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The Leadership Toolset

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Sean McDonald of MOR Associates. He may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

When I was 4, my parents bought their first home from the retired local barber, Stanley Chapsky. Stanley was a DIY (do it yourself) handyman, and his tool room and workbench were under the back porch of this small home. When Stanley moved out, he left behind a few tools. I recall quite a random and incomplete set of tools, such as a wood planer, a cleaver, a large drill bit, and a vise screwed into the workbench. Maybe he thought this was a nice housewarming gift for a young family, or maybe these were things he didn’t want. Regardless, for this kid, it did not matter, as I grew up, I recall navigating through the dark gray basement, to this incomplete tool set and the rush of problem-solving and improvising with the wrong tools on some project I was fiddling with.

Though improvising to solve some problems has been a skill worth having, using the wrong tools for a job has not served me as well, especially as a leader. Trying to solve leadership pursuits with the wrong approach, framework, or tool can be a source of stress and frustration. Like any skilled craft, leadership requires tools to get the job done effectively—to get to the desired future state and get there intentionally.

What leadership tools do you rely on? What tools need sharpening? What new tools do you need to add to your leadership tool set?

Here are five steps you can follow to be more intentional about your leadership toolbox.

1. Inventory

Like a physical toolbox, take a week or two to note the tools and frameworks you use each day and each week. Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “something used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” This gives us a wide playing field as we consider what we could categorize as a leadership tool we leverage. A structured approach toward completing a task. A framework that guides your steps forward. Many of these tools and frameworks have become a habit by now. It may benefit you to gain feedback from those you work closest with about tools, processes, and frameworks you use.

Pay attention to where you feel accomplished or successful in this inventory exercise. These are areas where you likely have an approach, process, framework, or tool that is working well for you.

2. Gaps and Goals

As you assess and inventory in the step above, the other side is frustration and not seeing the desired results of any given pursuit. These are the gaps we want to identify, as opportunities for new tools.

We can also consider our evolving strategic goals, and new paths we will travel. These are good opportunities to put question marks next to as you consider new or evolved tools and frameworks for your toolset.

3. Access and Exploration

Seek out resources for available tools and ideas. Many MOR alumni say they periodically pull their MOR binder off the shelf for a review. Many tools and frameworks presented during your MOR program experience are worth revisiting (the 4i’s, the three lenses, the 5 P’s, Lead-Manage-Do, etc…). Another source would be the archive of these Tuesday Readings. You could inquire with your MOR cohort, manager, colleagues, and other exemplars around you in this exploration. We can learn so much from others.

Adrianne Mann, a 2022 MOR alumni from the University of California Berkeley, shared a tool on communication and connecting with others that she gained from one of her colleagues, called the 3 H’s. It’s a great framework, a simple tool, to align two people in knowing what type of conversation they are entering. Do you want me to Hear you, Help you, or Handle this? Three very different conversations you could be having, thus, being aligned going in matters. Some of the tools in our leadership toolbox are good to use at home as well!

The good news is we do not need to recreate the wheel when looking for paths and frameworks to help us move forward. Finding a leadership tool to try is likely the easy part. Applying it is the hard part.

4. Leap Forward

Good tools that stay in the toolbox are not much use to you. As we consider using a new tool, I am inspired by Alexandra Cazangiu, a 2020 MOR Alumni from NYU. She discussed leaping forward down a trusted path. If this tool is from a reliable source, you can have confidence it will move you in the right direction. “Leap forward,” she shared, “taking each step is like traveling stepping stones that will guide you toward the desired future state.”

It’s in the application that we learn and evolve, even with small steps forward. Remember, with any tool or framework, make it your own, tailoring it according to your context and needs.

5. Share

One obvious benefit of sharing successful leadership tools is described in the Access and Exploration step above. We have also seen with our long-term clients the compounding return of shared tools and shared language when a leadership community is leading across an organization. When I ask some long-term sponsors about the benefits they have seen from working with MOR over time, this is one of the top answers I hear every time.

These evolved approaches impact behaviors, our behaviors influence our working norms, and our cultures are the collection of our many norms. When taking on new tools together, we can influence how we work across our organizations. For MOR, we are lucky to see this happen repeatedly, it brings powerful momentum to an organization. We are grateful for these trusted and long-term relationships.

I wish you well on your continued leadership journey. Keep leading. Keep the leadership toolset in mind. Make it a practice to revisit your toolset and follow these steps.

Last week we considered appreciation in the face of anticipation and asked which you find most helpful in refocusing your thinking:

  • 34% said recognize your movement toward the desired future state.
  • 16% said push to envision what you can gain.
  • 15% said to highlight the exciting parts of their current task.
  • 14% said view this as a stretch opportunity.
  • 12% said embrace your innate value in participating.
  • 10% said to emphasize past experiences that have gone well.

Half of last week’s responses identified looking toward the future (either the desired future state or what you can gain) as a key to refocusing. This is a foundational part of the MOR Strategy Thinking framework: consider what is most important to the organization and focus on the desired future state to achieve those goals.