The Toolbox

The Toolbox

We’ve had a lot of contractors in and out of our home over the past three weeks of home reconstruction after our flood. First, the emergency disaster cleaners. Since then: plumbers, electricians, and flooring experts. Soon, we expect drywall hangers and painters.

Without exception, all of the folks working on our home have been extremely professional, well prepared, and focused on putting our home— and our life — back together as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

Each contractor has brought his own tools. What the floor installer needs is different from what the plumber needs. I don’t know a lot about tools, but these guys do. They bring the right tools for their tasks and they get the job done.

I don’t see them standing over their toolboxes, picking up their tools in turn, pondering which one is the right one for the job. They know intuitively which one to use. And they use them. And, they get the job done.

As a practitioner of leadership, I have a lot of tools at my disposal, lessons learned from the best theories and practices of my field. However, choosing the right tool is not as clear-cut for me as it is for a contractor. Leadership theories are not one-size-fits all. And, I don’t have a row of theories, like wrenches, lined up in a box.

In any situation, I may be able to apply several different problem-solving strategies. I can view situations through different frameworks of understanding and try a variety of solutions (using several different tools) before I find the right fit.

Practicing leadership is a mix of science and art. Because leading others is, at the heart of things, about relationships and people, I need to be flexible and make adjustments.

Perhaps, over time, knowing which leadership tool to use will be intuitive, second nature. Until then, I will keep my toolbox nearby, using trial and error until I get it right.

Join the conversation!

What leadership practices do you most often rely on?

What are the leadership tools you use to get the job done?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission. 

Filed As:  LeaderTalk, leadership

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Hi Becky,
    “Deliberate practice” will make leadership intuitive, but no matter how reflexive it becomes there are always situations that come up that are unexpected and require a tool that is new. I currently am working with a manager with 30 years of experience who got stumped by something she hadn’t dealt with before. We explored the tools she could use (and didn’t yet have) and found a few to help. She’s practicing using them, and I’m sure they’ll become a part of her permanent toolbox soon!

  • I think questions are the most important tools I use. In order for me to find out the scope of the problem, the objective or the goal, I need to ask some questions. The answers to those questions become like colors, shapes and objects on a blank canvas forming a picture. Really listening (which is an equally important tool) allows me (and the person I am helping) to get on the same page. Then we can start getting something accomplished!

  • It can make it really hard to come up with an answer to the question “what do you do?, too!
    Ultimately I think it is the principles we embrace that are our best tools of all because it is the enduring core of our individual artistic expression of leadership as we continue to navigate the unfamiliar.

  • Good post. I had a similar conversation a few months ago with the Dean of my doctoral program. He believes that leadership isn’t a model or theory, but rather an intelligence. That intelligence involves knowing which theory or model to draw from.

  • Three leadership practices that I rely on are visibility, interpretation, and consensus. Using simple tools, such as post-it notes, index cards and flipcharts, I help teams post data about elements of their situation that everyone can see and explore. Using the tools of questioning and listening, I help teams to interpret that data and determine its significance. Using the tool of Roman Evaluation, I help team decide what do about significant problems.

  • I am new to this blog but am enjoying your thoughts, and that of the other comments. The first thing I thought was that because it has to do with the relationships with people, You have to look at each person as they are made. What works for one guy may not work for the next in the exact same situation. Understanding people are different is a huge key for me. I think others would agree. The second thing that came to mind was from Joshua Symonette’s comment above – questions. I am a firm believe that when time and resources allow, helping someone DISCOVER the solution will benefit them and the organization multiples over compared to a quick answer or doing it yourself. Asking the right questions is key here, know what the right question is, now that is what takes some experience to get a handle on. The best way to learn though is to take the time and talk to your team. Any interaction with this is welcome. I am new to this blog and really look forward to hearing from you.

  • Is “listening” a tool? I think so. It’s the other part of “questioning.” But sometimes the listening comes first in order to know what questions to ask.
    Emotional Intelligence is a tool I rely on in leadership. Self Awareness, Self-management,Empathy, Motivation, and Social Skills all support my desire to share my vision for the business or organization and influence others to join me in the journey toward that goal.

  • I am in sync with Penelope (@leadingu). My foundational tools are listening & asking questions. Conversations are enhanced when you able to be ‘in the moment’ with your friend, colleague or family member. ‘Presence’ is achieved through paying attention to all the ways they are communicating (words, tone, body language) and showing you are connecting with them through your listening as well as through asking questions that help surface richer elements of the conversation.

  • @Mary Jo Thanks for sharing your story. It is encouraging to realize that even seasoned leaders benefit from helpful coaching and introductions to new tools.
    @Joshua I agree that questions are a great leadership tool. Using questions with your team takes — in my mind — more thoughtfulness and deliberateness than just sharing your own opinions and ideas.
    @David – interesting. Your Dean’s idea makes a lot of sense. Has he written about it anywhere?
    @Susan I love your sense that each of us expresses our leadership in a unique and artistic way.
    @Steven I think we agree on the importance of questioning and listening and I look forward to checking out your link. Thanks for sharing it!
    @Timothy Welcome to LeaderTalk. I hope you will become a regular contributor to the conversation here. I agree with you about helping people find their own solutions. The learning that takes place when people discover their own way is powerful!
    @Penny I think listening is so important.
    @David Being present and in the moment are things you just can’t fake — and people feel valued when we can be present with them in an authentic way.

  • Hey this was quite an interesting post to read.Really liked the way you have brought in the comparisons and then subtly mixing the two things together..outstanding job!Leadership according to me in man management.For that one has to use various tools skillfully in order to execute the job in hand in a precise manner.One does learn a lot from being on the job.It is a process.Therefore it needs to be given adequate in order to get desirable outputs.Patience and perseverance are the other two important factors.

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