Hunter or Farmer

What it Means to be a Manager

You’ve got an amazing quarterback on your team. He’s scoring record numbers of touchdowns every game. You want to show him that you value his work. So you pull him off the field and make him a coach, right? WRONG! This would never happen on a football team. It would never happen on a basketball team. It would never happen on a swim team. It would never happen on a gymnastics team.

So why does it happen at companies every day?

One of your employees is a rock star. You want to promote her, want to make it clear that you value her and want to keep her around. What do you do? You make her a manager, of course! Does she know how to be a manager? No. Will you be training her to be a manager? No. Does she even want to be a manager? No. She has been made a manager in name only. She manages no one. She has not changed the way she does her work. She just added the title to her name.

Two Paths

I believe that we should be looking at team leadership not as one thing, the manager, but as two equal but distinct choices. When you become a top performer in your department, a fork in the road appears. The two choices are Hunter and Farmer.

What is a Hunter?

In this context, a Hunter is someone who performs at a high level on the team. This person is looked to as a model performer, someone who everyone on the team emulates and wants to work to become. Don’t call that Hunter a manager. She is not a manager. If she has to begin to manage people (which is what a manager does), she will lose her edge as a Hunter. Management will slow her down. And that will not be good for her, for her team or for the company. She needs to be empowered to continue to grow as a top performer. Give her that promotion. Just don’t make her a manager.

What is a Farmer?

In this context, a Farmer is someone who cares for the people who make up the team. The Farmer is not out in the field modeling what it means to be a top performer. The Farmer is with the people every day helping them to succeed. The Farmer’s success is defined by the success of the members of the team. He leads from behind. He supports members of the team. He is the one that the team comes to when they are hitting roadblocks. He is the one that the team leans on for guidance and direction.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Hunter and the Farmer are not rivals. They make up the ideal marriage of leadership where members of the team have one person that they can look to as a model of what they might become if they continue to grow and develop themselves and one person that will help them to get there. (You will likely find that some members of the team realize that they would prefer to become Farmers, that their goals shift as they see the reward inherent in helping others to succeed. That is a great situation to find yourself in.)

Both roles need to be equally rewarded financially and both roles need to be equally regarded as leaders in their own right.

What you are looking for as an organizational leader is what motivates each of your high performers. What will keep them coming to work every day, digging into their jobs and growing as a result of their work? For some it will be the thrill of the Hunt. Getting out there and winning a new contract, working with clients, designing the new program. For others it will be investing in people and helping them to define and reach their own successes. Both pursuits are honorable and essential to the success of your business. You are looking to make the right match.

The New Responsibilities of the Hunter

A Hunter does not get the promotion without strings attached. A Hunter takes on her own type of teaching responsibility. That of Role Model. A Hunter needs to invite team members to shadow her on phone calls or in meetings. A Hunter needs to allow team members to ask her questions about her process. The Hunter becomes a study for team members to observe and learn from. The key is that this work does not slow the Hunter down. The Hunter can still spend her time out there in the field performing at the top of her game.

This dynamic offers incredible opportunities for the team and for the Farmer to create targeted learning pursuits that examine elements of the work that the Hunter does and to report back to the Hunter on their findings. Think of it this way. A Hunter is great at her job. But most Hunters don’t know why they are great at their jobs. They are people of action. They do not typically stop and examine their process. In this scenario, their process gets examined for them. That benefits the members of the team because they can now emulate the actions of the Hunter in a much more specific way. And it benefits the Hunter because she can now get a sense of why her methods work and even refine them over time.

The New Responsibilities of the Farmer

The Farmer is much closer to the traditional manager except that he has been released from every responsibility other than supporting the team. That support includes setting clear goals, managing progress and accountability and building budgets that support the work of the team. Those responsibilities are so critical to the success of the team that they should absolutely be honored as a full-time job. Typically, a high performer is expected to somehow fit management into her already busy set of responsibilities. That is not reasonable. Let the Hunter Hunt. Let the Farmer Farm.

The Farmer’s job is to become deeply connected with every member of the team. To know their aspirations and challenges and strengths and weaknesses. To collaborate with each member of the team on goal-setting and monitoring. On action-planning and assessment. On documenting and reflecting. In short, the Farmer’s job is to grow his people. And to do so with intentional inefficiency so that each person feels supported as an individual. (See my article on Intentional Inefficiency.)

Here’s your challenge: Take a look at the teams in your organization. Who leads these teams? Are the people who lead them acting like Hunters or Farmers? Or are they trying to do both? Is that pursuit successful? Imagine if you promoted another member of the team and made the two of them a leadership team made up of one Hunter and one Farmer. If you choose to do so, the messaging matters. Be sure that the team and the entire organization know that these two leaders are equals. That they are doing different parts of the leadership job but that each is as important as the other. See if it doesn’t change the way people in your organization see leadership. See if it doesn’t launch the team members to success more quickly and more deliberately.

I’d love to hear about what you learn. We at CultivateMe are fascinated with the way people work now, the way people wish they could work in the future and how we can build the bridge to the new world where learning and work are two parts of the same whole. Send me an email at

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