Leadership – Having the Right Tool for the Right Task

A Phillips screwdriver won’t work on a slot-head screw. It’s tough to drive a staple with a hammer. A master carpenter has a tool for every purpose. An amateur has a few standard tools and tries to make them work for every purpose. So what’s this got to do with leadership?

Leaders acquire or invent the tools they need to fit the circumstances. They let the situation or the problem define the tools or techniques needed, rather than defining the problem by the tools they happen to have available. The look at problems as an opportunity to learn something, rather than merely as an opportunity to apply something they already know.

So a leader is a tool-finder as well as a tool-maker. A leader realizes that unconventional situations require unconventional tools. Unlike amateur managers, who let the tools they happen to have define the situation, leaders let the situation define the tools required.

Of course, a tool is the right tool only in the right hands. A master carpenter and the tool he or she is using are interdependent. They each enable the other. That’s the way it needs to be with leaders.

By itself, a hammer does nothing it was designed to do. In the hands of an amateur, expect damage. In the hands of a master craftsman, expect superior results. No tool or technique can compensate for the inadequacies of their users. We are led – easily on our part – to believe that we can buy smarts, or at least buy something that would compensate for our own or others’ incompetencies. However, you cannot. I cannot. No one can.

The right person is the person who is fully capacitated – fully competent – to combine with that tool or technique what can be achieved when each is “right.” Consider these closing points:

  • A poor tool in the hands of a fully competent person will produce results far superior to a magnificent tool in the hands of an incompetent person.
  • Who is the “right” person? The one who is fully competent to make use of the right tool.
  • Any shortfall in competence lessens the value of the tool.

A leader is someone who has the right tool for the right task – and knows how to use it.

-Lee Thayer