Physician Leader: Would You Rather Manage Ideas or People?

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Aligning With Values & Purpose,Career Resilience & Fulfillment,Transformational Leadership

. . . . If you relish the idea of curling up with a book like the Black Swan, or Blink, you may want to ask yourself: Would you rather manage ideas or people?

by Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE, Executive and Career Coach for Physicians

About eight years ago I had the amazing good fortune to spend two days with Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great.” As a member of the executive team of my former company, we made a pilgrimage from Seattle to the Boulder, Colorado office where Collins supervises his lean team of researchers. Our executive team was there to visit the guru and have him enlighten us about our company direction.

The visit was indeed enlightening, and for more reasons than the insights he shared about our company strategy.

What I found fascinating about Collins was his own personal story and career journey. After college and graduate school, he spent a short time as a Stanford instructor. It was during that time that HE received advice from his personal mentor. The question his mentor asked him was stunning and when I heard Collins relay the story, I immediately imprinted the question as a “save this insight” post-it note in my brain.

Here was the question posed to Collins by his mentor:

“Do you want to manage ideas, or do you want to manage people?”

His mentor asked him this question early in his career, when Collins was pondering whether to enter the corporate world where he had numerous offers, or create his own “business of ideas.” Collins recognized that his forte was the latter, and he went on to make his name in in the realm of business research and ideas.


Managing Ideas vs. Managing People: What’s the Difference to You?

Here is why this concept struck me as significant so many years ago: It was a novel and potentially useful way to look at those “major” forks in the road for those of us physicians who have embarked on paths beyond clinical practice.

When it comes down to it, do I get my kicks out of coming up with clever ideas, or do I get a thrill out of guiding others to build big things?

Both paths are noble, and choosing one does not forsake the other. But it could be that your ultimate career happiness will stem from devoting your efforts and cultivating your personal career strategy around one “forte” and not the other.


Where Would You Rather Focus Your Energy?

Just for fun, let’s look at what life would be like if you devoted 100% of your effort to one side of the coin of the other:

Managing Ideas Managing People
  • Trends and incongruences
  • Building new
  • Connecting dots
  • Creating cultures
  • Future what if
  • Preserving & stabilizing for the future
  • Insight of the day
  • Breakthroughs today
  • Ah-ha! moments of brilliance
  • Aaaaah moments of completion


I wouldn’t dare to simplify career management so narrowly, but then, why not? When you compare the simple question of managing ideas or managing people, I think most of us would quickly point to one camp and vote for their “comfort and kicks” zone.

I’m curious how YOU would answer the question. Do you gravitate immediately to one column over the other? In what way does your current role reinforce or conflict with your preference? That may be the most important question of all.

PS Send me an email telling me what your preference is. I’m curious.

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