As a specialist for a major home improvement big box store, James (not his real name) meets a great many people who have big plans, small budgets, and even smaller skill sets. He tells me that every day they come into the store to buy parts and pieces for one project or another with no idea what tools are needed, nor do they have any idea how to use the tools James suggests will be necessary to complete the project.
They are not lacking in ideas but those ideas seldom have evolved into definitive plans nor have they been tempered with reality. They possess some vague vision of what they want to get done, but it lacks definition. James can recommend parts and tools, but until someone knows precisely what they want to accomplish, the exercise is purely academic.
This brings me to the philosophy behind this blog and my own leadership model. So much education is, well, academic. Academia functions well to conceptualize leadership, but does not do such a bang up job at putting concepts into practice. In all fairness, while it is possible to teach about leadership as a topic it is not really possible to teach leadership as a practice in an academic setting.
It takes insertion into the real world to make that happen and not all leadership students make the transition well. In real life, the tools one learns about in class must be applied to actual situations and circumstances which do not always go “by the book.” And tools, in and of themselves, are only as useful as the skill and vision of the worker permit.
That is why tools are also called implements. A tool brings into reality (implement) the idea and vision of the craftsman. So, before you implement a leadership practice it is imperative to determine what you want to accomplish with it. Like the wannabe home improvement contractors, you need a defined idea of the outcome. Practical leadership uses a wide range of tools, but it begins at the end. Experience shows how wild ideas must be reorganized into practical and viable ideas. Before a board is cut the craftsman must have determined what the end product should look like. In leadership, before a word is spoken or a memo written, the practical leader must know what s/he wants as a result.
Now, you as a leader do not have to be responsible for the final and complete project to follow this process. Even if you have a limited responsibility, you do have some responsibility.
- Define it. Sit down with pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard and compose precisely what it is you are responsible for.
- Next, define how your project or office fits within the grand scheme of things in the entire organization. After that, express the steps that must take place before you reach the final result (often they repeat themselves daily, weekly, or monthly).
- Finally, determine what you as a leader must do next, right now, this moment!
Now that you know what ultimately must happen, look in your leadership skill toolbox and determine what tools are needed. Stay tuned to this blog, we will process them all. I would like to know your real-life situation so I can address the posts to your realm of responsibility. Send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org , please.