We've all seen it before. A management position becomes
available and an individual contributor is tapped to fill this important
position even though they may have minimal or no previous management
experience. This sometimes makes sense because the individual is
talented and therefore should win the respect of his or her new direct
reports. Shouldn't a person who performs at the highest level be
able to guide others to reach that same level of productivity? Yes and
The traditional definition of a manager is someone who gets things
done through and with other people. His or her work involves directing,
guiding, advising people and planning and overseeing work to be done by
others. Managers are accountable for what their people do. The
manager's real job is managing others to achieve their goals. The
manager's success is directly tied to theirs.
An individual contributor, on the other hand, is someone who
operates as a team member or independently. A lab technician is an
individual contributor and has responsibility for specific procedures
and results as agreed upon with his or her manager, usually the head of
the lab. The individual contributor's success is attributable
primarily to his or her own efforts. That does not mean that others do
not have a role in helping this person be successful, but an individual
contributor will be held accountable for getting assigned work done as
A physician is a hybrid--one who functions primarily as an
individual contributor for patient care but who also has managerial
responsibilities for a support team--nurses, office staff, etc.
Why is this topic of job fit important? Because many people
struggle to find satisfaction in management roles when they in fact
might be better suited to functioning as an individual contributor. They
are conflicted because, on the one hand they love their work as
individual contributors but are attracted to becoming a manager based on
assumptions which often turn out to be false, assumptions like:
* There is more prestige in being a manager than an individual
* Positive career change often means "moving up," and
that means management.
* Managers make more money.
* Managers have more power to make things happen.
So what is best for you? Do you really have the talent to be a
manager or would you be better off as an individual contributor? To help
you answer that question, I want you first to challenge the above
assumptions and second, provide some questions to consider.
Beware of making assumptions!
Having spent most of my professional life providing advice to
executives around career issues, I can tell you that almost everyone
gets tripped up by the assumptions they make about career paths
involving management. Let's take the four assumptions mentioned
"Managers have more prestige."
Well, it depends. Some managers will tell you it holds little
prestige for them because they no longer can have the direct control of
their results and, therefore, rewards and recognition like they did as
an individual contributor.
Suppose, for example, you now are the department head of cardiology
at a hospital where you previously were a cardiologist known for the
innovative surgical techniques you developed. Now, in addition to your
clinical load you must, as department head, attend more meetings of
hospital leadership, deal with difficult people problems that previously
others addressed for you, and, on top of everything else, you just
learned your budget was cut.
On the one hand there is prestige in being the top leader of
cardiology but at what price? Do you still have the time to devote to
your innovative side? Are you deriving the level of satisfaction and
productivity that you did as an individual contributor? Your answers
depend on what really motivates you and brings you the most
"Management is a positive for your career."
Moving up is frequently thought of as a positive for one's
career. It is recognition for having done good work so far, it speaks of
your potential in the eyes of the organization's leadership and it
literally moves you "up" in the org chart. So, yes it can be
But that assumes that positive career moves for you are the same
ones that make logical sense to those who promoted you. Some managers
will tell you that the best day in their life was when they made the
difficult decision to move out of a management job and back into an
individual contributor role that better fit their passion and skills.
The real definition of a positive career move is one in which you
do what you love and derive the satisfaction of aligning your talents
with the role. Not all managers can say that. Be careful not to let the
values and assumptions of others determine what you do with your life.
How many of our parents, for example, had a specific career path in mind
for us because they liked the idea of you heading in that direction?
"Managers make more money."
This is often true, especially the higher you go in the
organization. Larger bonuses reflect greater responsibility. Senior
managers should receive greater compensation given the risks they take,
the responsibilities they carry and the impact they potentially can make
by their decisions and foresight. In that sense privilege is
commensurate with responsibility.
However, many individual contributors who excel in their roles also
have the potential of greater financial gain. Many physicians sometimes
find it to be more financially rewarding to be an individual contributor
in a physician practice. Their compensation is a function of being part
of a shared practice where someone else manages the office and personnel
while the physicians perform mostly as individual contributors.
Their earnings are a combination of equity from the practice,
compensation from hospitals and other sources such as research grants.
These earnings can be larger than what they would make as a senior
leader in a hospital, for example.
