Producer or Manager? An Entrepreneur Needs to be Both

Vikas Joshi
June 30, 2017

It is one of the classic dilemmas that almost every organization faces at some point. Way back in 1987, Harvard Business Review published a great piece on the challenge of balancing professional and management roles. But this challenge becomes even more pronounced in the case of entrepreneurs.

Most often, entrepreneurs start on a journey because they have certain skills or are passionate about something. Whether you’re a writer or a lawyer or a software developer, your love for the craft is what makes you launch your own business. Because you’re so good at what you do, you get a bunch of projects and before you know it, you’re completely swamped. You realize that you need to hire someone if you want to expand your business. Your first employee comes on board, and just like that, you become a manager.

The ‘Manager’ Mode Doesn’t Happen by Default

Often, people think of ‘managing’ as a natural extension of their role as a producer. But in reality, the skillset required to manage someone is completely different from simply being good at your work. You need to work on delegation, building trust, monitoring output quality and giving developmental feedback - all very different from your professional skills. If you are serious about growing your business, you need to sharpen your management skills, sooner than later. Whether you pick up the skills on the job or get formal training in management, these skills are crucial to growth.

The Fine Balancing Act

In an ideal world, most entrepreneurs would probably prefer to do it all by themselves. Producing by yourself is great for you personally, because you get to focus on what you enjoy doing the most. It’s satisfying. It’s more efficient. Producing by yourself is low-risk because you’re unlikely to mess it up - something you can’t guarantee if you delegate work to others. Your clients will be happier too, because they get to engage with you directly (rather than having to deal with less experienced juniors).

While doing work all by yourself sounds great, the point is that it’s not scalable. There is only so much that one person can do, and if you try to overdo it, then there’s a good chance that you will burn out.

When you realize that your plate is full, you decide to hire someone. Then you may find that they’re not being able to deliver to your expectations. Since you’re too strapped for time, you end up correcting the work yourself, rather than investing time to train the person. So, when you delegate the next task, the same errors happen all over again. And finally, you decide to let go of the person, and are back to square one. That’s a vicious cycle.

You may be great at producing. But if you wish to grow your business, you can’t do without delegating. Therefore, there is no getting away from managing.

On the other hand, if you decide to delegate everything because you’re in a tearing hurry to grow, that isn’t healthy either. One, you are likely to be dissatisfied because you are no longer able to do work that you truly enjoy. You don’t ‘feel’ productive if you’re simply reviewing others’ work. You won’t have the satisfaction of producing.

At the same time, because you’re not continuously honing your skills, they may get a bit rusty. This may reflect in your conversations with your direct reports too; making them not think of you as an expert who commands respect. You might feel like an outsider in your trade.

The solution, of course, is to strike the right balance and prioritize. Consider what the business needs from you at any point of time. Recognize that developing and growing your people is the only way to succeed in the long-term. Commit to making that investment of time and resources to help your people sharpen their skills.

Ensure your own professional development doesn’t take a back seat though. Ensure that you are still getting down in the trenches often enough for your team to keep your skills razor-sharp and command the respect of your team and clients.

Sounds simple? Well, it’s not; but achieving this balance is a critical component of ensuring long-term success for your organization.
Is this something that you’ve experienced as well? How did you tackle it? I’d love to hear your stories.