Great leaders understand that no two people are alike and that no two situations they encounter will be identical. Thus, they have assembled a leadership toolkit that has all the right tools for all the right jobs. As a leadership coach, I often encounter people who try to use one tool for every job, an approach that rarely works well.
My father was a carpenter who could build just about anything, and it would look great. I, however, could never drive a nail straight. When I was young, he would often tell me, “Son, don’t be like me, be a pencil pusher.” For many years, I thought he was trying to save me from the difficult manual labor that he did. Later, I realized the real reason for encouraging me to be a pencil pusher was that he knew I would never make it as carpenter. I also realized, from watching skilled carpenters, mechanics, plumbers and similar professions is that having the right tools at the right time can make every job quicker, easier and more professional.
In my 40 years as a leader I have learned that having a lot of tools in your leadership toolkit is similarly important in management. Leaders must handle many different situations involving many different personality types, and a limited repertoire of skills limits a leader’s ability to effectively problem solve. As an executive coach, I often work with leaders who may overuse a strength or need to learn new ways of relating to others.
By way of example, some leaders are quite good with “direct” – though sometimes blunt – communication. Being clear and direct can be a great strength, but if used with abandon, that skill may result in damaged relationships. When I begin to work with leaders who need to refine this skill, often they are concerned that they will lose their ability to speak plainly. The perspective I try to help them see is that being direct is an excellent tool if used in the right situation and the right way, but at other times and with certain people, asking more questions may actually be a better way to be “direct.” We want to keep the “plain speak” tool in their toolkit but not have it be the only tool available. A sledgehammer would not the best tool to use if the job is driving a finishing nail into a piece of delicate trim.
How many great tools does your leadership toolkit have? What can you add? What tool are you wearing out? Reorganizing and diversifying your toolkit is worth doing with some regularity, so that you are ready for every job.