Balancing the Mindsets of Managers

What does it mean to think like a manager? That subject receives little attention. We tell people don’t be managers, be great leaders. But separating management and leadership is risky. Leadership without management produces a disconnected approach that promotes arrogance, just as management without leadership encourages an uninspired style that numbs action. 

One issue with management is the dichotomy of instructions. We tell managers to think globally and act locally. Work together and compete. Constantly change, and maintain order. Make the numbers while caring for your employees. So managers must weave in these opposing objectives to be effective. That illustrates they must concentrate not only on the tasks at hand but also on how they must think. Managers require a variety of mindsets.

The Mindsets of Managers

Many businesses know how to execute, but they struggle to take a step back and assess their situations. Others are in the opposite condition: they become so overwhelmed by their problems that they cannot get things done quickly enough. Even in the same companies, we may have departments with opposite mindsets. 

Those two components define management’s boundaries: everything a competent manager does is sandwiched between action on the ground and abstract thought. Reflection without action is passive, while action without reflection is thoughtless. Every manager must learn to blend these two mindsets to function at the intersection of contemplative thinking and practical. But what about action and reflection? One view is that it’s all about collaboration, about working together with others to accomplish goals—such as in negotiations, where a manager can’t act alone. Another response is that action, meditation, and collaboration must all be grounded in a deep understanding of reality. This is known as the “worldly mindset” which is based on life experience, sophistication, and practicality. Worldliness requires managers to also be logical and analytical. 

Researchers have discovered that there are five ways that managers interpret and deal with the world. Each has its dominating aim. The self is the subject of contemplation — there can be no insight without self-awareness. The collaboration broadens the scope of the discussion beyond the individual to include the manager’s network. The analysis takes it a step further, to the level of the organization. Companies rely on the methodical division of operations, which is what analysis is all about. Beyond the organization is the worldly mindset. This contextualizes the worlds that surround the organization. Finally, by change management—in self, relationships, organization, and context—the action mindset brings everything together.

This management practice incorporates five views of the manager’s world: 

• Self-management: the reflective mindset

• Organizational management: the analytic mindset

• Managing context: a worldly perspective

• Relationship management: a collaborative mindset

• Change management: the action mindset

Each of these managerial mindsets is an attitude. It is a mental state that allows you to see new possibilities. You can’t open yourself to fresh ideas unless you get into a reflective mindset, for example. Without a worldly mindset, you might not even notice such thoughts in the first place. You can’t appreciate the opportunity for action until you participate in them.

A mindset is a setting of your mind. These settings of the managers’ minds are perspectives. But they can be minefields if incorrectly used. If you do too much of any of them—for example, excessive analysis or compulsive collaboration—the mindset can blow up in your face.

Organizations do not need “mirror people,” who only see themselves reflected in everything. They also don’t need “window people,” who can’t see beyond what is directly in front of them. Instead, those companies need managers who can see both ways. Managers these days need to pause and reflect—to take a step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences.

Reflective managers can also see past them to see ahead. Successful “visions” aren’t created perfectly; they’re crafted, stroke by stroke, from past experiences. In other words, reflective managers have a healthy respect for history—not just the tremendous history of deals and disasters, but also the everyday history of all the small actions that make organizations function. If you want to use the present to get to a better future, you must value the past.

The Analytical Mindset in Organizational Management

Analyze means “to let go.” By reducing complicated events into constituent bits, analysis loosens them up. Without analysis, it’s impossible to get organized, especially in a large company. Good analysis gives a vocabulary for organizing. It enables people to share knowledge of what motivates their actions, and it provides performance measures. And the organizational structure is inherently analytic—it is a decomposition tool for determining work allocation. Take a look at any organizational chart, with all of the boxes nicely aligned.

But making decisions based on analysis requires more than just calculating the numbers. Soft data, like the values for such decisions, must be considered. Deep analysis seeks to maintain complexity while preserving the organization’s ability to act. Too much analysis is traditional analysis. Traditional analysis is watching the scoreboard without studying the crowd. Deep analysis appreciates both. 

The Worldly Mind-Set: Managing Context

We live on a globe that appears to be consistent from afar. “Globalization” looks at the world from afar, assuming and fostering a certain level of behavioral similarity. Is this what we expect from our bosses? A closer examination reveals something unexpected. This universe is made up of many worlds and is far from uniform. 

While worldly managers spend a lot of time in the air, both physically and metaphorically, they become worldly when their feet are on the ground of varied experiences. That involves moving out of their offices and into the field, where things are made and consumers are served. 

Changing one’s perspective from global to worldly isn’t easy. But it might not be as complicated as it appears. One method to start is to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar environment: Like a mirror to your own, enter someone else’s reality. View things differently from the outside to reflect differently on the inside. 

Managing context involves managing on the margins, between the organization and the numerous worlds that surround it—cultures, industries, and businesses. It’s no surprise that managers need to be worldly. They must negotiate the vast areas where the organization collides with context—not just customers acting in markets, but all those specific people in specific places purchasing and consuming items in their unique ways.

