Not all tools are created equal.
My youngest daughter is about to get married. I like the guy she is saying “yes” to. He totally reminds me of myself – but that’s beside the point. He bought a house about a year ago and wants it to be nice for my daughter. One of the things that my daughter has hinted at is the desire to have bigger dining table. Taking the hint, my future son-in-law decided to build the table for her – himself. Lest you think my daughters’ hints about the table were subtle…she has been pinning tables on Pinterest for him for quite a while. So, after some research, he found the plan he wanted to undertake and he went for it.
He invited me to help him out which I was glad to do and on the day of the big build I asked him if he had everything he needed. He said he did. I showed up to find his Jeep full of lumber and ready for unloading (this was going to be a rustic table). As I looked around I noticed that there weren’t very many tools. So I asked, “How are you going to cut your lumber?” He said, “I’ve got a hand saw.” I answered, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like for me to get my power saw?” As we processed it together, we agreed that the power saw might be the better way to go. When I went home to pick up the saw I picked up several extra tools as well. I think we were both glad we had them when the project was over.
Now – lest it appears that I’m trying to one-up my future son-in-law – I’m not. There was a day – that I was him. I was just starting out, my tool budget was low, I had lots of ideas, I was in love (and still am) with a girl that I wanted to do nice things for and I was sure I could do it myself (I had no other choice – I couldn’t afford to buy it). The issue was that when I tried to build things with my small tool box I never seemed to get the results I wanted. On “This Old House” their work always looked so pretty and precise. Mine looked like it had been mangled, chewed up and spit out. My heart was in the right place – I might have even had some innate skill to pull it off – but my tools were woefully inadequate.
Rabbit chase…I can even remember a time that I tried to open a bottle of wine in our early marriage with a lag screw. I don’t recommend it – unless you want bits of cork in your wine. Take my advice, spend the money and get a good cork screw…just sayin.
Bottom line…the right tools matter. They matter in construction and they matter in leadership.
You might expect that at this moment that I would jump into a rant about the top five tools to have in leadership but I’m going to resist that for now. Actually, there are many great tools out there. Too many to mention in this writing. But there are equally as many interpretations about which ones are the best.
So rather than talking about specific tools let me offer an idea. Before you and I can get a sense of the best tools to use we have to have a sense of our worldview (see prior blog posts). Why? Because tools follow worldview. Think about it. What you and I value out of our worldview drives what tools we will ultimately want (and use) in our tool belt.
Here’s an example. PBS is filled with all kinds of “fix-it” shows. I’ve already mentioned This Old House. Another show on PBS has a guy who builds things using no power tools at all.* He is quite the minimalist…and seems to love it. What’s more…he seems to get great results. The stuff he builds is very nice. But his tools are so different from This Old House. How can that be? Shouldn’t all craftsmen use the same tools?
Consider this, there are all kinds of people making all kinds of cool stuff using all kinds of different tools. In our lifetime you and I will choose certain tools and call them the “best” – because they make sense to us. Not only that, the more we use them, we will develop skills around our tools of choice (we’ll talk about skills in the next part) and we will accomplish a certain level of proficiency and results with them.
But make no mistake – those who use power tools will tend to process the world differently than those who don’t. I know this sounds corny but stick with me. We can declare one way better or worse if we wish – but I would say that that isn’t the point. The bigger question is what tools resonate with your values and worldview?
An example. Several years ago I was introduced to a book that really resonated with my leadership worldview and values. It was written by Pat Lencioni. It was called “The Advantage.” Simply put, the idea from the book that resonated with me was that of culture. Lencioni said that building a healthy organizational culture was arguably the most important thing that any organization could do. More specifically, he spent a lot of time talking about how to build team and consensus which he considered critical to healthy culture.
I totally drank the Kool-Aid on that book. It made perfect sense to me.
As a result, in the years since that read, I have tried to leverage this concept (tool) in many different conversations, jobs and coaching opportunities. It felt so natural – so right. It was obviously the greatest tool that had ever been created so it should impact everyone just like it impacted me – right?
Guess what – it didn’t. At first I was kind of dumbstruck. “Why don’t you get this?” “This is the greatest idea ever!” But slowly I began to realize – if you have a John Wayne leadership worldview – consensus building is probably not a tool that makes a lot of sense in your tool box. It doesn’t make the tool any more or less valuable. It’s simply that a tool’s worth is found in the hands of the person whose worldview and values leverage it for what they view as progress.
At the risk of mixing my metaphors – in my leadership worldview – I totally riff on the works of Pat Lencioni and Jim Collins. But in your world it may be something totally different. The search for the best tools is a lifelong effort – but it’s my effort – and yours. I can share with you the tools that make sense to me – but ultimately you have to do the work of discovering your own tools. The tools that you will keep in your toolbox. These are the instruments that you will use to improve with.
So – a few final thoughts that have tended to serve me well. First, don’t underestimate the work of discovering your values and worldview – no tool will inspire you apart from getting those straight. Second, constantly be on the lookout for tools that resonate with you. Read, research, watch a TED Talk, experiment and see what really offers the results that undergird your values and world view. The proof is always in the pudding. Finally, keep an open mind. Just because a tool may not resonate deeply with your worldview now don’t declare it useless forever. You never know when you might need that little tool that is seldom used in the bottom of your toolbox.
*The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill.