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The Five Minds of a Manager: Insights from Mintzberg and Gosling

May 9, 2011

Updated July 12, 2014

The Five Minds of a Manager is one of those classic pieces that will remain timeless. First published in the Harvard Business Review in November 2003, it’s even more relevant today. The volatility of global markets, advancements in telecommunications, the effects of an ageing population and financial pressures facing public and private sector managers are just some of the trends demanding effective managerial skills.

Henry Mintzberg needs little introduction. As one of the few leadership-management experts who is solidly grounded in empirical research (his PhD dissertation in the early 1970s was on the work of middle managers), Mintzberg continues to rock the boat. His 2009 highly acclaimed book Managing is essential reading for any practicing or aspiring manager-or for anyone trying to get a grasp on the distinction between management and leadership. In characteristic form, Mintzberg states that “organizations have been overled and undermanaged.” Mintzberg continues on as the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University.

Jonathan Gosling is the director of the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter in Exeter, England. He’s widely published in management periodicals, a respected author on leadership and works as a leadership consultant with companies and governments. In 2009, he became Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership Development with INSEAD in France.

This post highlights their key messages. However, you can download the full article here.

First off, Mintzberg and Gosling prefer to talk about “managers” and “management;” they don’t fall into the “leadership” and “leader” trap.

To become an effective manager requires the “deep integration” of what the authors call “mindsets.” Through their combined experiences of many decades, they created a framework consisting of five aspects of the managerial mind. The underlying premise for their framework is their belief of two essential characteristics that form the basis for management: action and reflection.

Making decisions (action) without taking the time to consider options (reflection) is thoughtlessness. The reverse is passiveness. The challenge for every manager is to determine how to merge these two mindsets: “…to function at the points where reflective thinking meets practical doing.”

However, possessing action and reflection only goes so far. To accomplish results means that the manager must enroll people to help. Collaboration. And to further the capacity of people to achieve results is bolstered by understanding the context in which they are collaborating. This requires a mindset that can be called worldly. Finally, to complete the ability of the manager to operate in worldly context, a rational approach is important. This is the analytic mindset.

This is Mintzberg’s and Gosling’s five managerial mindsets, which serve as the foundation for their five module management development program.

1) Reflective Mind-Set: Managing Self
2) Action Mind-set: Managing Change
3) Collaborative Mind-Set: Managing Relationships
4) Worldly Mind-Set: Managing Context
5) Analytical Mind-Set: Managing Organizations


Mintzberg and Gosling caution that their framework is not definitive in explaining the role and functioning of managers. It is not scientifically-based, nor comprehensive. They suggest that the reader view the five mind-sets as an “attitude” that opens up new possibilities.

1) The Reflective Mind-Set
Without an understanding of meaning from one’s experiences, managing becomes a “mindless” exercise. Reflection, as the authors explain, is the “suspended space” between where the manager has had an experience and the explanation for it. This space is where the individual is able to make the linkages, including possible options – call it imagination space.

Organizations do not need managers who see the world through their personal behaviors (“mirror” people) or those who are unable to see beyond immediate situations (“window” people). What they require are managers who are capable of seeing both ways: through their personal reflection they see the world around them. As they put it: “…reflective managers are are able to see behind in order to look ahead.”

2) The Action Mind-Set
The authors use the analogy of wild horses pulling a chariot (the organization). As much as competent managerial ability is needed to move an organization in a new direction, as much skill is required to maintain its course. Corralling the energies, hopes and aspirations (the horses) of people and focusing them towards a common vision is the management challenge. It demands that managers understand the landscape in which their teams are working and collaborating.

Action is critical in this environment; however, it must be accompanied by reflection, especially when managers must know which things need to be changed and which ones must be maintained. This is where action and reflection need to be integrated. As they explain: “Action results from deliberate strategies, carefully planned, that unfold as systematically managed sequences of decisions.”

