Cutters, Creators, and Maintainers

by Russ Hill on September 13, 2011

Cutters Creators MaintainersYou can learn a lot about a leader from the dreams he has.

I’ve had bosses who had recurring nightmares featuring a common villain: the bean counter. Even in times of unexpectedly large profits, they still woke up in a sweat convinced we needed to lay off someone.

I’ve had other bosses who seemed to dream about our products or company and how they could be bigger and better. They were obsessed with growing and/or improving the organization.

I’ve also worked for people who weren’t obsessed with cutting or building. Rather, they seemed to dream of being a firefighter. They sat in their offices everyday waiting for the call to come in and the bell to ring. They were caught up in the thrill of sliding down the pole and dousing whatever caught on fire today.  These bosses always complained about spending all their time putting out fires. Yet, that’s what they always chose to spend their time doing.

I’m convinced that every boss can be put into one of these three groups: the Cutters, the Creators, and the Maintainers.

No one wants to be a Cutter or Maintainer.  And, while every boss is occasionally forced by economics to trim here or there, I’m getting at something larger.  Each leader of every organization has a general persona that they carry with them regardless of economic or organizational conditions.  Day in and day out, year in and year out, they are either a Cutter, a Creator, or a Maintainer.

Those who are Cutters and Maintainers almost always have no idea that they are indeed such.

They view themselves as responsible stewards of their own company, or someone else’s corporation or organization . When people complain about unhealthy morale or tough working conditions, Cutters and Maintainers roll their eyes and deem the individual a complainer. They blame the sour workplace conditions on the economy or some overly demanding corporate executive they have to answer to.

The reality is that even when the economy is booming or that particular corporate executive no longer oversees this region, the Cutter will still be a Cutter. He doesn’t know how to quit.

The same is true for the Maintainer. He mistakenly thinks the company is healthy because he’s busy. Unfortunately, his business or organization never grows because his eyes are so firmly focused on his feet.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to work for Creators cherish the experience.

Creators are the heroes of organizational leadership. You’ll find some of their names in bookstores. They usually don’t write books. Others do. About them.

Anyone great who comes to your mind in government, business, or religious history was more than likely a creator.

Creators are master delegators. They find good foot soldiers willing to march through the weeds while they climb the guard tower.

Creators don’t obsess over the trivial. They can’t tell you what time someone came to work today. But, they’re well aware of the exciting project that person is working on.

Creators have eyes that search spreadsheets for opportunities while Cutters and Maintainers hunt for the elusive, excessive expense.

Creators, Cutters, and Maintainers all say they hate meetings. Creators are the only ones who rarely schedule them.

Creators listen. They’re hoping they’ll catch you saying something that sparks the next great idea.

Creators see an employee as an investment. Cutters see them as an expense.

Creators make people feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Creators are strong-willed. They have to be to survive the second guessing of others.

Creators have a vision. And share it with everyone. With enthusiasm.

Creators demand more from you than you think you’re capable of producing. They ask you to do new and difficult things.  Not because they fired your coworker, but because they launched a new initiative.

Creators reward those who go outside the lines. Maintainers fire them.

Creators expect others to put out 90% of the fires.  Unlike Maintainers, they’re not attracted to smoke.

Creators get concerned when they see troubling trends. Cutters and Maintainers are always troubled.

Creators have little patience. They value being first in.

Creators take risk. They do more than talk about innovating. They do it.

Creators realize value comes from implementing good ideas not from looking busy.

Creators ask questions.

Creators hate email. And other distractions.

Creators like to escape the noise so they can think. Cutters and Maintainers love noise, and often are responsible for making it.

Creators live in the future. And, can describe it.

Creators build bridges, while Cutters and Maintainers widen the moat.

Creators leave legacies. Cutters and Maintainers just… leave.

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