The Importance of Knowing Which Tool to Use

small boat suspended in air from a crane

A few weeks ago, one of my sons came to Chicago for a visit. It was a big deal. For a variety of reasons, he gets “home” about once every 12-18 months. In a typical year, we may see him 2-3 times, but it’s not often at home. We’ll visit him in the Carolinas or we’ll meet up with other family members in Phoenix, but his visits home are rare (and special). In fact, his previous visit home was Christmas of 2016. Of course some of this phenomenon is because we’ve moved around a lot during the last 15 years. In the last year alone, we’ve lived in Connecticut, Nebraska, and Illinois. It’s not easy for him to make long-range plans to come home. But when he does, we spoil him. Wouldn’t you?

On this particular visit, we were in downtown Chicago riding bikes along the shore of Lake Michigan when we noticed a boat suspended in the air from a crane. I can only assume this was a theft deterrent of sorts. But who knows for sure. All I know is that it’s not every day I see a small motor boat suspended 50 feet in the air. We had a good laugh as we discussed plausible explanations. In the end, however, it remains a mystery.

What is apparent is that the boat won’t add any value to the owner while it’s suspended in the air. In fact, it’s not the best tool to get from one side of Lake Michigan to the other either. It’s great for puttering along the shore or running up and down the river. But a small motor boat is not a great tool to use for crossing one of the Great Lakes or making a transatlantic journey. There are better tools for that including airplanes and cruise ships.

A great carpenter knows when to use a saw and when to use a hammer. A great painter knows which type of brush to use. A great coach knows when to give a player a “kick in the pants” and when to give them a hug. A great executive knows when to use each report, scorecard, and dashboard. Great leaders in all walks of life know the importance of using the right tool.

In the last few years, I’ve stepped up my grilling, smoking, and cooking game. And I’ve learned the importance of having a variety of sharp knives available. Some are used for boning, others slicing, others still for chopping. A great chef would not use a screwdriver to slice a smoked brisket. Nor would he use a dull paring knife. A great chef knows the importance of using the correct knife (and of course it will be sharp) for slicing a smoked brisket he spent hours preparing.

Take the time to know your craft and learn the tools of the trade. Whether you’re a teacher, stay-at-home parent, executive, military officer, coach, or student, know which tool to use. Know how to access them. Know where they’re located. Know their purpose. Know how to use them. And, keep them sharp! You can’t troubleshoot yesterday’s manufacturing output using last year’s annual report. And you can’t dice carrots using a shovel. Use the right tool for the job.

Hope you have a great week. Expand your toolkit. Learn your trade. Keep your tools sharp. And know the importance of each tool and when to use it.

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]

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