The Five mind of a manager

The five minds of a manager
Dec 31
Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg Harvard Business Review

The chief executive of a major Canadian company complained recently that he couldn’t get his engineers to think like managers. It’s a common complaint, but behind it lies an uncommonly important question: what does it mean to think like a manager?

Sadly, little attention has been paid to that question in recent years. Most of us have become so enamoured of leadership that management has been pushed into the background. Nobody aspires to being a good manager any more; everybody wants to be a great leader. But the separation of management from leadership is dangerous.

Just as management without leadership encourages an uninspired style that deadens activities, leadership without management encourages a disconnected style that promotes hubris. And we all know the destructive power of hubris in organisations. So let’s get back to plain old management.
The problem, of course, is that plain old management is complicated and confusing. Be global, managers are told, and be local. Collaborate, and compete. Change, perpetually, and maintain order. Make the numbers while nurturing your people.

How is anyone supposed to reconcile all this? The fact is, no one can. To be effective, managers need to face the juxtapositions in order to arrive at a deep integration of these seemingly contradictory concerns. That means they must focus not only on what they have to accomplish, but also on how they have to think. Managers need various mind-sets.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with headquarters in Geneva, has a management development concern. It worries that it may be drifting too far towards a fast-action culture. It knows that it must act quickly in responding to disasters everywhere – earthquakes and wars, floods and famines – but it also sees the need to engage in the slower, more delicate task of building a capacity for action that is careful, thoughtful, and tailored to local conditions and needs.

Many business organisations face a similar problem: they know how to execute, but they are not so adept at stepping back to reflect on their situation. Others face the opposite predicament: they get so mired in thinking about their problems that they can’t get things done fast enough.

We all know bureaucracies that are great at planning and organising but slow to respond to market forces, just as we’re all acquainted with the nimble companies that react to every stimulus, but sloppily, and have to be constantly fixing things. And then, of course, there are those that suffer from both afflictions – for example, firms whose marketing departments are absorbed with grand positioning statements while their sales forces chase every possible deal.

Those two aspects establish the bounds of management: everything that every effective manager does is sandwiched between action on the ground and reflection in the abstract. Action without reflection is thoughtless; reflection without action is passive. Every manager has to find a way to combine these two mind-sets to function at the point where reflective thinking meets practical doing.

But action and reflection about what? One obvious answer is: about collaboration, about getting things done co-operatively with other people in negotiations, for example, where a manager cannot act alone.
Another answer is that action, reflection and collaboration have to be rooted in a deep appreciation of reality in all its facets. We call this mind-set worldly, a quality the Oxford English Dictionary defines as experienced in life, sophisticated, practical.

Finally, action, reflection and collaboration, as well as worldliness, must subscribe to a certain rationality or logic; they rely on an analytic mind-set, too. So we have five sets of the managerial mind, 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. Collaboration takes the subject beyond the self into the manager’s network of relationships. Analysis goes a step beyond that, to the organisation; organisations depend on the systematic decomposition of activities, and that’s what analysis is all about. Beyond the organisation lies what we consider the subject of the worldly mind-set, namely context – the worlds around the organisation. Finally, the action mind-set pulls everything together through the process of change in self, relationships, organisation and context.

The practice of managing, then, involves five perspectives:

Managing self: the reflective mind-set.

Managing organisations: the analytical mind-set.

Managing context: the worldly mind-set.

Managing relationships: the collaborative mind-set

Managing change: the action mind-set.

Managing self.
Managers who are sent off to development courses these days often find themselves being welcomed to boot camp. But this is wrong-headed. While managers certainly don’t need a country club atmosphere for development, neither do they need boot camp. Most managers we know already live boot camp. Besides, in real boot camps, soldiers learn to march and obey, not to stop and think.
These days, what managers desperately need is to stop and think, to step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences.
In his book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky makes the interesting point that events, or happenings, become experience only after they have been reflected upon thoughtfully: most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns and synthesised.
Unless the meaning is understood, managing is mindless. Hence, we take reflection to be that space suspended between experience and explanation, where the mind makes the connections. Imagine yourself in a meeting when someone suddenly erupts with a personal rant. You’re tempted to ignore or dismiss the outburst you’ve heard, after all, that the person is having problems at home. But why not use it to reflect on your own reaction whether embarrassment, anger, or frustration and so recognise some comparable feelings in yourself? Your own reaction now becomes a learning experience for you: You have opened a space for imagination, between your experience and your explanation. It can make all the difference.
Organisations may not need mirror people, who see in everything only reflections of their own behaviour. But neither do they need window people, who cannot see beyond the images in front of them. They need managers who see both ways.
Successful visions are not immaculately conceived; they are painted, stroke by stroke, out of the experiences of the past. Reflective managers have a healthy respect for history not just the grand history of deals and disasters, but the everyday history of all the little actions that make organisations work.
Managing organisations. Literally, analysis means to let loose (from the Greek ana, meaning up and lyein, meaning loosen). Analysis loosens up complex phenomena by breaking them into component parts by decomposing them.

