Workhorse guy vs Fixer

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What would you say is a better signal of a healthy career (one that will grow or lead to dependence on your activities for decades):

Guy 1:

Learned a few skills, but the most important one is the ability to just grind. He grits his teeth, you hand him more and more of the same shit, but he just keeps knocking it down. This guy is dependable and you know he can handle that task well. Steadily busy because task is part of the every day grind.

Guy 2:

Learned more skills than actually needed for job. You keep asking him to do more as he goes above and beyond. But you never look to him to do the same task over and over in a reliable way like Guy 1. Rather, when there's a problem, you go to him to seek help. Tasks are somewhat more discretionary (on as need basis) because if you don't have exotic problems, there's no steady workflow.

Curious on all thoughts because I would be amazed at a right or wrong answer, and personally have no idea what the answer is.

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Comments (21)

Jan 4, 2019

While I don't dare to offer a complete response to my senior, this is my $0.02 from the perspective of a life-long fixer. I always had the ability to come up with a solution and complete task on an as needed basis. The skill set of fixers along them to think broadly and connect dots that often are obscure to a one-trick-pony. There are of course the monumental weakness of not having expertise in anything, which can expose us to risk in an isolated environment when we don't have a team to work with (i.e boss asking for real estate LBO model at 3 am in an empty office). In such a situation, it would be much better to appoint a senior analyst (or 3) have developed an expertise in modeling. Therefore, it would be desirable for fixers, who can also be addressed as generalists to have a level of expertise that can be used when needed to make themselves indispensable to the group or the firm on a broader level. I am personally trying to develop expertise in risk management using derivatives that can hopefully help my career.
On the career development aspect, I would like to think that exceptional fixers have a distinct advantage when it comes to career development as they are more adaptable to new situations and have the ability to think broadly, which is preferable for top positions (anything over VP) as long as they also have a reliable expertise. I have worked with many work-horses and they are wonderful that their job, but they lack the ability to think outside their circle of competence. Instead of competence, I prefer to delegate tasks that are within my circle of INCOMPETENCE and try to have a complete view of each matter and come up with a structural solution so that we don't have to address again. I think this skill set is better for long-term development.

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Most Helpful
Jan 4, 2019

In general, I associate Guy 2 with experts, C-level execs, and industry leaders.

Being a workhorse is a very middle class value that will only get you so far (albeit this includes doctors, lawyers, MDs, and other very well paid professionals). However, specialization is what separates the primary care doctor who lives in a McMansion and sends his kids to private school from someone like Robert Spetzler (world renowned neurosurgeon). It's what separates a small town PI attorney from one who handles complex commercial real estate transactions in New York. It separates the guy who "grinds" his way to MD from the guy who leverages his sell-side experience and starts a hedge fund in his mid 30s or early 40s.

I personally believe a lot of "fixers" are imbued with innate ability (e.g. high IQ) that gets combined with a fair amount of luck that ultimately leads them to where they end up. Regardless, the economy values experts over "hard working" generalists. Indeed, many of the jobs performed efficiently and reliably by generalists are the most susceptible to automation and ultimate redundancy.

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Jan 4, 2019
dsch:

In general, I associate Guy 2 with experts, C-level execs, and industry leaders.

Being a workhorse is a very middle class value that will only get you so far (albeit this includes doctors, lawyers, MDs, and other very well paid professionals). However, specialization is what separates the primary care doctor who lives in a McMansion and sends his kids to private school from someone like Robert Spetzler (world renowned neurosurgeon). It's what separates a small town PI attorney from one who handles complex commercial real estate transactions in New York. It separates the guy who "grinds" his way to MD from the guy who leverages his sell-side experience and starts a hedge fund in his mid 30s or early 40s.

I personally believe a lot of "fixers" are imbued with innate ability (e.g. high IQ) that gets combined with a fair amount of luck that ultimately leads them to where they end up. Regardless, the economy values experts over "hard working" generalists. Indeed, many of the jobs performed efficiently and reliably by generalists are the most susceptible to automation and ultimate redundancy.

