When all you know how to do is hammer, everything looks like a nail

I’ve been coaching a few very talented young executives in a fast growing company (they’ve doubled twice over the last two years). All three executives have been top performers in their domains (sales, tech, and HR) and have been promoted to run their departments and to be apart of the new leadership team.

They’ve done well overall. But I’ve noticed one thing in all three cases—something I notice a lot with first-time managers that move into leadership positions, particularly when they’ve previously been top performers.

The issue is that they only have one approach to managing their people and their teams.

Regardless of the situation, context, or circumstance, they fall back onto the one way they know how to manage and get things done. It works really well most of the time, but sometimes it doesn’t. As a result, they get stuck, and their people get frustrated.

For comparison, having only one management style is like playing golf with only a 9-iron. It’s great when your within 100 yards of the green, but if you’re trying to reach a fairway 250 yards out or if you’re 6 inches from the cup, you’ll struggle. Better to have a bag of clubs for different lies.

Generally, I find that people who have previously been high performers get stuck in the directive mode of leadership. They tell people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and even sometimes where to do it.

And while this can be important when the team is new, time is tight, or the stakes are high, it won’t work well if your goal is to build and grow a team’s capability. Ultimately using just one management style becomes a crutch if it’s your only approach.

Fortunately, there are several other options. Good leaders know when to be inquisitive, encouraging, supportive, empowering, and visionary. And while every leader has strengths, I’ve found that all managers can utilize all of these based on situation and context.

To learn more about different leadership styles and when to use them (and when not to), check out this article I wrote for Inc.com...

These 7 Leadership Styles Allow Great Executives To Tackle Any Situation

Want a great, easy-to-use team development tool?

I’m working on creating discussion guides to go along with my articles. These are PDFs of my articles along with some key questions to foster discussion on your team. If you want a PDF copy with the discussion questions (totally free) from this article, just email me at pdf@eckfeldt.com and mention “7 leadership styles” in the subject line.

Know someone who might benefit from some one-on-one executive coaching?

Here is a link to my coaching services overview. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. Happy to offer people on my list a free 30-minute session to see if coaching might help.


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I’ve been cleaning out my bookshelf and giving away a bunch of hard copy books. Follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn to catch these. I’m even paying for shipping. :)

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, hope you’ve enjoyed your summer. If not, (like my friends in Sydney) enjoy what’s left of winter!

Bruce “Toolkit” Eckfeldt

P.S. Whenever you’re ready... here are three ways I can help you grow your business faster, and with less drama:

1. Take my Growth Readiness Assessment
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Every team can get into a rut—leadership teams are no exception. My half-day intensive helps the top team take a step back and see what’s working, what’s not, where they can develop new, better habits, and where they can break old ones that aren’t working. It’s like a B12 booster for your entire company. - CLICK HERE

3. Let me facilitate your next annual or quarterly planning meeting
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