like it's not amazing.

[00:22:44] We don't have an amazing training program. We don't have mentorship program. We just have a pretty flat, but if you wanna do something, you get to put your hand up and you get influence and come with art, come with some suggestions of how to make it better.

[00:23:00] Jake: Let's go back to the signals that a lot of candidates may be looking for.

[00:23:03] You said, job title, product, trying to get a sense of culture doing so through maybe Glassdoor. What what other signals should they be looking for that maybe are more important or not is known or in your face,[00:23:15]

[00:23:15] Gareth: I would just, I would LinkedIn and look at other people who are there or who have left. I would look at people on LinkedIn who have the job you want as well go in and research the company and the title, the, of the job you want and look at what they did.

[00:23:31] Look at their career track. Yeah. Do they have a particular educational? We could talk for another session, honestly, about the whole MBA route, because I personally don't understand always why such high importance is placed on it, but there's plenty of people who've gone out and got MBAs who are now in very good positions with great income simply because of their MBA.

[00:23:54] And sometimes it's where they got the MBA more than the MBA itself. Having said that I, there may be [00:24:00] a time in my life where I'd be like, okay, I'm gonna pause for a year, go into an MBA because I think that's what it does for people. Is it refocuses you potentially also you can network with like minds and yeah, it's a good time to maybe think of a new business idea, which is probably why I would consider doing it, but that is an interesting conversation point around like people who segue.

[00:24:20] Into, as they go to business school, get their MBA, and then they too can go leadership management route or IC on a, more of a strategy focus potentially or founders. Yeah, I think I would say to people, look at those who have the job you want, not maybe now, but like in three to five years and see what they were doing.

[00:24:40] Talk to. Reach out to them that there's no harm in doing that. A lot of [00:24:45] people are fine to hop on a zoom call with somebody for 20 minutes and offer some career advice as long as it's asked for in the right way. And yeah, for job seekers it, and you can't be too binary. Job seeking. Cause you dunno what job you're gonna get.

[00:25:00] So you just have to like, look at the options and wherever you end up, wherever you end up going, you got to understand their culture. So there's definitely companies out there where people are in stocking org structures, cuz leadership's not going there's much big companies. I don't need to name names, but like slightly more old school, bigger.

[00:25:19] Or always just there, there's no incentive for some of the execs to move on, so you're not gonna be getting any of those jobs anytime soon.

[00:25:26] Jake: Cool. Let's wrap up. think we touched on job seekers pretty well [00:25:30] there as a bit of recap, but any final thoughts takeaways for the employer.

[00:25:34] Gareth: I think the bit. I find irritating is when employers just want more, too much. So they, and I think there's lots of sarcastic posts about it's on LinkedIn and it's we need 15 years experience, but you've gotta be a hands on doer and roll up your sleeves. And we've had it recently where people are trying to hire a functional leader that can build and grow a team at the same time.

[00:26:00] Okay. So do you want to hire somebody that can start off doing the job and learn to lead as they do it? No. We want someone that's built a team before. Is that person gonna really wanna do that all over again for you? So first sales hire in a new region, right? We [00:26:15] want someone to go out, hit quota. Once they hit quota, they can build their team and then they've gotta be really good at building their team.

[00:26:23] Okay. How much? So they getting marketing help? No. Are they getting an SDR? Are they getting any kind of prospecting help? No, it's them on their own. Get to a million a year, then we'll put in a team, but we want them to build a team in the past. It's fairly absurd request. So there will say, why don't you hire a very good AE with leadership potential.

[00:26:45] That's too risky for us. It's risky either way, frankly. So why do you get someone that wants to do the thing that you want to do? You need it done. They wanna do it. They wanna learn. They're gonna be more engaged, more motivated, but nine times outta 10 people just, they want to [00:27:00] see that someone's done it before, but then they're downgrading the hire by, by saying we want someone that's done it and they come and do it for us.

[00:27:07] It's really just this narrow mindset of oh, wanna mini minimize risk. So yeah, that, that makes. Almost no sense to me. And it's annoying cuz we challenge people about it and we tell them that, time and time again, that you probably not get that high made as well, you would hope so.

[00:27:25] Yeah. Just listening to specialists, being clear about what actually needs to get done hire for that and then figure the rest out. Cause most of if you are, especially if you're a startup, most of what you're doing is new. Anyway. Yeah. There's no playbook that works at all time on a repeat basis.

[00:27:42] Cool. All right. Good stuff. Thanks. Thanks your time. [00:27:45] Cheers.


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