Leadership tools are good – right?

Red toolbox with the words "What's in your toolbox?"We all love a good tool, whether a physical tool (my favorite pruning saw! the comfort of my old wood-handled hammer!) or, yes, interpersonal leadership tools (such as the ones I teach).

Tools are great.

But knowing how to use them is not automatically granted just because we have the tool. First time I tried using that pruning saw, I nearly clobbered myself with the falling branch. And who hasn’t whacked their thumb instead of the nail?

It’s the same with leadership skills. You come away from a conference or a workshop excited about the tools you’ve learned, only to discover that putting them into practice in the “game speed” day-to-day environment isn’t as easy as expected.

Been there, done that, too.

Learning is uncomfortable

A point I often make in my workshops and talks: learning is uncomfortable.

As adults, we tend to feel as if we should Already Know How. We’re expected to know the answers to tough questions as part of our work (and, of course, back when we were in school). It’s scary to think – much less actually say – “I don’t know!”

But anything you learn, you start out not knowing.

Including how to use tools.

Yes, even those supposedly “soft skill” leadership tools, which in actual practice are anything but “soft.” Interpersonal skills are essential in the workplace – in life! – and they’re tricky. They’re nuanced. They’re situational. And you will inevitably get it wrong some of the time.

Learning isn’t hard. But it very definitely is uncomfortable.

You can’t use a tool until you learn how

“Learning how” is a whole lot more than reading a book or attending a class.

It’s about practice.

Think of yourself as a leadership-skills athlete. Practice.

Not when the stakes are high and your leadership is being tested. Practice in low-impact situations, with family, friends, in your community.

(And if the skill or tool you’re trying to learn doesn’t lend itself to that type of practice, then you may be trying to use something overly complicated. I see this a lot with certain forms of scripted approaches.)

And until you learn when to use it

Bearing in mind the old saying, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” you also need to learn when to use which tool.

Simple tools; nuanced use

If you’ve followed my work at all, you know I’m not a fan of scripted responses, rigid models, or the limitations of labels and “types.”

I believe, and my experience proves, that the simple tools are the most powerful. They’re flexible in how they can be applied; they foster authenticity; and they build trust.

But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to use. They require care, sincerity, and a sense of nuance and situational awareness.

All that said, learning the tools can be fun (see: practice!), and the experience of both the leader and the individual they work with becomes more meaningful, trusting, and collaborative.

And who wouldn’t want to work with tools that generate those outcomes?


I don’t do “talking head” programs. I encourage interaction and practice in the program, and provide ongoing support for practice and learning afterwards. Curious? Drop me a note through my contact form and we’ll set a time to talk.