Respectfully, I'm not sure that I agree with your characterization of #2 as a neurosurgeon. A neurosurgeon is someone who got extremely good at exactly one job: operating on the brain. In that way, he may have at least as much in common with #1 as #2. In my mind a better analogy for #2 would be an ER doctor: someone who may not be the best at anything, but is ready to throw themselves into any situation and try to help, probably with a better than average chance of triageing the issue.

There is no question I am #2. I worked for a tiny firm that was acquired by a huge shop with zero expertise in the field. (Think floating rate loans bought by an all equity shop 100X as large) I'm pretty qualified at a lot of things, but probably not industry best at anything. We've brought on a couple top-flight subject experts, and its clear they know more than I do in their fields, but my advantage is I can talk like a junior on their level. I also know the next five steps down the line pretty well and can blow them away there, and I can shine where we don't have an imported expert, or when we need to connect the different steps. I've presented before our GIPS committee as a subject matter expert, argued sucessfully with vendors, and spotted major problems, but my boss gets annoyed at my mediocre powerpoints and sloppy emails. (I do not use professional enough fonts, and no, it is Veranda or Calibri most of the time--No Comic Sans jokes please) To be honest, I'm not sure if being Guy #2 is going to advance my career, but it definately makes office life more fun than being Guy #1.

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Jan 7, 2019

I think you are both over-fitting the specialist/generalist dichotomy; this is fundamentally a question of personality type. The personalities mentioned by OP would be found in all roles.
For example, is ER an exciting environment where doctors are constantly challenged by new issues, or it is a repetitive process of providing preliminary assistance and assessment, and then referring to the experts? The 2nd person may flourish in identifying exotic illnesses, but probably has a fraction of the efficiency when processing trauma patients. My point is, the boundaries aren't drawn by the role itself, but by the people operating within it.

To respond to OP's question, I would generally say the 2nd person gains more recognition. Whilst a slugger may often offer more value, they are easily overlooked, particularly by management. Often in the workplace, lots of hard work on the mundane tasks goes unnoticed, and people instead focus on the really good or really bad performances. Likewise, unique tasks tend to be those most noticed by managers.

It is variable though, and depends heavily on the structure and independence of the workforce. In a workplace where the manager's own workload relies heavily on the subordinates, I'm sure the slugger gains the spotlight. Likewise, if there are very direct performance measurements, particularly those relating to productivity, the slugger is the superstar.

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Jan 7, 2019

Personally, I think person 2 = more personal development and have a higher likelihood to breakout in his/her career as compared to Guy 1.

Guy 1's resume in 5 years will probably be the standard trajectory: Analyst -> Associate -> VP of bank 1 -> VP of bank 2, etc etc. More stable and definitely has plenty of upwards trajectory, but also less interesting and less chance of capturing the big opportunities that take you from just an employee to a business owner.

Depends on what you want to do and what your personality is like.

Personally, I think Guy 1's skills can be learned by Guy 2 whereas Guy 2's skills might not be (as ability to grind is more of a discipline/attitude question than "skill" per se) - but then again, that's subjective and I'm biased because I personally identify more and would like to be Guy 2 over Guy 1.

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Jan 7, 2019

Fixers trade on getting things done and the harder the thing, the more valuable the fixer. Being the go-to when the going gets tough is the ultimate currency. Being a good Guy 2 is a virtuous cycle that creates incredible career opps. (Some of the value is rooted in the positive emotional attachment created in the mind of the person with the problem once it's solved, but don't underestimate that figurative and literal sigh of relief.)

That said, in my experience Guy 2 has to start as Guy 1, because the assumption is that Guy 2 can do everything Guy 1 can do, but he's more experienced in doing specialized jobs. I think the doctor example @dsch gave is apt because neurosurgeons can and do have ER experience (in med school at the very least) but then they elevate their job to a more specialized role. Not elevating oneself to a valuable role is the risky road.

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Jan 4, 2019
Edifice:

Fixers trade on getting things done and the harder the thing, the more valuable the fixer. Being the go-to when the going gets tough is the ultimate currency. Being a good Guy 2 is a virtuous cycle that creates incredible career opps. (Some of the value is rooted in the positive emotional attachment created in the mind of the person with the problem once it's solved, but don't underestimate that figurative and literal sigh of relief.)

