Leadership – Putting Down Our Hammers

“The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature.  The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.  What is not good they call the worst, and what is not hateful, they call the best.”                                                                       – Ralph Waldo Emerson –

Photo courtesy of Steven Taschuk @http://www.flickr.com/photos/stebulus/

Photo courtesy of Steven Taschuk @http://www.flickr.com/photos/stebulus/

If you would lead, and lead well, you must become a master of discernment.  This is really what many schools of leadership teach.  The entire concept of situational leadership, made famous by Blanchard and taught in many leadership courses, stresses this concept in the context of interpersonal relationships, as does the current obsession with “emotional intelligence.”  If we are to lead, we must learn to see the nuance in every situation.  The problem, as Abraham Maslow said, is that “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

The leader’s job is to understand that maybe, just maybe, the problem might be a screw.

And if it is a screw, then perhaps before we go to our toolbox we should consider what kind of a screw it is.  Is it a Phillips, or a square slot combination, or a tri-wing, or a square socket?  Is it a Quadrex, a clutch, or perhaps a fluted socket?  Is it one of those irritating, nameless screws that comes with the children’s furniture you got for Christmas and now cannot figure out how to assemble?

We are appointed as leaders not because our organizations need us to be masters in a technical specialty, but rather because our organizations need us to become masters of human nature, masters of discernment.  We need to be able to see all the shades of grey.  We must be able to tell whether we are looking at nails or screws.  And we must be willing to lay down our hammers when only a screwdriver will do.


5 thoughts on “Leadership – Putting Down Our Hammers

    1. jamestollefson Post author

      I’m sorry. Perhaps tomorrow you’ll need dynamite. That should be more fun.

      At least you’re not clearing a minefield with a metal probe. That’s no fun at all.

      1. dunkablog

        Good point! I have used the minefield metaphor when dealing with difficult people. I never know what will set them off! I learned how to orchestrate my way around them in many cases. I call it the psycho sidestep.

  1. Sam Cannon

    Howdy. Try Maslow’s Hierarchy updise-down, a la Maslow.org. Also note that hammer quote came from Polanyi’s “Personal Knowldege.” Especially note Maslow’s connection to Blackfoot (Siksika) in Alberta. You speak B-language. Ping.


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