Following our recent contributions to the PAACC newsletter, we’ve received several questions regarding transitioning top talent into leadership roles. Several chamber members have discussed their frustrations in promoting folks into managerial roles.

In the past, organizations have been structured so that leaders lead, managers manage, and doers do. That’s no longer the case. There has been a drastic shift in the expectations of what employees should bring to their jobs. From the CEO to the front-line customer service representative, the entire organization must be relied upon for innovation, decisions, and—yes—leadership.

Role mindset theory explains how situational performance in a job can be maximized by an approach where an individual applies behaviors in a way that aligns for maximum effectiveness. When you say role mindset, you are looking at the mindset a person or group applies to a particular role. For instance, the same person may behave differently in roles such as parent and employee.

In role mindset theory, there are four distinct approaches to a job that require vastly different levels of complexity, authority, autonomy, and strategic thinking. The four approaches that make up role mindset theory are:

  • Contributor
  • Supervisor
  • Manager
  • Leader

Contributors Complete Tasks

The contributor mindset allows an individual to focus on completing a specific task-related work product. Assembling widgets, answering first-line customer service inquiries, taking orders in service industries, and other similar jobs require the contributor role mindset. As a rule of thumb, if there is a to-do, it is likely to be a contributor-oriented task.

Supervisors Oversee Actions

The supervisory mindset is used to keep an eye on contributors to ensure they’re doing the right things at the right time at the right pace to meet a defined objective. Checking the work of an employee, addressing a behavioral issue, ensuring on-time delivery of a promised product, and demonstrating how to get something done are all characteristics of someone skilled at applying the supervisory mindset.

Managers Achieve Results

The manager mindset is to ensure that teams are meeting goals together. Managers work with individuals to ensure that their tasks are being achieved in concert with their teammates so that the collective effort achieves the desired results. They’re navigating some of the complexity that would otherwise trip up individual contributors and supervisors while keeping an eye on their peers and leaders to sense when a change in direction might be on the horizon.

Leaders Enable Progress

The leader mindset must look at nearly unlimited variables and filter noise from signals to understand what goals are worthwhile for the organization to make progress toward a vision. Further, leaders must translate what they see into a meaningful direction and priorities for managers to follow, using incentives to drive outcomes.

Alignment and Agility

Today, no job exists where there is only one role mindset required. Success requires all four. Role mindset agility is the ability to move up and down the staircase seamlessly and effortlessly.

We can easily imagine the dangers of trying to run up and down a set of steps. In role mindset theory, it is easy to both fall down the stairs and trip up them.

Many professionals are in jobs where most of their time should be spent applying a manager or leader mindset to maximize their effectiveness. If they have not developed sufficient habits to overcome their tendencies, they end up falling down to the contributor (doing) or supervisor (telling) mindset. The result is a team that is either scared of making a mistake or passively waiting until their leader swoops in to solve the problem.

It’s easy—and even justifiable at times—to regress to role mindsets that have served you well in the past. It’s easy for a CEO, who might be struggling to develop a vision, to spend too much time managing results. For managers, as achieving results becomes more difficult, it can come naturally to get into monitoring the actions of the team. And supervisors sometimes feel more natural doing it themselves.

For next leaders, tripping up tends to be the greatest challenge. For those who are just learning to elevate themselves out of contributor or supervisor roles, it can be easy to get tripped up by old habits that have been central to their past successes. Sometimes, it’s not even their fault. Organizations often offer promotions that include new responsibilities, without offering new training, while asking people to do their old jobs in tandem with their new responsibilities.  

Adapted from our best-selling book, The Leadership Decade: A Playbook for an Extraordinary Era. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit for a hardback book or for an ebook. For even more information, check out