Analysis happens everywhere in context (industry analysis), with relationships (360-degree assessments), and so on. But it is especially related to organisation. You simply can’t get organised without analysis, especially in a large company. Good analysis provides a language for organising; it allows people to share an understanding of what is driving their efforts; it provides measures for performance. And organisational structure itself is fundamentally analytic; it is a means of decomposition to establish the division of labor. Just look at any organisation chart, with all the boxes neatly lined up.
Picture the modern manager in an office in a tall building, looking down on the grid of the city below and across at the offices of companies in other buildings. From this perspective, the manager does not see individual people so much as systems of organisation, power and communication. Turning around, that manager is surrounded by the plush paraphernalia of his or her own company, the fruits of many people’s tireless work on structures and systems and techniques. All of this represents analysis in the conventional sense: order and decomposition. How is such a manager to escape the analytic mind-set? We prefer a different question: how is the manager to get truly inside the analytic mind-set, beyond the superficialities of obvious analysis, into the essential meanings of structures and systems? The key to analysing effectively is to get beyond conventional approaches in order to appreciate how analysis works and what effect it has on the organisation.

Consider three related tasks, one simple, one complicated, one complex.
Building a pleasure boat can be relatively straightforward; it’s about such things as the ratio of displacement to length. Building an aircraft carrier is far more complicated, involving the co-ordination of all kinds of sub-systems and supply networks. Yet even here the component parts can be readily understood and the necessary behaviours made rather predictable. But a decision on whether to deploy that aircraft carrier can be truly complex: who is to say with any certainty what is the right thing to do, or even what is the best thing under the circumstances?

Making that kind of complex decision means standing above shallow analysis and easy technique just running the numbers and going deeper into the analytic mind-set. You have to take into account soft data, including the values underlying such choices. Deep analysis does not seek to simplify complex decisions, but to sustain the complexity while maintaining the organisation’s capacity to take action.
The problem for many managers today, as well as for the business schools that train them, is not a lack of analysis but too much of it, at least too much conventional analysis. This is exemplified by that popular metaphor in finance of the tennis player who watches the scoreboard while missing the ball (much like the marketer who studies the crowd while missing the sale).

The trick in the analytic mind-set is to appreciate scores and crowds while watching the ball.
Managing context. We live on a globe that from a distance looks pretty uniform.
Globalisation sees the world from a distance, assuming and encouraging a certain homogeneity of behaviour. Is that what we want from our managers? A closer look reveals something rather different.
Far from being uniform, this world is made up of all kinds of worlds. Should we not, then, be encouraging our managers to be more worldly, more experienced in life, in both sophisticated and practical ways? In other words, should we not be getting into worlds beyond our own – into other people’s circumstances, cultures so we can better know our own world?

Being worldly does not require global coverage, just as global coverage does not a worldly mind-set make. Indeed, global coverage does not even ensure a global perspective, given that the managers of so many global companies are rooted in the culture of the headquarters’ country. But there are companies that seem to be reasonably global as well as worldly; a Shell, perhaps. Shell has, of course, long covered the globe. But because of social pressures, including a headquarters that has always had to work across two cultures (Dutch and British), it has struck us as rather worldly. By this we mean that the company tailors and blends its parts across the world, socially and environmentally as well as economically. It must find and extract oil without violating the rights of the people under whose territories the oil lies, and it has to refine and sell that oil in ways that are respectful of the local environment. That may seem clear enough today, but think about what companies like Shell went through to get there.

While global managers may spend a lot of time in the air, they become worldly when their feet are planted firmly on the ground of eclectic experience. That means getting out of their offices, beyond the towers, to spend time where products are produced, customers served and environments threatened.
But maybe it’s not quite as hard as it seems. One way to begin is through immersion in a strange context: get into someone else’s world as a mirror to your own. To manage context is to manage on the edges, between the organisation and the various worlds that surround it. Managers have to mediate those wide zones where organisation meets context not just, for example, customers acting in markets, however differentiated, but all those particular people in particular places buying and using products in their own particular ways.

