Five employability mindsets

the five platonic solids by Johnson Cameraface

Which shape represents which mindset?

As I have just started teaching on the Chartered Management Institute Level 5 Diploma at the University of London, I thought it would be sensible to continue my recent activity of applying management theories and models to the world of careers coaching.

Most of the early conversations about employability and career management tended to focus on asking the question ‘How do you help students to develop skills or competencies that will make them effective in the job market?’. There tend to emerge two types of answer to this question: you give them training or you give them experience.

This mirrors the argument that has been running in the area of leadership development for a long time. There are those who argue that training without experience is too abstract (and therefore worthless) and there are those who argue that experience without training is random (and therefore worthless).

A slightly different perspective that seems to be emerging lately is that training, experience and combinations of training and experience tend to be more effective when participants have greater levels of self-awareness or when the training or experience itself promotes greater self-awareness.

One aspect of self-awareness that interests me is awareness of one’s own default mindset. Partly because of my interest in MBTI, I am conscious of the various ways in which different people approach the same problems. That’s why I was excited to come across a management model called the Five Managerial Mindsets.

According to Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg the five managerial mindsets represent default ways in which individual managers tend to approach situations.

Action mindset

This is all about managing movement or change. In an action mindset you are focused on achieving results and making things happen. The action mindset is closely related to managing change and transformation.

The downside of an action mindset not balanced by other approaches is that you might be drawn to action for action’s sake and change for change’s sake without sufficient deliberation.

Someone working well in the action mindset is able to balance movement with stillness and see the need for both change and continuity.

In career terms, someone who lurches from job to job without thinking about what they have learned about themselves in the process might be a victim of an overdose of action mindset.

Reflective mindset

This is all about managing the self. In a reflective mindset you are focused on understanding and interpreting events, actions and, above all, yourself. The reflection mindset is closely related to meaning-making and personal growth.

The downside of a reflective mindset not balanced by other approaches is one of over-rumination and indecision.

Someone working well in the reflective mindset is able to transform themselves and take action which transcends their experience.

In career terms, someone who is constantly dissatisfied or paralysed by indecision may be suffering from an overactive reflective mindset.

Analytical mindset

This is all about managing organisation and information. The more senior a manager you are, the less contact you have with the day-to-day realities of your organisation and the more you have to rely on information that is provided to you by others. This information is always subject to some sort of filter based on the assumptions you make and the questions you ask. In the analytical mindset you are focused on making decisions based on imperfect and incomplete information.

The downsides of an analytical mindset are either that you place too much trust in the data, not realising that it is flawed, or that you mistrust any data unless you have had direct experience.

Someone working well in this mindset uses what information they have judiciously and is prepared to cope with a certain level of ambiguity or uncertainty.

In career terms, someone who feels that they cannot evaluate a career option until they have experienced it or who assumes they know everything about an option without researching it may be suffering from problems with their analytical mindset.

Worldly mindset

This is all about managing context. In a worldly mindset you are aware of the influence of your own cultural environment on your decisions and assumptions. You are also aware of the value of other cultural perspectives and seek to understand them.

The downsides of the worldly mindset are either cultural imperialism, imposing your perspective on others, or inconsistent relativism, shifting your values with the wind.

Someone working well in this mindset is able to appreciate diversity and adapt themselves to new contexts without losing sight of their own core values.

In career terms, someone who is unable to anticipate or implement the cultural adjustments required when moving from one career context to another (e.g. from student life to the workplace) may not have much practice in using their worldly mindset.

Collaborative mindset

This is all about managing relationships. In a collaborative mindset you are aware of the web of connections that uphold and support your activities.

The downsides of the collaborative mindset are either isolationism, ignorance of your connections with others, or over-dependence on others.

Someone working well in this mindset notices the people in the situation and looks for ways to work with them.

In career terms, someone who fails to appreciate the need to build relationships in order to develop their career may need to work on their collaborative mindset.


  • Do these mindsets seem relevant to employability?
  • Do they make sense to you?
  • Can you think of any other mindsets relevant to employability?
  • How would you raise clients’ self-awareness using these mindsets?

Further reading

Gosling J. & Mintzberg H. (2003). The five minds of a manager. Harvard Business Review, 81(11). PMID: 14619151

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  1. #1 by Ghislaine Dell on 4 May 2012 - 12:09

    Lovely post – i like it a lot and yes, the different mindsets make sense to em and indeed I can think of examples of each of them! I do wonder if there is a ‘one-track-mind’ or ‘head in the sand’ mindset – where people maybe know about other opportunities/people (collaborative), but believe them to be irrelevant.
    I think it would be very interesting to use these mindsets to explore with people in work why they are dissatisfied (if they are!), or those looking for work to maybe put a finger on the ‘thing’ that their next workplace has to have that they can’t articulate.

    • #2 by David Winter on 14 May 2012 - 09:35

      Hi Ghislaine
      I guess a lot of people restrict themselves by the way they think about their situation. If I correctly understand what you mean by ‘one trak mind’ or ‘head in the sand’ mindset, there are a number of other names you might give this:

      One-step thinking – only evaluating an opportunity, resource, event or contact based on its likelihood of producing an immediate, direct pay-off for the perceived problem. If it doesn’t seem to address the problem in one step it is categorised as irrelevant.

      Black-and-white thinking – if you don’t perceive a course of action as being immediately solving the problem you classify it as unhelpful, rather than thinking about degrees of helpfulness. People often strive for certainty where it cannot exist, and where your best prospect is to do things that marginally increase your chances of success.

      I’m already thinking about how to apply these mindsets to careers session. Any thoughts would be very welcome.

  2. #3 by David Shindler (@David_Shindler) on 7 May 2012 - 15:48

    Excellent blog! Worldly mindset fits well with global awareness. Other mindsets might include customer or client, solution-focused, problem-solving, curatorial (probably within analytical) and systemic.

    Another approach to employability I have come across is adopting the mindset of a particular role, e.g. journalist, recruiter, freelancer, entrepreneur, politician etc. Here’s the link

    • #4 by David Winter on 14 May 2012 - 09:40

      Hi David

      I like the idea of thinking about how different occupations would approach career exploration and job hunting. Taking different perspectives is a great way to enhance creative thinking.

      You’ve got me thinking about a different way to apply my RIASEC hats. ‘How would a Realistic / Investigative / Artistic / Social / Entrepreneurial / Conventional person go about exploring your career options?’

      • #5 by David Shindler (@David_Shindler) on 14 May 2012 - 09:56

        Love the RIASEC hats blog – I started reading and thinking De Bono, and then… It got me thinking about diversity. I need to reflect a while on what other different perspectives would be helpful without stereotyping or generalising.

  3. #6 by David Winter on 16 May 2012 - 09:31

    I’m not sure you can avoid stereotyping or generalising. All of these approaches involve isolating one particular way of thinking when most people display a complex mix of thinking styles.

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