Leader - Be Careful of a Heavy Hand (Leadership through the eyes of a carpenter)

Leader - Be Careful of a Heavy Hand (Leadership through the eyes of a carpenter) 29.03.2016

In tribute to the carpenter who was remembered and celebrated over the easter weekend I thought it would be fitting to take a peek at leadership through the eyes of the carpenter as follows:- Picture this - a carpenter is building a shelf and is hammering away at a nail which is crucial to supporting the structure of the shelf. The carpenter has to apply the right technique to hammering the nail. This includes the way he holds the nail, the way he positions his hand and the pieces of wood to achieve the desired end. Needless to say, what may seem as a simple task may actually be difficult requiring a certain level of skill. Now imagine that the carpenter is a leader of an organisation (or a family or a church or a political leader), the nail that he hammers is an employee (or any person who is led, if you will) she leads and the shelf is, naturally, the end product. I am by no means suggesting that the employee is a piece of equipment, rather the employee in this instance is an indispensable resource crucial to producing the end product. The carpenter must exercise great technique, care and skill in the execution of her task or she may produce a shelf which is unstable or she may not produce a shelf at all. Sometimes an unskilled “carpenter” may hold the hammer close to the neck of the hammer (much like suffocating the part that has to do the work); on the contrary a skilled carpenter holds the lower part of the hammer handle. Holding the hammer correctly gives the carpenter control over the force and direction in which the hammer head is moving allowing the centre of the head ("sweet spot") to hit the nail on the head with the right force which results in the nail going into the wood at the right speed with precision and minimal damage.

Consider that when the carpenter hits the nail with little or no technique causing either (i) the nail to fly off the wood or (ii) causing injury to his hand (iii) or bending the nail rendering it unproductive in the process or (iv) in other certain cases you might apply the right technique but the nail is not fit for the job at hand. All four possibilities hinder (to a varying degree) the ability to produce the end product and, worst still, causing harm to the carpenter and the nail.

The nails flies off (i) when the nail flies off the wood, the employee loses confidence in the leader. The person being led may give up. The cost of losing such a person depends largely on the type of resource, the value afforded to the resource (which is often far more valued where the resource is scarce). This resource (or person) may bring unique gifts and talents to the table. Sometimes, as leaders, the cost of replacing valuable people in our lives or communities or businesses is astronomical. For example, in a family situation, losing your wife (or husband) and children because of poor choices may mean never fully recovering from such a loss, or perhaps the loss of key members of a church congregation as a result of poor leadership. Losing a key employee with critical talents and institutional knowledge robs the organisation of its true potential. Losing a vital member may mean severe irreparable fractures within your area of responsibility. Hurting fingers badly (ii) when the leader injures himself, this is what I refer to as the own goal situation: the leader is frustrated at the non-responsiveness of the people he leads. At work, you are taken to court and employees may no longer go the extra mile or having to deal with disgruntled employees, in a family situation you have to live in an unhappy home, at church volunteers withhold their services... Poor leadership results in you not being able to get the job done or if it’s done it's done at the expense of your reputation, people not trusting you. Bending the nail (iii) Bending the nail happens when the people you lead lose their productivity, trust and confidence in you or your organisation. This in most cases results in reprobate-type leadership environments where people who have been mistreated internalise the abuse and begin to think mistreatment of subordinates is the only way to get things done. This is when you get an organisational belief that wrong is right. Statements like "I know they are unhappy but hey; when I was at their level my leader did the same or worse things". This is when the subordinate rises to a position of leadership and continues in the antiquated short sited style of leadership, where they embrace a whopped sense leadership believing that "unhappy employees" is somehow reflective of a good leader who takes no nonsense or in other cases believes that the unhappiness is as a result of ingratitude. This often leads to a highly toxic environment where those who linger have to bend to the poor leadership style or face the consequences of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Finally the wrong nail is used for the Job (iv) Nails have different sizes and metal strengths and this is primarily because there are different types and pieces to furniture and it is imperative that the right nail is used. The same is true when deciding on the right people for the specific assignment. Based on skills, attributes and aptitude you will decide who to use for a specific task. We often say don’t pronounce judgement on the ability of a fish based on its ability to climb a tree. For example, when you want to communicate a crucial message to your client you will assign your best communicator to carry out the task irrespective of title. Just because an employee is not good at certain functions would not necessarily mean they are entirely redundant; it takes an intuitive well calculated leader to scan the strengths and weaknesses of his troops and be able to utilise the strengths to the best advantage of the organisation.

Constructive approach We need to be more sensitive to the people we lead, show leadership initiative and always keep in mind that people do not care about what we know until they know that as a leader you care. We need to learn the art of being gentle but firm. This involves constant environmental scanning. We need to be brutal in our self-introspection. It is imperative that we appreciate that leadership is an art that we need to master. As leaders we need to be fully in touch with our short comings as well as that of the people we lead. We need to be inclusive and understanding of the needs of those we lead; we must know where they are as people both as professionals but as people who are part of this diverse world we live in. You see a leader does not harbour a manager’s mind-set. A manager relies on a title in order to influence the direction of others and conversely leadership has got nothing to do with the title but everything to do with showing the way and people following based on the authenticity of the vision of the leader. Leadership speaks to influence with or without a position or title. A leader leads from the front whereas a manager manages from the back. A leader through his vision and direction incentivises his followers to keep following. She imparts that vision by communicating in crisp, clear and vivid ways to his subordinates to the point that the followers internalise and own that vision. A manager does not necessarily lead with a vision; they give you a task to complete without the ability to communicate the why. They love to say it’s just the way it is. They sometimes miss why certain things need to be done or they may have little interest in communicating the why to the subordinate even if they know it. If a why is posed a manager’s immediate response is "it's because the policy says so” or “in this family things are just done this way". As a leader you need to allow a trusting environment to thrive. Never betray the trust of the people you lead because once trust is broken it is impossible to restore it to a place where it once was. Someone said "trust is like clean paper if you crumple it you might be able to try and straighten it but it will never be the same again". Trust allows you to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between you and the people you lead where the bond is so strong that the weight of their trust propels you to organisational victory and the weight of your trust towards your subordinates thrusts them to personal victory and self-actualization. This approach ensures everyone wins.

Let’s never stop asking why…

Best wishes Themba Dlamini CA (SA)