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‘A fool with a tool is still a fool’

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Two leadership gurus would like to remind us that most problems at work are behavioral and not the result of using the wrong tools.

They speak from personal experience mountain climbing in the Himalayas. After guiding expeditions and reaching the summits of mountains, experienced climbers know the usual weather patterns. It’s the unpredictable weather that tests them.

One September, moving quickly between storms, the pair kept just ahead of commercial expeditions and made the summit of Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest mountain. The big groups, burdened with fancy tools and comforts, not only failed to reach the summit but also lost 30 climbers who died in a storm surge.

Workplaces, too, are susceptible to tool seduction. The authors of High Altitude Leadership—one an Ivy League scientist and the other a mountaineer associated with Wharton —agree that tools are important.

But they ask: Are you using the tools or are they using you?

The people who first spot tool seduction are employees:

  • “We still haven’t recovered from our last re-engineering.”
  • “Why did we waste so much time on Six Sigma? Making bottle caps worked great at Three Sigma.”
  • “When our boss read about participative management, he just abdicated everything. We were directionless. It caused six months of losses before he got back in the game.”

New leadership tools, the authors claim, have a 70% failure rate. These instruments worked in their original cases, but replication failed. Tool seduction happens because tools offer hope and make people feel as though they have the right answers.

Two more ways to recognize when you’re being seduced:

  1. The CEO hires a consultant to “uncover” what everybody already knows but won’t say.
  2. Employees use buzzwords to make themselves look smart and others look dumb.


Travel light.
Large teams can lag because their gear is so extensive that it takes them longer to mobilize.

Reward results. Behavior, not tools, drives outcomes. Reward the whole team.

Adapt or die. When conditions change suddenly, alter your plans.

— Adapted from High Altitude Leadership, Chris Warner and Don Schmincke, Jossey-Bass.

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