Every minute, approximately 765,000 articles about leadership are written. That’s only a slight exaggeration, because we are collectively obsessed with the notion of leadership. But I run across relatively few articles that contrast a leadership mindset against some of the other mindsets that are equally critical to a company’s success, and so I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit about the difference between having a ‘leadership’ mindset and a ‘managerial’ mindset. This is distinct from the role or title that a person might have in their organization; plenty of managers have leadership mentalities, and plenty of leaders have managerial mentalities. However, that’s generally not ideal. Because it turns out the skill sets required of leadership and of management are so different from one another that people with leadership mindsets often end up being terrible managers, and people with managerial mentalities are often terrible leaders.
A leadership mindset revolves primarily around two things – communicating (and then selling) a compelling vision that others can rally around; and assembling a team of people who can effectively execute that vision. As such, people with leadership mindsets are frequently thinking long-term, and they’re also remarkably optimistic about the ability to find solutions to any problems that might arise. When problems do arise, however, people with leadership mindsets generally aren’t the ones who will solve them. They instead will be the ones asking insightful questions, thinking creatively, suggesting alternatives nobody else thought of, and constantly encouraging people to focus on their shared goal rather than the obstacle currently in front of them. And because a leadership mindset is critical for assembling effective teams, these people are generally very good at delegating responsibilities to others and do not expect to do everything themselves. They know that’s not their role; that’s what people with managerial mindsets are for.
The managerial mindset, on the other hand, focuses primarily on execution. As such, the thoughts of these individuals are predominantly centered on what needs to happen right now instead of 5 or 10 years from now – and that means they are more likely to notice potential issues and track on the downside of a new initiative than they are to think about how great things will be once that long-term vision is a reality. People with managerial mindsets are also doers more than thinkers, which might sound like a negative until you remember that a group of thinkers doesn’t accomplish very much if none of them is willing or able to actually get anything done. People with managerial mindsets are exceptional organizers and generally able to step in if someone else isn’t available to get the job done. (People with leadership mindsets, on the other hand, generally know what needs to be done but not necessarily how to do it themselves.) Left alone, an individual with a managerial mindset will make sure the trains run on time but won’t provide many breakthrough innovations. And because they are so good at doing what needs doing, these people are generally not as good at delegating, which means they have a tendency to put so much on their own plates that they don’t have the time or energy to think past what needs to get done right now.
It’s important to understand that both mentalities are necessary for any business to succeed. Without the leadership mindset providing and selling a compelling vision, there’s really nowhere for a business to go; and without the managerial mindset making sure that vision is being executed, there’s really no product for a business to sell.
It’s also important to understand that these two personalities and skill sets do not often overlap. Anyone who starts a business has to think in both leadership and managerial terms, and plenty of people do. But there’s a reason that most businesses stay small. It’s difficult to be simultaneously focused on the big picture and the granular details, on what needs to happen today and what should be happening in five years, on being creative and flexible as well as organized and detail-oriented. Obviously there are exceptions to this generalization. The important point is leadership and managerial mindsets do not share the same skill set, and putting someone with an exclusively leadership mentality into an exclusively managerial role (or vice versa) is not likely to end well.
However, most of us sit somewhere on a leadership/managerial spectrum. We might be more inclined toward leadership qualities than managerial ones, or the other way around. Knowing how we think (or how we prefer to think) is a great way to figure out which types of jobs and assignments will most likely appeal to us and our strengths. And for anyone who falls more on the managerial side of the spectrum, knowing that managerial skills are as unique and critical as leadership skills is great way to help combat the unfortunately prevalent notion that everyone in the world should constantly strive to be a leader.