Employer vs. Employee Mentality. Which Do You Have?

06/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We were coaching a woman (we'll call her Donna) who is an associate partner in a law firm. Donna has been with the firm for 10 years and was promoted to limited partner 18 months ago. The managing director of the firm expected to see a change in how Donna approached the business - after all, she was now a limited partner. Her next career step would be a full fledged equity partner, assuming she was invited to join at that level. The managing director was starting to have doubts about her future with the firm. He had spoken to Donna about the expectations he had of partners and explained he wanted her to act more like an employer than an employee. It had been a year and a half, and Donna wasn't getting it.

When we sat down with Donna she had a very definite goal - to be an equity partner. Since she was highly motivated we asked her what was preventing her from making that transition to more of an employer mentality. She said "I'm not sure how to do that". She said she knew that it meant thinking more like a boss but what did that really entail?

It might seem fairly straightforward but there are thing that are indicative of an employer mentality.


Here's what companies are looking for:

What do we need to do to grow the business? This is the type of thinking that senior management is looking for, and you don't necessarily have to have all the answers. Just by raising the questions, "How do we increase our business in this vertical?" or "How do we penetrate new markets?" will demonstrate that you are thinking about the big picture. Once that's on the table, a plan can be put in place to address it.

Problems then Solutions - Every company has their share of problems. Whether it's growing their brand, training their people or streamlining processes, there are usually some areas that need to be strengthened. What employees typically do is complain about things without offering potential solutions. Thinking more like an employer means having some idea of how you would approach the problem. Even if your solution isn't the one that's embraced, it's important to have some ideas of how to solve it.

Mentoring - Help people grow in their careers, even those who aren't your direct reports. If someone has a skill deficiency, help them turn that around. Let them know you care. You can send them to training or put them on a project that will developed that skill, or work with them side by side until they've improved. Beyond helping them with a specific skill, position them for advancement. Delegate to them or have them sit in on important meetings. Investing in your company's talent will benefit everyone and elevate you in senior management's eyes.

Bigger Presence - Developing your own brand and having a bigger presence will benefit you and your organization. You can raise the profile of the firm and attract new clients by joining a board, writing articles (traditional or blogs), speaking on panels or attending and hosting networking events. To be pegged as someone who is always looking for ways to strengthen the business by increasing the company's reputation as well as your own, will mark you as someone ticketed for bigger things.

Having a POV in Management Meetings - The management meeting exist to highlight and solve problems and explore opportunities. Bringing managers together and having all that brain power in the same room doesn't do any good if no one contributes. You're in the room because they want to know your point of view. It doesn't mean that they'll agree with it, but as a manager, they certainly expect you to have something substantive to say. Most meetings have agendas that are circulated beforehand. Take a close look at all the items on the agenda and come up with one or two key points about each one.

Importantly, you don't need to be in management to have an employer mentality. In fact, that's how most people rise to senior management. They take ownership in the business and look for ways to help strengthen the company. This thinking can be done at all levels and is appreciated even at the most basic levels. Whether you are already part of senior management, transitioning to senior management or just starting your career, it's important to start thinking more like your employer. Having an employer mentality will shift you to the major leagues.

Fred & Gladys
Whelan Stone
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success