That said, in my experience Guy 2 has to start as Guy 1, because the assumption is that Guy 2 can do everything Guy 1 can do, but he's more experienced in doing specialized jobs. I think the doctor example @dsch gave is apt because neurosurgeons can and do have ER experience (in med school at the very least) but then they elevate their job to a more specialized role. Not elevating oneself to a valuable role is the risky road.

There is an alternate way to being guy #2, which was mine. I networked and became known as someone who was way too skilled for my position, then got a recommendation to join a start-up, and went from there. It's not easy or repeatable, but it is what happened.

Also, has anyone noticed that this thread has 20+ silver bananas and zero monkey shit? That has to be a WSO record. (A dollar says I get hit with monkey shit for pointing this out)

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Jan 7, 2019

someone who was way too skilled for my position, then got a recommendation

In that case, I think we're saying the same thing, no? Become a skilled generalist so you have the experience to do everything well enough that clients are happy, and then use those broad skills to synthesize new solutions to sticky problems to keep ahead of superiors' needs. (smarter, not harder?)

Also, has anyone noticed that this thread has 20+ silver bananas and zero monkey shit? That has to be a WSO record.

Haha I'm in NYC so maybe after midnight all the MS takes a break. The question is thoughtful though, glad several people shared thoughts.

I also know the next five steps down the line pretty well and can blow them away there, and I can shine where we don't have an imported expert, or when we need to connect the different steps

Perhaps I'm projecting my experiences a bit but that uniquely positions you to see problems before they occur. That alone makes people more valuable than colleagues.

I'm not sure if being Guy #2 is going to advance my career

I'm so confident it will (+ your networking skills) that I would be surprised if there were a strong argument for Guy 1's life.

edit: typos

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Jan 8, 2019

From a manager's perspective the workhorse is completely replaceable. You can always find kids from targets (or better yet non-targets) who will sell their soul for their job. Better yet just hire an extra body if you need more manpower. Trying to pick out your future key guys from an interview line-up is much more difficult, those are the guys that leave a genuine void when they exit.

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Jan 9, 2019

Interesting question but I'm not sure it needs to be asked. Ultimately being a fixer is innate, whereas being a workhorse is voluntary. The key point is that these things are not mutually exclusive so I'd have thought that if you just keep working hard, why not just see where you end up?

Although you see the higher echelons stacked full of fixers, it's very rare that they're not also workhorses below the surface. Similarly, fixers thrive in more powerful positions and you typically need to be a workhorse to get to those positions in the first place.

Jan 9, 2019

It's not really a question of demand, rather of longevity. As in, most tenable employee. The expert problem solver might have a chance to create and start on their own, but even that's a risky endeavor where you'll be fighting for survival everyday. Is there less turbulence with being the first type of person?

Jan 9, 2019

I'd say #1 has longest tenure on average. Little mistakes / unwillingness to grind are likely to get you fired early on and you're less likely to be viewed as 'too expensive for' or 'bored with' your current role (whatever that is).

Of course, the fixer has much more attractive exit ops and greater upside within the organization. I just think the vol is higher on that path.

Jan 9, 2019
iBankedUp:

...

Guy 2:

...You keep asking him to do more as he goes above and beyond. ...Rather, when there's a problem, you go to him to seek help.

I think that's the key. Guy 2, IMO.

Jan 9, 2019

People always need someone that will dig in next to them in the foxhole when things get gritty. People also always need the expert in the unknown. Great question, I don't have a clue. I think they both flourish over the long term but shine at different points.

Not too high, not too low

Jan 9, 2019

I agree that some posters may be overlooking things, most importantly- You cant be a good fixer WITHOUT first being a good grinder. Trust me, CEO's and HF manager's are doing a lot more grinding behind the scenes than you would imagine.

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Jan 10, 2019

I prefer being the fixer. You go in and bring order to chaos. It's interesting and you have to think. Once stuff sets into business as usual, I get bored. This is why consulting works for me. Granted, the downside is that the stress levels can spike from time to time and there's also the possibility that something can't be fixed, but overall, yeah....fixer.

Jan 13, 2019

Pretty interesting, I've noticed this too, I'm definitely a type 2 guy, and usually can accomplish a ton when paired with 1-2 type 1s.