What is the mentality and relation to action that sets leaders apart from others?
Leading through and with uncertainty

In order to kick things off, please ask yourself these simple questions:

Do I want to lead? Do I want to be a leader?

Now try to grasp that initial response to the questions above before reasoning and doubt kicks in. Take a mental note from that very first reactive thought and put it somewhere safe for a while. I bet the most of you who got curious enough to give this article a shot, probably said yes.

For those who are anxious to get back checking their Instagram or Twitter feeds or just otherwise with low too long, didn’t read-tendency, I am going to skip right ahead to the conclusions. In short, if your response was positive, there’s two essential things, you should know:

  1. You have to get used to being less certain about things.
  2. You should better get used to being alone with your thoughts.

The two points above sound kind of irrational, don’t they? A good leader stands firm in her foundations and has a razor sharp clarity in her inner vision, right? She’s always accompanied by similar minded people and enjoys the comfort of being understood and supported for her thoughts. However, for a leader that is not a fanatic, I am afraid this is not quite so.

Thing is that for a majority of people, being a leader seems to just a question of social status; it’s about being a person who either possesses or stewards significant amount of resources, stands in the front facing the crowd, and has thereby an elevated social position. When we are talking about true leadership, none of this social status is necessarily required – and vice versa.

Being a leader, be it vanguard or more blending in terms of style – to me at least – is about leaving the comfort of your pack and sticking your head out in search of something better.

Being a leader is about being obsessed about what could be; it’s about managing the non-existing and the great internal uncertainty that comes a long with it.

In essence, the latter part of having this uncertain mind – or in other words a ambivalent mentality – is what sets leaders apart from managers.  For managers, there is no hesitation, you just execute your self contained, step-by-step algorithm.

However, what puts leaders and managers back in the same boat, is their relation to action: a leader has to be also bivalent simply to be able to get stuff done – in other words: you either do something or you don’t. A curious mind, unable to close an activity, results in drifting without making an impact.

Heading for leadership: action and mentality traits
The “valency” of mentality and actions determining your social position. Which one are you?

These drifters in the bottom right corner of the picture above, on their behalf, are sensing souls that lack the ability to shape their ideas into something whole and useful. In addition or alternatively, their actions are controlled by impulse and whim taking away their ability to execute. You don’t see the extreme of this type too often in a regular day jobs.

The group on the bottom left corner, the managed, consists of the people that have extremely polarized opinions, fixed beliefs and limited self reflection.  They also have a low ability to execute and to close an activity without a little push from someone. The managed  are the ones typically being waived from responsibility – possibly by mutual agreement; even if there was will and also ability for autonomous execution, the responsibility is claimed from them by the managers, for whom trust and assumption is the mother of all mistakes. 

When you talk to people even a little beyond the the typical jive, the black’n whiteness and poor self reflection is one of the first things you notice. On the other hand, it’s hard to draw accurate conclusions about someone’s ability to execute. The managers and the managed could be much alike when it comes to a mindset. In fact, it might even help to have certain polarity of mind if you are a manager for a project, just expected to blaze through a list of tasks.

By far and large, in order to be able to question your own opinions and beliefs, firstly you have to know yourself well enough to identify and articulate your beliefs. Coming to terms with what drives you internally, you most likely have to deal with qualities of oneself that are not necessarily the most agreeable. In order to cope with an elevated self reflection, it requires tolerance and even forgiveness for oneself. Granted, there is also the option of self-deception. It is altogether a totally different story.

The level of self reflection. -How well do you want to know yourself?
The level of self reflection. -How well do you want to know yourself?

By far and large, the level of self reflection correlates pretty accurately also with our relation towards change. Where leaders tend to believe to find possibilities in change, the bottom left corner often reacts to change typically in more victim like fashion. This is natural obviously also from the stand point that the managed are located typically in the bottom of the organization charts with slimmer range of options, than at the top of the food chain.

Social positioning 4- fielder: Change
Do you feel like a victim or do you believe you can always find ways to gain control in change?

Exploring the relation to change a little further, even if managers typically have more options in terms of career opportunities (unless you are totally unqualified legacy middle management) than the managed, they might have something more in common than just possibly a polarized view on things. Namely, the mentality trait that might put managers once again in the same boat with the managed, is the question of fixed versus growth mindset.

Do you think you are born with what you have or do you believe and learn whatever you want?
Do you think you are born with what you have or do you believe and learn whatever you want?

Where a growth mindset sees a possibility to learn something from oneself, a fixed mindset typically hates putting herself to a test or against any given evaluation. Usually being able to move up any ladder, be it promotion, a higher position, or a degree of some sort calls for being assessed and ranked. Fearing for unwanted results, bad rankings or even a rejection, a fixed mindset chooses only tests she is sure to win or pass. In the world of no ask – no get, fixed mindset is not going places, she’s at most taken there.

Finally, coming back to the two initial questions:

Do I want to lead? Do I want to be a leader?

No matter what you answered initially to yourself, some of you might see leadership in slightly different light based on what you have just read. Maybe you are able to see much difference between leadership and management better and even see that a manager might be closer to a managed in terms of character than to a leader. This is especially important for all us Finns, where johtaja  or päällikkö draws no real distinction between to two.

All in all, it has to be mentioned that real life is naturally more diversified in terms of outcomes. (Thank goodness!) Everything is also relative, so an individual can have all combinations of characteristics and represent absolutely every single type presented in this article in different environments.

Ultimately, the most important take away to me, especially in this modern, overly complicated world of great and constant turmoil, screaming for better and stronger leadership, is that we need to understand what leaders have to bear with them. Sometimes it would be beneficial, if we could have a bit more tolerance for uncertainty -also when it comes down to the path chosen and shown by our leaders.

It doesn’t take a lot to blame one, but it takes a lot to be one.