The Producer, Manager, and Leader

From Stephen Covey’s Principle Centered Leadership (p. 244):

In organizations, people usually perform one of three essential roles: producer, manager, or leader. Each role is vital to the success of the organization.

For example, if there is no producer, great ideas and high resolves are not carried out. The work simply doesn’t get done. Where there is no manager, there is role conflict and ambiguity; everyone attempts to be a producer, working independently, with few established systems or procedures. And if there is no leader, there is lack of vision and direction. People begin to lose sight of their mission.

Although each role is important to the organization, the role of leader is most important. Without strategic leadership, people may dutifully climb the “ladder of success” but discover, upon reaching the top rung, that it is leaning against the wrong wall.

In light of this, let me offer a small (OK, massive) critique of GTD (“Getting Things Done”): I would argue that, by its very nature, it inclines people to think in terms of individual contributors rather than managers or leaders. This is great if you are, in fact, a producer. But as a producer, your efforts can only scale so far–you can only get so much “done.” If your efforts are going to scale, if you are going to exponential increase the impact of what you do, you need to operate as a manager or leader. And to do this, you need to operate with a different mindset, and slightly different approach, than that which is set forth in the GTD system.

(Note: this doesn’t mean everyone should be a manager or leader–be what you are called to be, and want to be. If you are a producer, good management and leadership will also result in your work becoming effective for joint performance that is larger than itself. But those managers and leaders will be more effective if they are not operating according to GTD, as it is.)

  • David T

    Matt – Would love to hear more on that “different mindset, and slightly different approach, than that which is set forth in the GTD system.” Managers and leaders still need to get things done. How would their approach need to be different?

  • Greg

    I agree with David T; I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this. I’ve recently become a manager and also recently adapted GTD to my work. I don’t think I could survive as a manager without GTD.

  • Matt


    I totally agree that managers and leaders still need to get things done. The issue is that GTD _as is_ doesn’t embody as effectively the other (and more primary) concept of management and leadership which is getting things done through others. Since as you move to management and leadership the focus becomes _less and less_ on your own individual contribution (although there is still a role there), I think our productivity systems need to reflect that.

    In GTD as is you have a waiting for and you can have a delegated projects list. Those are steps in the right direction, but they don’t capture the emphasis on others and setting direction and aligning people that exists (or needs to!) in management and leadership roles.

    One addition that helps capture this better, in my view, is to perhaps have a “project dashboard” where you visually display for yourself (using Mind Manager or OmniGraffle or something) the major projects of the organization (or your areas) and then _reviewing that_ regularly and asking yourself the question “what do I need to do in order to make sure that everyone is as effective as they can be, and that all of their efforts are aligned?” I suggest doing this visually because a list alone can be too numbing and linear (strange for me to say–I’m not against linear things!); a more visual “project dashboard” can embody the more non-linear relationships between things better.

    Another tool can be as simple as reviewing the org chart every so often as a trigger for ideas in what you most need to do in the moment in regard to the leadership roles of setting direction and aligning people.

    And more could be said. None of these are contrary to GTD, but GTD _as presented_ doesn’t incline people to start thinking in this direction, either. As is, the system inclines your focus towards _your_ task list. Or, at least it has this effect on many people (including me). I know everyone is different, and not everyone may feel this to the same extent as me.

  • Greg

    Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts Matt. I agree that GTD on it’s own can be very “me” focused.

    However, I’ve found that GTD was crucial for me to feel in control of my work enough so I am able to begin investing in my employees. GTD gave me enough control to know I have space in my day for more than just me. Also, I’ve found David Allen’s elaboration on GTD in his sequel “Making It All Work” to be very helpful in thinking beyond the immediate next actions and projects. He emphasizes 20K-50K foot level thinking.

    I’ve found review my Areas of Responsibility (20K foot level) every two weeks or so, keeps me centered on my responsibilities as a manager.

    I’m intrigued by the project dashboard concept. I’ll have to do some research on that.


  • David T

    Matt – Very helpful comment – thanks.

  • Staffaction

    I’m a big fan of the project dashboard. I have one (giant white board) for full time staff and another for interns. It definitely helps to solve the problems.