By Amir Poonsakvarasan

For me, approaching being a leader or a manager starts with your mindset. A mindset is a set of attitudes and beliefs that drive what you do and why you do it. In our first article of the series, Deven touched on several skillsets and attributes needed to be successful as a manager and a leader.

The best managers are highly skilled at taking “unstructured work” and scoping and organizing it. They can divide it effectively across a team of people with the aim of staying on or ahead of schedule and within or under budget. The best leaders are visionary thinkers who can construct a vision themselves or with others. They can convey that vision with conviction, passion, and with enough detail that others can see what the end looks like to rally behind and support it.

Much like leadership, there has been a tremendous amount of research on mindsets leaders should embody. Some of the recent and notable books that come to mind are Carol Dweck’s: A Summary of Two Mindsets (Fixed vs. Growth) and the Arbinger Institute’s The Outward Mindset. I encourage you to read both books because they reframe your mind in your work and personal life. However, I won’t rehash these concepts here. 

Instead, I will reinforce the following up front: Managers can be leaders by being mindful and intentional with how they carry themselves in each arena. Today, more than ever, our teams, businesses, and organizations depend on us to be both and the ability to toggle between the two much like a light switch or a toggle button is immensely powerful.  

How do I know what my switch is turned to?

As Deven stated last week, you cannot expect different results if you do not change your behaviors and actions and even more broadly your mindset. So how do you know what your switch is turned to and more importantly how to turn to the other setting?

When the management light switch is on…tasks, activities and the work take center spotlight. Good management reinforces an emphasis on diligently adhering to processes, tracking status and addressing risks and issues that may deter from the work. Although managers are “managing” people and work, I’ve often felt that the work is the focal point. In project management parlance, people are often referred to as a commodity (“resources”) to get the work done. The proverbial “stand-up”/scrum meeting is a great example of when your management light switch is on and shining bright. You are running through a checklist or punch list of tasks and making sure the team is on track to meet the overall deliverable. A few ways your management light switch is helpful:

1.     Need structure now: There are moments when your team “needs someone to just take charge.” Often these are firefighting or pressure cooker situations where there isn’t a lot of time. A manager can take the dimensions of the work, time and resources to create a plan to execute and deliver on what’s being asked. Managers are also good in situations that require strong quality control and assurance as well as finding ways to increase throughput with a finite set of variables because of their intimate understanding of “how things work” in an organization.

2.     Just the facts, please: Managers tend to rely and convey how things currently work. They rely on metrics/key performance indicators (KPIs) to tell them how the work is going and where it could be better. They spend less time in the “art of the possible” and more in the “art of what I can see in front of me”.

3.     Solving problems: Managers can be very good problem solvers when they have the majority of the facts and variables defined. Since managers are very process oriented, they often times can be the first to cite the bottleneck or reasons for inefficiencies and problems. Again, when up against a tight timeline. Spoiler alert: This shows up under leadership too. I’ll explain.

When your leadership light switch is on…your team\people\stakeholders command the spotlight. They feel your attention and focus on them in what you say and what you do. You recognize that your vision of an idea can only be executed once they understand why and what you are trying to accomplish, and they have committed to following you. 

1.     Inspiring with an irresistible “why”: I come from an extensive change management background and I’m always talking to my clients about the “why” when they embark on large transformation, culture, etc. initiatives. The why” may seem trivial in the scheme of things. After all, “if you build it, they will come” right? Not likely. Simon Sinek has famously said “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it”. The future is not guaranteed. The only way to have people commit to a vision is to help others understand why this is so important and what we hope it will look like in the end.

2.     Strengths-based coaching and growing people: When you have a leadership mindset, you tend to look at the long game when it comes to growing a capability or a set of competencies. Perhaps, it goes hand-in-hand with the visionary thinking. Your team becomes less of short-term commodities assigned to tasks and more of a long-term investment that can create a lot of value when coached and given opportunities to grow professionally. By focusing time and energy on people and meeting them where they are, not only can you learn a lot about them but slowly you begin to build invaluable trust capital.

3.     Solving for problems: So, yes managers and leaders can both solve problems (mind blown). Leaders look at problems through a slightly different lens. While managers tend to focus within “the box”, leaders tend to take more of an innovative “break the rules” approach to solving the problem. Take Martin Luther King and Gandhi in their approach to peaceful protesting for social change. Take the NASA team that helped save the crew of Apollo 13. Take Elon Musk and his team who built an electric car that does not sacrifice looks for energy efficiency.

As you have seen in this post and in future posts in the series, leadership and management are very intertwined and that’s why it can be very challenging to know what switch you have on at any given time. The best thing to do is to pause and reflect. Ask yourself what you are prioritizing at that moment, my people, or the work? How can that look different to change the outcome of the situation? And yes, ask others through the appropriate feedback channels on what they are seeing and feeling. Stay tuned for next week’s post from Dwayne. Wishing everyone good health!