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What’s in your toolkit?

December 14, 2010

I was the accidental executive, stumbling and bumbling along, largely managing on sheer will peppered with a lot of good fortune, until I developed a toolkit. Yes, I do call it that. A toolkit. It’s a great big bag of tools of the trade to help me lead a sophisticated team to compelling results. My toolkit helps me to achieve more, in less time and with less effort than I was ever able to accomplish without it.

Much like a carpenter, my toolkit has a variety of tools. I can use the same tool to create very different outcomes or I can generate the same outcome using very different tools. My toolkit supplies me with everything I need to create the outcomes I want, while providing me with the flexibility in how to accomplish them.

Could you imagine trying to build a house without tools of any kind? Wouldn’t you conclude you couldn’t? I dare say it would be impossible. Could you imagine trying to build a house with a limited set of tools? I’m sure you could build a basic structure and it might even be inhabitable but it would not likely be an inspirational masterpiece. Furthermore, a master craftsman would not likely be proud of the result, no matter what he or she accomplished; it simply would not be good enough. Truly inspirational works happen when you marry a craftsman with the appropriate tools. A craftsman without tools and tools without a craftsman can create equally dissatisfying results.

The tools I use are useless without some form of knowledge and experience to use them. All of the tools require practice to master and some of the tools require an advanced knowledge to even attempt. Some of the tools can be used straight out of the box, with little guidance or instruction, while others require considerable forethought and even assembly.

I know, I know. Enough of the analogy already. You get it. So what are the tools, how do I use them and what results do I create from them? There are too many to list and adequately describe in a single post. I will post about many of them. Yes, you can say that’s cheap; saving topics for future posts to make you come back over and over again. Well, that’s why it’s a blog and not a novel or resource guide, however I can give you a sense for what I mean by “tools”. One example would be “reframing”, which is apt given the carpentry analogy (I actually just picked that tool out of the air and only realized as I wrote it the alignment it had with the analogy. In a real time dialogue you would have been mightily impressed! Or not.)

Reframing is a tool I use to turn a potentially difficult situation, conversation or interaction into a positive one where I can derive real benefit or energy from. For example, a few years back I had to have what I thought would be a very difficult conversation with a person I struggled to like, respect or trust in any way. Our meeting was outside of the office and as I walked to the meeting I could feel anger towards this individual and then anxiety regarding the meeting as I hashed through in my mind what I surely felt would be the direction of the conversation (in my mind it was closer to an all-out screaming match). I stopped myself and said “You are not going there to argue. You are going there to demonstrate to yourself you have the skills to manage a complex conversation with a difficult individual” (I know. The “difficult individual” was as much me as it was him. But that’s a post for another day. Yeah. You’ll have to come back). I instantly felt a calmness and serenity come over me. I was immediately more focused. The conversation playing in my head stopped and turned into a visual of me being professional and cordial. My heart stopped racing. My mind stopped wandering.

Sure enough, while the topic remained difficult the conversation itself went smoothly. He understood the concerns I had and the direction we needed to move in. He accepted the changes he needed to make. And yes, I accepted more readily the ones I had to make. Okay, I’m being a bit misleading here. It would be far more correct to say I was open to them in the first place. We began and ended the conversation as professionals and gentlemen. It was one of the most difficult but productive conversations I have ever had and all because I reframed the moment from one I didn’t want to have to an outcome I had complete ownership of and interest in. I turned it around. I reframed it.

Reframing is a tool you can use in practically every situation and it is extremely easy to use. Rather than see the difficulty in a situation, you reframe it to see the joy. In some ways you are looking for the silver lining, but in advance, not in arrears. It’s a tool that says “what’s the positive I know I can generate out of this situation” as opposed to “what is the negative I think is going to happen”.

The more I use this particular tool the better I get at using it. One I had comfortably used it enough times I was then able to coach others to use it. I now see many of them coach even more people. From one craftsman to another.

So, what’s in your toolkit?

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