The Leader’s Toolbox

Posted Thursday, February 21, 2013

Allen Slade

Before rebuilding our friends’ deck, I loaded my van with tools: 3 power saws, 4 drills, 3 measuring squares and a bucket full of hand tools. Why so many tools? Wouldn’t one saw be enough? The circular saw cuts fast and straight, but isn’t maneuverable. The sabre saw cuts straight or curved, but slow. The reciprocating saw is for demolition – maneuverable but leaves a jagged cut. The third measuring square was unnecessary, but every other tool was used repeatedly.

In Leading on Cruise Control, I suggested  that the best leaders adjust to the conditions they face. As a leader, you need a variety of leadership tools and the ability to diagnose what tool is needed for the situation at hand. But tools come before diagnostic skill. If all you own is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Here is a partial list of tools that should be in every leader’s toolbox.

Task and Person Leadership. The ability to focus on task leadership – resource allocation, project management, goal setting and execution. And, the ability to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships.

Communication. One-on-one, small group and large group. Rhetorical persuasion, information sharing, story telling and listening. Requests, offers, negotiations, declarations and assessments. Management by walking around and the ability to influence from a distance.

Decision Making. Data-driven or political decisions. Optimizing or satisficing. The full range of employee involvement – Direction, participation, delegation or empowerment.

Fast and Slow. Strategic thinking and instinctive reaction. The ability to do exhaustive, multi-disciplinary long-range planning and the ability to leap before you look.

Intelligence. Verbal, quantitative and emotional intelligence. The ability to see the big picture and to edit the pixels. The ability to solve problems and to manage paradoxes. Principled moderation.

How do you add tools? Start treating every day as a leadership laboratory.  Do many mini-experiements and get lots of feedback. Take every opportunity to try the new and different. Communicate differently – new groups, new approaches, new technology. Take every class you can.

Longer term, take on big challenges. Get another degree. Take on stretch assignments. Switch functions. Switch careers. Cross cultures.

Prepared MotoristFor an emerging leader, this list can be overwhelming. Be patient. It takes time to fill your toolbox.

For a senior leader, you have many of these tools already. Don’t be satisfied. For the deck project, I could use a miter saw for the trim. Keep adding leadership tools.

How full is your leader’s toolbox? Don’t try to lead with duct tape and a pair of vice grips. Get the tools to do the job right.


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