Not really a tool at all

I remember vividly the day. My new wife and I had arrived at our new post late in the evening and fell quickly asleep. The next morning, awake and refreshed, my newly bestowed degree awaiting its placement on a wall, I stepped outside to greet both a new day and a fresh opportunity.

It was then that it hit me. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was clueless about where to begin or what to do next. “What,” I wondered, “was my expensive education and engraved certificate worth?”

Well, over time I figured things out and I did gain understanding. Through those years of error and trial, I was indeed able to use some of the things I learned in college. Looking back now over four decades I can comfortably and confidently say that as valuable as a degree may be (it certainly is pricey) it is a mistake to label it a tool. I have often remembered what one friend said to me the day I received my degree. “You have your degree, now you’re going to get an education.

Education, particularly formal education is not really a tool at all. The information gained through years of formal study must be implemented. It must be applied to real life in actual situations in a manner that something tangible and measureable results. That is where tools come in – applying knowledge towards an objective.

  • Acquiring knowledge requires intelligence. Intelligent people become smarter both in school and out.
  • A body of acquired knowledge is called intellect. But not even the smartest person in the room is necessarily the best leader in the room. Intelligence, intellect, knowledge may supply one with a large and varied reservoir of information but leave the recipient clueless as to what to do with it. There are three basic skills of leadership (for a deeper look at those three skills, download my free article by clicking on the box to the right) and they can be discussed in a classroom, but they cannot be implemented outside of a real-life, hands-on experience.
  • The practical and proper application of knowledge to life is called wisdom. Some are born with more than others, a few will never demonstrate any wisdom, everyone else will develop wisdom over time and experience, especially experience.
  • Intellectuals tend to rely mainly and perhaps solely on their intellect. This literally goes to their head (pun intended)! They begin to believe that because they know about something they therefore understand how to lead well. Intending to be instructive, they often become destructive as they leave behind them a path of devastation, turmoil, damage, and disorder.

The tools of leadership, in the hands of an experienced and talented craftsman become implements of change, progress, advancement, and achievement. The tools of leadership in the unwise, intelligent though they may be, become either weapons or worse, toys.

I do not want the reader to come away from this article with the idea I am against formal education. I am, however, against formal education as an end in and of itself. I am, and have always been, a practical person. Leadership is not conceptual it is practical. It exists to get things done, get them done efficiently and effectively. Next week’s post will address the cognitive tools employed by leaders. In the weeks to come I will address the psychological tools, administrative tools and finally the mechanical tools of effective practical leaders.