A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool

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A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

Grady Booch, American Software Engineer

In any situation involving significant transformation, the most important change process is the one within, one’s mindset. In my 12-month culture transformation process people often feel excited about tools but don’t have as much patience or see the relevance of, critical mindset. Tools are sexy because they’re tangible, powerful, and work (at least some of the time). Having said this, I emphasize that a right mindset is more important than any tool and that without it, people often default to limiting and fearful beliefs and behaviors that necessitated a tool in the first place! By deeply considering new concepts first, they are re-tooling their minds and hearts, a necessary priority for long-term success.

Once a solo teacher adopted our responsibility-based model for her 8th grade class. She invited me to sit in on a classroom meeting. In walked a boy who said, “ I have something to add to our meeting agenda! I’m being bullied by my homeroom teacher!” When it came time to share his story, he said, “We have this new tool called a peace pledge. We’re asked to put our hands on our hearts and say, ‘I pledge to use my words and actions for peace.’ I don’t have a problem with the tool. I just don’t appreciate that my homeroom teacher shook her finger at me and scowled, ‘if I catch you not doing the pledge, you’ll get a detention!” Sidebar: This, my readers is – ‘a fool with a tool!’ Luckily, as in all things, this was an opportunity to teach responsibility and how to manage a relationship, even when with an authority.

I tell you this because tools attract us. They promise immediacy as compared to the task of scrutinizing and shifting core beliefs and intent, often unconscious and easy to avoid. Tools are feasible. Let me give you an example. In our first project month, participants are provided concepts and two new tools. One is a mind trust and the other healthy venting. Used together, these tools, over time, are effective at eliminating gossip. Having said this, giving people these tools, without sufficient understanding, context, and self-awareness, is like giving a new driver the keys to a manual car and sending them out to drive. Without proper understanding, practice, and support, it’s likely this person will start as ‘a fool with a tool.’ Yet people often avoid mindset when it comes to emotional intelligence and culture transformation.

In our mind trust tool, one is guided to make four commitments: “I won’t say bad things about you behind your back. I’ll come directly to you if I have a problem with you. If someone comes to me to say anything bad about you, I’ll stop them. I’ll persuade them to go to you, so they don’t hold onto their grudge or take it elsewhere.” On the surface, this tool seems straightforward and simple. And…in about 50% of our client sites, people can’t do this tool at first, or at all, or all four of the steps, or with all the people on their team. They may not even realize what they feel about each step and why they may have reluctance to adopt any or some of this tool. They don’t realize plausible reasons why they have been gossiping and how to get crucial needs met so they can become receptive and willing to master this tool.

I recently worked with a group of leaders who had participated in a leader review program. This is when a company’s leaders fast track through our training only, with a LifeWork Systems consultant. In this program, they skip a lot. They do NOT view monthly individual online training modules, complete workbooks, take post-training surveys, take assessments, participate in and take turns leading monthly group review sessions, or monthly mentoring, or work on how they’ll integrate what they’ve learned.

Recently a VP from this group came to me with a problem. She told me that two leaders came to tattle to her about another leader who was saying bad things about her at a meeting. I asked her, “Did you ask them if they took up the issue with the person directly” as per the mind trust?  “Did you ask if they tried to stop the person when they were saying bad things about you in the meeting? as per their mind trust with you?” She quickly realized, “Wow, it never crossed my mind to recall the mind trust at all.”

Not only had she failed to recall these two steps, she went over the head of the first leader to his boss (who was also at the meeting, had a mind trust with her too, but did not say anything to stop this person either)! She was going to have this leader address the issue with the first leader! As soon as she could see that in a group of 10 leaders involved, it was as if they’d all forgotten what the mind trust was, she said with exasperation, “What is wrong with us?!”

I said to her, “Nothing’s wrong with any of you. When you received the mind trust tool (really all of our tools), it was as if you’d been given a tennis racket. It was cool and you liked it and even took a few swings with it (they all did a mind trust with each other). Then, it went up in the closet and was not remembered when you needed it. To fall in love with tennis and even feel you can play decently, you have to study it some, watch it played, get onto a tennis court, practice, get the support of a coach or instructor, find people to play with you regularly, and eventually you find you like the game and grow in your competence.

This is why we recommend an immersive process. Otherwise, we all remain ‘fools with tools” or as we say, “unconsciously incompetent” or even “conscientiously incompetent.” It takes going out of one’s way to become “consciously competent” and eventually “unconsciously competent.” Now she and the other 52 leaders are beginning to engage in the necessary work in mindset, practice, and application in our deep dive projects because they realize without such repetition and integration of the new concepts and tools, they will not change their culture in a lasting or meaningful way and be more likely to be a fool with a tool.

Many people discount tools and ideas without their full commitment to understanding and owning them. If you recognize yourself as ‘a fool with a tool’ or lopsidedly adopting tools for your business without sufficient success, please let us help. Instead of being ‘a fool with a tool’, I’ll help you become a ‘pro in the know!’

This article is published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, in the column The Extraordinary Workplace, March 2022.

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