The difference between producers and performers

Most companies have a definition in mind when they think of an employee with great potential: Someone who is intelligent, charismatic, has strong verbal skills and the ability to both work as a member of a team and as a leader. While many organizations want top talent, they fail to see and promote another kind of leader — the producer.

Producers are innately innovative, according to Strategy + Business. They develop new business ideas and mesh disparate and often conflicting business designs, talent and resources to see these ideas through.

Between 2012 and 2014, Strategy + Business ran a qualitative research study on self-made billionaires with the goal of understanding the factors that enabled them to succeed. Researchers found self-made billionaires all fit the definition of a producer and possess a variety of "habits of mind" or internal skills that they apply to every task they take on. These include:

  • Empathetic imagination: Seeing grand potential where others only see change
  • Patient urgency: Operating at different speeds in different time frames at the same time
  • Inventive execution: Combining creative functions with operations
  • Taking a relative view of risk: Worrying about the long-term future instead of immediate loss

However, every successful business needs a combination of high-potential producers and another category of leaders, performers — people who can optimize pre-existing systems and products. Performers have different habits of mind, according to Strategy + Business. They are used to exceeding expectations within established criteria, and they can lead an enterprise someone else has designed successfully.

Performers and producers tend to evoke different reactions among their colleagues. While performers typically get along with their superiors because they meet expectations, producers are more likely to experience conflict. Indeed, 25 percent of self-made billionaires were fired from established businesses in the early stages of their career, according to the report.

Strategy + Business' research shows that the majority of self-made billionaires found success in business as a performer-producer pair, such as Apple's founder and former CEO Steve Jobs (a producer) and former COO and current CEO Tim Cook (performer).

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