Leaders Understand the Velvet Hammer

hammer and velvet

No one who knows me would say I’m a skilled carpenter, plumber, mechanic, or handyman. I can do the basics. You know, replace an electrical outlet, build a workbench and replace the headlight bulbs in my car. But I’m not going to install a new garbage disposal under the sink, build a fine piece of furniture, or finish the half bath in my basement that was plumbed when the house was built.

If you were to visit my garage, you’d find the basic tools: lawnmower, snow-blower, weed-eater, ax, shovels, wheelbarrow, saws, and a few toolboxes. The toolboxes have wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and a couple cordless drills. There are also a few different types of hammers.

And while I have several name-brand tools, I’ve never purchased a good, basic claw hammer. The one pictured above was a hand-me-down. I don’t even recall who gave it to me or how I obtained it, but I’ve used it for years, decades even. It gets the job done even if it’s not pretty to look at.

The velvet bag pictured is used to store delicate items that are prone to scratching. At the moment, I keep a watch stored in it when it’s not on my wrist. I had a nice watch box once, but didn’t have room for it so I gave it away. Now I store my watches in a variety of boxes and bags. The velvet bag, like the hammer, was a hand-me-down of sorts. Someone gave me a fragile gift and placed it in the bag for safekeeping. The gift has come and gone, but I still have the bag! At one point in its previous life, it protected a bottle of Canadian whiskey. Now it holds a watch and serves as a prop for my photo.

Why a picture of a velvet bag and a hammer? Well, it has to do with a nickname I was once given, the Velvet Hammer. Years ago, I had a colleague say I was like a velvet hammer. When asked to explain, he said, “Well, you’re driven, motivated, ambitious and results-oriented, but you do it with grace, love, compassion, and concern for others.” Wow, who knew!

At first, I didn’t really care that much for the nickname. But after a few other colleagues socialized the nickname within our organization and received positive feedback, I came to appreciate it. It has come to represent both the head and heart of leadership. It has come to symbolize situational leadership because some situations call for the hammer, while other situations call for the velvet.

Over the many years since first being labeled the Velvet Hammer, I’ve thought about the moniker quit a bit. Does it accurately describe me? Is it how I want to be remembered? What are its strengths and weaknesses? While it’s only a label and doesn’t define who I am or dictate how I behave, I picked it up because of my behaviors. And I like it. I like it because it symbolizes the need to adjust to the situation, to care for others while driving for results and to take care of the business while taking care of the people.

Great leaders understand the value of being a velvet hammer. They understand the importance of balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the people. They understand that taking care of people for the long-haul means driving for and achieving organizational success.

Do you have a nickname? Is it accurate? Do you like it? Are you a velvet hammer (at least to some degree)? If you could generate your own nickname, what would it be?

Have a great week and remember to have balance, like a velvet hammer. Great leaders know how to situationally adjust their approach. Be a great leader.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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