The 5 Minds of a Manager

McGill professor Henry Mintzberg’s, one of the leading thinkers on management and strategy, suggests that effective managers operate with 5 distinct mindsets, mostly simultaneously:

“There are five ways in which managers interpret and deal with the world around them. Each has a dominant subject, or target, of its own. For reflection, the subject is the self; there can be no insight without self-knowledge or, as Socrates put it, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Collaboration takes the subject beyond the self, into the manager’s network of relationships. Analysis goes a step beyond that, to the organization; organizations depend on the systematic decomposition of activities, and that’s what analysis is all about. Beyond the organization lies what we consider the subject of the worldly mind-set, namely context—the worlds around the organization. Finally, the action mind-set pulls everything together through the process of change—in self, relationships, organization, and context.

This powerful framework is the basis on which we have designed Leading in Disorienting Times, Our new cohort-based leadership development program. Let’s take a look at each management mindset in a little more detail.

The Reflective Mindset

Learning theorists like Chris Argyris talk about single and double loop learning.

Single loop learning involves simple cause and effect: if I turn this switch up, a light comes on; turn it down, the light goes off. I have learned how to use a light switch. Double loop learning would have me reflect on why I want the light on, what I plan to do when it’s on, etc.


It’s a silly example perhaps, but the point is that real learning comes when I am willing to challenge my needs, assumptions, and conclusions and, in so doing, be prepared to alter my actions based on that reflection. In our busy, complex world we spend far too little time really thinking about what we’re thinking.

The Collaborative Mindset

More and more we realize that virtually all things happen in the context of relationship with others, and this is increasingly true in the world of leadership.

The days of the heroic leader getting things done on their own or by simply treating people as if they were part of some great organizational machine are long gone. We seemed to be experiencing more and more of what Kempster and Higgs (2012) call “blended leadership: followers who want both the certainty of unambiguous top-down direction and vision linked with participative, collaborative and networked local activity.”

Leaders and managers need to learn skills of dialogue, collaboration and win:win negotiation if they are going to move forward in complex environments.

The Analytic Mindset

Good management and leadership require a high degree of analytical capability, even when situations are highly unpredictable.

I favour Hugh Courtney’s notion of “residual uncertainty” (20/20 Foresight) that suggests the first analysis is the level of uncertainty with which we are dealing – even after you have done the best analysis you can. When the future is reasonably predictable then traditional business school tools like SWAT, PESTEL and Five Forces Analysis work extremely well.

However, when levels of residual uncertainty are high then a much more subjective analysis becomes necessary until one ends up in the world of a SWAG: Strategic Wild Ass Guess!

The Systems Mindset

This is my preferred term for what Mintzberg calls a worldly mindset. When we learn to really see our organization as a complex system nested within multiple systems, we have a much more meaningful albeit challenging perspective. We begin to look for patterns and trends, non-linear movement, and anomalous or disproportionate effect of actions by specific agents within the system.

Check out our book, Leading in Disorienting Times, for more thoughts on a systems mindset. Better yet, sign up for the course!

The Catalytic Action Mindset

This happens when intentions become actions, when ideas move forward, and simple ideas “scale up” to have disproportionate effects. We learn to create and support a culture in which reasoned risk, experimentation, and continuous learning are normative. All the other mindsets are active and engaged when the catalytic mind is active.

This is not a linear model; all mindsets are active all the time. For the effective leader/manager it is a question of which are foremost at any give time and which sit in the background. This leadership business ain’t as easy as it looks!

Peter_bio2Peter Dickens

Peter Dickens is passionate about leadership and change. He helps people and organizations that serve others to revitalize their leadership and ministry at Follow Peter on Twitter (@Dr_PeterDickens).

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