"Managers have more power."
This depends very much on the political landscape of the
organization. By "political" I mean how power and influence
are played out in an organization, who controls the agendas, etc. All
too often managers find themselves out on the limb with no one watching
Promises are made during recruitment about resources to be made
available to them but in reality that support simply isn't there.
And it's lacking not just because of economic conditions but also
because it's often more important who you know than what you know.
Personnel or capital decisions can be undermined by influential
board members and others with special interests. Managers and individual
contributors both operate within political realities and derive benefits
and liabilities accordingly that must be explored carefully upfront.
So what are some ways to test your fit for management vs.
individual contributor roles? The following questions about job fit are
a good place to start.
1. What do I want to be accountable for? The work of others, my
team, or the work for which I am directly responsible? A physician
executive is accountable for other people, initiatives and budgets and
often has direct responsibility contributing to the overall goals of the
organization. A physician has a narrower focus toward patient care.
Depending on myriad factors, including the stage in your career, you
will answer this question differently. I often hear managers complain
about having to deal with people problems; they just want to be free to
focus on "more important things"--a sure sign that management
might not be the role for them.
2. What am I most passionate about? Will this role allow me to
leverage that passion as much as I could in another role? Are the
challenges in this role aligned with what I really want to do with my
life or am I forced to compromise some of my passion and interests to
satisfy other needs in the organization? If you are in the right job you
will accept the less exciting parts as "noise" in the system
and not make them deal breakers.
3. What aligns best with my personality? Am I enough of a people
person to get energized about developing others, mediating conflict,
motivating young staff and navigating the politics of our organization?
Do I prefer working alone more than with others? What feedback have I
received about how I interact with others that might shed light on my
fit as a manager of people? Many technically proficient people are
promoted to be managers because of that expertise alone. They mistakenly
think that human resources will handle whatever employee relations
issues occur and therefore take responsibility for people development.
Ask any HR professional and they will tell you that they cannot and
should not handle all these areas but need to share that responsibility
with line managers.
4. How can I best leverage my skills? Similar to personality
traits, skills that accompany management are often different than those
required for effectiveness as an individual contributor. There is a set
of technical skills any health care professional must have for their
specialty to be effective regardless of their role. In addition,
managers must demonstrate the ability to plan, organize, coach, review
and oversee the work of others. Do those skills come naturally for you?
Effective use of skills involves innate motivation to use them as well
as knowledge and experience gained on the job. Don't be fooled into
thinking that what lies outside your motivation will simply "come
with experience"--beware of that assumption!
5. How do I prefer using my time? A manager's time is less
under his or her control, in most cases, than those in individual
contributor roles. Managers often have more meetings compared with
individual contributors. Everyone must collaborate today, so meetings
are inevitable, but new managers are often surprised at the increase in
meetings they must call or attend in order to get their job done. More
time is also taken up with people issues and administration.
I have purposely oversimplified the complexities that surround
responsibilities and demands on managers and individual contributors to
drive home the points about job fit. Your job satisfaction and impact on
the organization and your career depend on making sound "right
RELATED ARTICLE: 8. A focus on the patient
Industry hires physicians not only for their expertise in a
specific therapeutic area and understanding of the practice habits of
their peers, but also to help legitimize the company's effort and
protect patients who will ultimately be using the products.
Industry needs team players and independent thinkers, not "yes
men and women." Physicians are expected to bring institutional
courage to the program and speak frankly when the patient is not
benefiting as much as what will sell with your peers.
Companies need physician executives to keep priorities straight
when it is tempting to look the other way.
In the end, the switch from practicing physician to industry
executive takes time, effort and preparation. And while moving over to
"the dark side" may not be right for everyone, for those who
can successfully navigate the transition, the opportunities and rewards
for both the individual and the company in question are significant.
For details on placing classified ads, consult our rate card in the
online media kit at ACPE.org or call 800/562-8088
Dalton Boggs and Associates
A professional consulting firm assisting client organizations in
the executive search process.
Specializing in physician management positions.
Resume or vitae may be forwarded to our office:
P.O. Box 2288, Edmond, Oklahoma 73083
Telephone: (800) 348-1654
Telefax: (405) 348-1693
Principal at T2 Management Consultants Sarasota, F1.