“You need to be the hammer.” said my mentor. He had a strong character, strong eyes and strong jaw. He said this and it was more than a statement. It was a fact.
“I don’t get it. I am not like that.” was my angry answer. Angry yes, only not strong enough to counter that truth. He said I had to take control, get things done, whatever the cost. The hammer is final. Each blow changes something and sometimes, you can’t change it back.
“You will, after you get fired.” and again the strong eyes, jaw, character and statement. I suddenly felt those heavy eyes judging me. That was the moment I recall deciding I needed a new mentor.
There are probably hundreds of metaphors used to explain ideals such as what a Leader truly is. I’ve heard a few, but none really made me more curious as “Be the hammer, not the nail.” one. Maybe it’s just me, but the first time I heard it I found it extremely offensive. It doesn’t really leave a lot of room for imagination, does it? You are the one that hits. You call the shots. You decide. You take control. You. Failure to do so implies that well…you are just a dumb nail.
I’ve been told I am not a very logical person. I remember having math tutors for most of my high-school years. You know, after classes. I just sucked at basic math and the likes. It took me some time to understand there was nothing wrong with me, I just looked at things differently. This is a great example: have you ever thought what the first hammer was intended for? how was it made? It probably wasn’t more than a rock..but if that’s the case, what was it used for? Where there nails back then? What were they for? Before we discovered we could even make nails, what did we use the hammer for?
It doesn’t matter what: hammers are meant for hitting.
Think on that for just a moment and of course you’ll get an answer yourself. It should be something like: “whatever we used a hammer-like tool thousands of years ago had nothing to do with nails”. They were still used for hitting something for sure. That’s the thing that hasn’t changed: a hammer is meant for one thing only: hitting something.
That’s what was on my mind when my mentor at that time told me: “You need to be the hammer.”, which of course just sounded like an order, which was weird because if I was supposed to be the hammer (the one that hits), why would I follow orders (being hit)…unless I was nail myself?
As a metaphor it’s quite incomplete and sadly, widely used. Telling potential leaders, first time managers or just regular bosses that being hammers is good is basically telling them they need to hit others. I know it sounds extreme, but isn’t that metaphor exactly that, extreme?
So now let me ask you, in case you are a leader: do you really want to hit your people? It’s really not about nails and hammers if you ask me but instead of offering another metaphor here’s the deal: why don’t you come up with your own one?
Stop hammering…and try nailing for a change 😉