Managing relationships.
Managing is about working with people as bosses and subordinates but, more important, as colleagues and partners. Yet despite all the rhetoric about collaboration, in the West, at least, we often take a narrow view. Thanks to the influence of economic theory, we see people as independent actors, detachable human resources or assets that can be moved around, bought and sold, combined and downsized. That is not the collaborative mind-set.

A truly collaborative mind-set does not involve managing people so much as the relationships among people, in teams and projects as well as across divisions and alliances. It means getting beyond empowerment, a word implying that the people who know the work best must somehow receive the blessing of their managers to do it, and into commitment. It also means getting away from the popular heroic style of managing and moving towards a more engaging style.
By being worldly themselves, they foster collaboration among others. And they do less controlling, thus allowing other people to be in greater control of their own work. Our Japanese colleagues call this leadership in the background; it lets as many ordinary people as possible lead.

When John Kotter was asked if the members of the Harvard Business School class of 1974, whose careers he followed in his book The New Rules, were team players, he replied that it was fair to say that these people want to create the team and lead it to some glory, as opposed to being a member of a team that’s being driven by somebody else. That is not the collaborative mind-set. Having to run the team may be necessary at times although we suspect it’s needed far less often than most people think but it hardly represents a collaborative point of view, nor does it foster teamwork. Leaders don’t do most of the things that their organisations get done; they do not even make them get done. Rather, they help to establish the structures, conditions, and attitudes through which things get done. And that requires a collaborative mind-set.

We talk a great deal about networks these days, as well as teams, task forces, alliances and knowledge work. Yet we still picture managers on top. Well, then, picture yourself on top of a network, looking down on it.

That puts you out of it; how can you possibly manage its relationships that way? To be in a collaborative mind-set means to be inside, involved, to manage throughout. But it has a more profound meaning – to get management beyond managers, to distribute it so that responsibility flows naturally to whoever can take the initiative and pull things together. Think of who manages the World Wide Web.
Managing change. Imagine your organisation as a chariot pulled by wild horses representing the emotions, aspirations and motives of all the people in the organisation.
Holding a steady course requires just as much skill as steering around to a new direction. An action mind-set, especially at senior levels, is not about whipping the horses into a frenzy, careening hither and yon. It is about developing a sensitive awareness of the terrain and of what the team is capable of doing in it, and thereby helping to set and maintain direction, coaxing everyone along.
There is nowadays an overwhelming emphasis on action at the expense of reflection. The Red Cross Federation is unusual, not in experiencing this problem, but in being aware of it. In addition, people are obsessed with change. We are told that we live in times of great upheaval, that everything is changing, so we had better be in a constant state of alert.
Look around. What do you see that has changed recently? Your clothing? (Your grandparents wore cotton and wool; they too buttoned buttons.) Your car? (It uses the basic technology of the Model T.) The aeroplane you’re flying in?
(That technology is newer: the first commercial jet aircraft took flight in 1952.) Your telephone? (That changed about 10 years ago. Unless, of course, you are not using a cellular phone.) Our point is not that nothing is changing. Something is always changing.
Right now it is information technology. But many other things are not changing at all and these we don’t notice (like buttons). We tend to focus on what is changing and conclude that everything is. That is hardly a reflective mind-set, and it is detrimental as well to the action mind-set.
We have to sober up to the reality that change is not pervasive, and that the phenomenon of change is not new. If the reflective mind-set has to respect history, then the action mind-set could use a little humility.
The dominant view of managing change is Cartesian: action results from deliberate strategies, carefully planned, that unfold as systematically managed sequences of decisions. That is the analytic mind-set, not the action one. Monsanto went into genetically engineered agriculture with that approach, with its strategy all worked out in advance. With control of seed varieties and certain pesticides and fertilisers, it could bring an entire ecosystem to the market. And it had the research capacity and presence worldwide to do it. So it set about a series of brilliantly conceived acquisitions and effectively positioned the company to be the Microsoft of agribusiness. But the farmers and consumers weren’t there – they were more enthusiastic about continuity at that point – and the plan collapsed.
Change, to be successful, cannot follow some mechanistic schedule of steps, of formulation followed by implementation. Action and reflection have to blend in a natural flow, and that has to include collaboration.
Of course, energised action is necessary too, but that doesn’t mean being hyperactive or fiddling around endlessly with structure. It means remaining curious, alert, experimental. Changing is a learning process, and so is maintaining course. We may think of stasis as the norm and change as driven, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

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1 Comment »

  1. Eustahije said

    Hi,

    Would somebody clarify how Mr. Mintzberg uses the words mirror people and window people. In which context he uses those words?

    Thank you

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