The Collaborative Mindset in Relationship Management

A collaborative mindset focuses on relationships between people, in teams and projects, and between divisions and alliances. To reach a collaborative mindset, you must move beyond empowerment into commitment. 

Engaging managers listen more than they speak, and they get out of their offices to see and feel rather than sitting and calculating. They inspire collaboration among others by being worldly themselves. They also do less regulating, enabling others to have more autonomy over their job. This leadership allows as many ordinary people as possible to lead. 

Two Approaches to Managing

Most of the work done by organizations is not done by their leaders. Instead, the leaders assist in building the structures, situations, and attitudes that allow things to be achieved by others. And that requires a cooperative mindset.

We still think of managers as being at the top. Imagine yourself perched atop a network, looking down on it. That eliminates you from the equation. How can you possibly control its interactions in this way? Being in a collaborative mindset entails being present, involved, and in charge throughout. But it also has a deeper meaning. Expand management beyond managers. It should spread responsibility so that it naturally flows to those who can take the initiative and bring things together. 

The Action Mindset for Managing Change

Consider your company as a chariot drawn by wild horses. All of the people in the organization’s emotions, aspirations, and motives are represented by these horses. Maintaining a steady trajectory demands just as much expertise as changing directions.

It’s not about beating the horses into a frenzy with an action mindset. Instead, it’s about acquiring a delicate understanding of the terrain and what the team can do in it. Then assist in setting and maintaining direction while urging everyone along. 

There is an abundance of emphasis on action instead of thinking in our society. We are fascinated with disruption. We are constantly reminded that we live in turbulent times, that everything is changing, and that we must remain vigilant at all times. Change or die.

So, take a look around. What have you noticed that has lately changed? What are you wearing? (Your ancestors wore cotton and wool and buttoned their buttons as well.) Your car? (It employs the Model T’s core technology.) Which plane are you taking? What about your phone? (About 10 years ago, that changed.) 

The point isn’t that nothing is changing. No, things are constantly changing. But many other things remain unchanged, and we are unaware of them (like buttons). We tend to concentrate on what is changing and assume that everything is changing. That is not a contemplative mindset, and it is also counterproductive to the action mindset. We must face the reality that change is not universal and that change is not a new phenomenon. If the introspective mindset must respect history, the active mindset could benefit from a dose of humility.

Without continuity, change has no meaning. Everything that is always changing has a name: anarchy. Nobody wants to live with it, especially not a business that wants to exist. Businesses are evaluated based on the products and services they provide, not on the changes they make. As a result, without continuity, change cannot be handled. As a result, the difficulty in the action mindset is to focus energy on the things that need to change while keeping the rest in check. And make no mistake: maintaining consistency is not any easier than maintaining change. Do you recall the wild horses?

The mainstream perspective of change management is that action is the outcome of carefully planned, deliberate plans that unfold as methodically managed sequences of decisions. That is analytic thinking, not actively thinking. Monsanto used that approach to genetically altered agriculture, planning its strategy ahead of time. It may bring an entire ecosystem to market by controlling seed varietals, herbicides, and fertilizers. It also possessed the scientific capacity and global footprint to do so. As a result, it embarked on a series of astute acquisitions that essentially positioned the company as the Microsoft of agriculture. But the farmers and customers weren’t there—they were more interested in maintaining the status quo at the time—and the plan fell apart.

Of course, enthusiastic action is required, but this does not imply being hyperactive or fussing with structure incessantly. It involves staying curious, observant, and trying new things. Changing and staying on track are both learning experiences. We may consider stasis to be the norm and change to be forced, but this does not have to be the case. Members may resist change in an organization because they see that the change will be dysfunctional. They, in turn, may engage in “silent change” of their own, re-creating procedures regularly to improve performance.

Bringing Different Mindsets Together

These five mindsets do not represent rigid clusters. They require different classifications, but they overlap and are more than just words. They’re more than metaphors, but they can help us comprehend how they’re connected.

Consider the mindsets to be threaded, and the manager to be the weaver. Effective performance entails weaving each mindset over and under the others to build a fine, durable fabric. You think before you act. But this did not go as planned, so you reflect. You act again, only to become stuck, recognizing that you can’t accomplish it alone. You must work together. To do so, though, you must enter the world of others. Then comes more analysis to articulate the new findings. Now you act again—and so on, as the fabric of your endeavor takes shape.

But one piece of cloth is insufficient. When the clothes of the organization’s diverse managers are sewed together into useful garments—when the organization’s managers collaborate to combine their reflective acts in analytic, worldly ways—an organization is a collective entity that accomplishes a shared purpose.

All managers must immerse themselves in all five mindsets. But many managers naturally gravitate toward one or the other, based on their circumstances and personal preferences. Some people are more introspective than others, while others are more action-oriented, and so on. Finance and marketing have their fair share of calculating managers (plenty of analysis), salespeople can be a little too worldly at times, and HR professionals can be overly excited about the collaboration. As managers get to know one another and share their talents, the weaving, like the stitching, becomes increasingly collaborative.

Companies are quite concerned about seamlessness. But we all appreciate seams that are nicely sewn, just as we appreciate mindsets that are nicely combined. Effective organizations tailor handsome results out of the woven mindsets of their managers.

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