We’re trying to create the next generation of leaders. So why do so many lack self-confidence? Well, we tell them to fit in boxes. To be a servant leader. A transformational leader. An inclusive leader. We aren’t teaching them to develop their own identity. We’re not teaching them to believe in their product. We’re not teaching them to harness their passion.
Leadership is like carpentry. The final product is what counts, but it’s everything that goes into it that breeds confidence and skill.
What goes into making a cabinet? You need a lot of tools. You need to know how to use them. You need good materials. And you need to know how to solve problems.
And what goes into being a good leader? You need a big toolbox (skills and knowledge). You need to know how to put the tools into action (training, experience and wisdom).
You need good materials (people, structures and tasks). And you need to know how to solve problems (theory and practice as one).
If you lose one element, then you lose the product.
We need to teach leaders excellence in all of these areas.
If leaders only focus on one or some of these areas, the final product will suffer. And the leader might not know why.
Which kills self-confidence.
It all starts with the right tools. Don’t use a sledgehammer for a nail. Don’t use performance management when an informal conversation will do.
We need to give our leaders a massive toolbox. If a leadership situation requires a tool they aren’t aware of, they will lack the confidence and skill to move forwards.
How do we help them develop a bigger toolbox?
We expose them to different situations, we role play, we coach them to deconstruct past challenges and learn how other approaches could have worked more effectively.
We help them understand the psychology of people so they don’t choose too big a tool or too small a tool.
And we constantly focus them on the outcome and impact they’re aiming for. If it’s team unity, maybe a circular saw is too much: use something smaller and take a softer approach.
But of course, your team may be different – and a circular saw the right approach. That’s why we need to marry the right tools with the right knowledge and training.
The tools may change, but the challenges remain the same. The building blocks of success never change. Master carpenters – like leaders – should never stop striving to improve the fundamentals.
Carpenters need to make cuts. They need to drill. They need to make dovetail joints.
But cuts can be jagged and uneven or perfectly straight and smooth. Holes can be too deep or just right. Dovetail joints can be ugly and dysfunctional or seamless and functional.
The bad carpenter and the master carpenter use the same techniques, but one is an expert.
Leadership training often teaches a skill once and moves onto the next. But the fundamentals never change.
Motivating people, galvanising a team, solving conflict. Lifelong journeys, all of them.
And that’s why the toolbox is not enough in itself. Leaders need experience of using them. If you try using a handsaw and cut yourself, you’ll reflect and learn more refined techniques.
Fear of failure holds leaders back from mastering the fundamentals. We must teach our leaders that they’re on a journey. Failure helps them master the fundamentals.
But we mustn’t be prescriptive. The tools of carpentry and leadership have no inherent function. Part of growing as a leader is letting go of what others have done before and making your own choices in the moment.
If you take away cultural norms, most tools have no inherent worth or function. It’s what you do with them that really counts. This is part of developing confidence and identity as a leader.
Let’s take feedback as a tool. My own leadership journey has taught me that giving feedback to direct reports is all about the outcome, not the method.
Being direct sometimes works, but not always. Some people prefer a softer approach. Some people prefer email, some face-to-face. Some people won’t take it on board if it ‘feels’ like feedback. It’s all about the individual.
This journey is also about recognising your own strengths. Some carpenters just naturally make straighter cuts than others. Some leaders are better at delegating. Recognising this is not weakness: it is emotional maturity.
I will never be comfortable with telling people what to do. It feels inherently weird. But I’m finding a groove that works for me.
Carpentry is the pursuit of excellence. There are no limits on what the final product can represent. The same is true of leadership.
If we teach leaders to recreate the results of today or yesterday, we put limits on the spirit of the leader.
While the carpenter’s techniques, tools and skills are timeless (with modern additions), they are always paired with something unique – the individual.
We must teach our leaders that the final layer is themselves. They take everything and turn it into impact. Identity, intuition and belief – these are fundamental to leadership.
The final product of leadership – and carpentry – is unique. It’s one-of-a-kind. You’re not recreating the results of yesterday. You’re creating something new.
This is the true identity and beauty of leadership. And you need to believe in your journey as a leader.
Once I truly – and I mean truly – accepted that as a leader I was on a journey filled with twists and turns, and that it was ultimately my journey, I felt much more comfortable.
The final product is mine. The tools and techniques are timeless, modern, the lessons new and old.
But it’s how I use them that counts.
Add the two types of trust to your toolbox. You’ll be glad you did.