by Colle Davis
Woodworking is one of my hobbies and tools, and their use is part of the art form. The coaching business is my vocation, and the skills/tools for working with people are the stock-in-trade for my clients. The relationship between woodworking, an art/craft, and leadership, a way of being in the world, does not appear to be there.
My studio is a stand-alone 24’ x 24’ building that is air-conditioned and heated. It has over two dozen outlets, 220-volt power, two roll-up doors, over forty feet of bench surface and more cupboards than I could ever dream of filling. My carpentry is done in this magical space. It is a solitary, deeply satisfying experience to work in my mixed hardwood and pine forest overlooking a quiet lake on my property. The 100’ trees help me to relax me and even encourage my creative work.
A leader functions in a noisy, cluttered, people-centric environment. They are expected to know all the answers to problems before they are even problems. There is little slack to make mistakes. People around them are constantly bringing them problems (because they have not been trained to bring solutions), and the organization has rigid, archaic, legal requirements they must follow. The pressure from their reports and their superiors live-and-breathe in their chest and head every waking hour. They need tools to live with the pressure.
Woodworking is a solitary task. Leadership is a group-centric activity. What is the connection? Woodworking requires a few basic tools to produce beautiful masterpieces. Leadership requires an array of skills, talents, abilities, and contacts for success. There are more skilled and successful craftsmen/women than excellent leaders.
Now the similarities; the tools necessary for success require attention to detail while learning and applying them. The craft comes into play when applying the tools to the task. For a foray into tool and woodworking porn, see a few hundred YouTube. For a tiny sampling of the tools for leadership, check out the selection on LinkedIn. Leaders are not born, they are forged in the fire of life, failures, and successes. The fun is in the learning, and then the application sucks.
Using a new woodworking tool is awkward, time-consuming and frustrating. In time, the body learns the control, the focus and the materials yield a semblance of success. Encouraging a client to apply a new behavior in their routine has the same effect. It is awkward, may even appear to be silly or sneaky, requires concentration, can fail at first, and success kisses them on the forehead.
The excitement and fun are in the learning, the knowing you have a new tool. The excitement is short-lived if the results are not up to the expected standards. Children do not have this flaw. They will continue to use the tool until they do it badly, then better, then it becomes part of them. A new tool will rust if not used.
Here is the choice: use the tools you have, make mistakes, learn and get more adroit the more you use them. There are tools in my studio I have never used. A few have never been out of the box and the chances they will ever be used are slim. Why were they purchased? Because I thought I might use them some day. The tools used every day in the studio are the same ones used in high school shop class, including the broom and dustpan.
My clients do not receive this slack. When life pulls them up short, and they discuss the situation in session, a new, or not so new, behavior is suggested, and homework assigned. They have one week to implement the new skill and report back. The fear sets in and the possibility of a huge, catastrophic failure looms in their mind. Then they use the new behavior because they must report the results. The next session is all whoopin’ and hollerin’ about how they pulled it off and the results they received. They even laugh at their hesitation in using the new tool the first time.
Stop collecting tools and start using the skills, talents, abilities, and contacts you already have in the cabinet. You already know how to be a good leader. Yes, you will, on occasion, screw up, and you can always ask for forgiveness, apologize or simply grin like an idiot. The second go-round is easier, and in a few months, you will forget you had to learn the powerful new tool to stay in the game. The behavior is part of you.
Be a better leader, not a better toolmaker. Your career depends on applying your tools, not your knowledge of them.