3) The Collaborative Mind-Set
People are not “detachable human resources” or “assets,” commodities that can be traded. However, this has been – and continues to be – the approach most organizations take with their employees. A collaboration mind-set does not follow this practice. The authors use their work with Japanese colleagues as the example of how a collaboration mind-set involves managing the relationships among people, not managing people.

A true collaborative mind-set entails transcending empowerment, where the conventional belief is that managers must bestow their “blessing” upon their staff. It means building commitment among people through engagement. It means dissolving the “heroic” style of leadership.

Mintzberg and Gosling refer to their Japanese colleagues who talk about “leadership in the background,” tantamount to embracing a shared leadership practice where employees throughout the organization share in the leadership. As they state: “Leaders don’t do most of the things that their organizations get done; they do not even make them get done.”

4) The Worldly Mind-Set
This mind-set has become even more important since the authors wrote their article in 2003. They make a critical distinction between the words “globalization” and “worldly.” The former involves perceiving the world from a distance, contributing to a sense that it is more or less uniform. A worldly view, in contrast, delves into the cultures, habits and customs of peoples living near and far.

The authors point to transnational corporations where operations in countries far away essentially reflect managers portraying the cultures of the home office. They use Shell as a transnational that has successfully created both a global and worldly view within their dispersed operations. Shell tailors and blends its diverse operations based on geography, social, economic and environmental needs.
Shifting from a global to worldly perspective includes:

• From generalizations to specific conditions,
• From global firms not being responsible for local consequences to consequences being a critical performance indicator,
• From the world converging to a common culture, to the world resembling a patchquilt.

5) The Analytical Mind-Set
When using the metaphor of the manager peering downwards from a tall office building to the streets below, the view is one of people being parts of a system. Surrounding that manager are the physical assets, techniques, structures and systems, which cement an analytic mind-set and approach to solving problems.

Mintzberg and Gosling pose the question of how do managers get beyond the superficialities of data and analysis, to the deeper meanings of structures and systems? Complex decision-making involves more than dealing with quantitative data; it requires understanding qualitative (soft) data and the nuances underlying them, such as values. The authors talk about “reflective analysis,” representing the integration of hard and soft data.

Woven Mind-Sets
Mintzberg and Gosling use the metaphor of fabricating cloth, in which the manager is the weaver and the threads are the five mind-sets. “Effective performance” represents how the manager weaves each mind-set in with the others, producing a solid product in the end.

In the context of the mind-sets, this means that the manager must be capable of analyzing, reflecting, acting and collaborating, keeping the big picture in mind. This cycle repeats itself as new insights and opportunities materialize, provoking new reflection, new collaborations, etc. The authors’ final comment is one on which to reflect:

“Effective organizations tailor handsome results out of the woven mind-sets of their managers.”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2015 5:45 am

    Writing a management assignment. This resource is a great find!
    Thankyou 🙂

    • January 2, 2015 12:46 am

      Glad it’s of assistance to you. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for sharing a comment. Be sure to drop by again.

  2. April 10, 2014 1:51 am

    Insightful, meaningful and inspiring! I will go back to this article. Thank you so much!

  3. May 9, 2011 8:11 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Caitlin, and especially for sharing very useful information.

  4. May 9, 2011 7:21 pm

    Great Article!

    There are actually several programs around the world now leveraging Mintzberg’s Five Managerial Mindsets concept. At the University level, the Five Mindsets form the overall structure of the IMPM, IMHL, Paths to Leadership (http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/education/schools/school-of-medicine/about/faculty-development-72310.cfm) and HEC McGill MBA programs.

    Similarly, at the corporate level, CoachingOurselves (coachingourselves.com), co-founded by Mintzberg, is based on the Five Mindsets methodology. CoachingOurselves is management development, based on discussion and reflection on experience in light of conceptual ideas, anchored in the workplace. J-Feel in Japan also offers the Reflection Round Table, structured from the Five Mindsets and using CoachingOurselves topics.

    Many of the abovementioned programs also integrate CoachingOurselves in a variety of ways, for instance HEC uses the CoachingOurselves topics in their classroom sessions, as a compliment to and to help deliver their programs.

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