For ten years I worked with a manager (I will call him Dallas) who had one tool in his professional toolbox - a hammer. Every problem Dallas ever encountered was a nail. With his limited repertoire of leadership skills, you might wonder how I lasted ten years. Everyone who worked any length of time (including me) learned the time-honored techniques of "duck and cover." Ducking meant avoiding interaction as much as possible. If you had a question, Dallas was the last person you would call. On our weekly conference calls no one volunteered any ideas and when asked a question, gave as little feedback as vaguely as possible. Covering meant when Dallas was angry, you agreed with anything he said. Arguing was pointless and defending yourself only made the tirade last longer.

Some of us have times when we act like Dallas. While my former boss appears to have no interest in changing his mis-management style, it is possible for most of us to temper our behavior. Here are four ways you can put helpful tools in your leadership toolbox.

1. The big picture - "It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen" - Oliver Wendell Holmes. Do you come to conclusions long before the problem has been completely laid out before you? If you answered yes you may have a blind spot when dealing with team problems. Strong personalities need to follow a process to keep from hammering people with answers before they have finished asking the question. When someone is sharing his/her point of view try to listen, ask questions, listen again, ask more questions, listen some more, then respond. The sequence again is listen, ask, listen, ask, listen then respond. That is five opportunities for you to consider the big picture before you respond. If you slow yourself down, you will respond more patiently and appropriately.

2. Timing - "Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance" - Cowboy Proverb. The most common cause of bad timing in team relationships is selfish motives. Think about the timing of small children. It is often poor, because they usually think only of themselves. When little things bother us, our number one objective must be putting our personal agendas aside and focusing on the relationship. If you have examined your motives, and you can be certain they are good, then you need to ask yourself two timing questions. First: Am I ready to confront? That is a pretty easy question to answer, because this is really a matter of whether you have done your homework. The second is harder: Is the other person read to hear what you have to say? If you have laid a relational foundation and the two of you are not in the "heat of battle," then the answer may be yes. Unless safety issues exist, waiting for better timing is preferable to going to war.

3. Tone - "We are not won by arguments that we can analyze but by the tone and temper, by the manner which is the man himself" - Samuel Butler. People often respond to our attitudes and actions more than to our words. Petty conflicts can occur when people use the wrong tone of voice. If you don't think this is true, try this experiment. The next time someone says something to you in anger, respond with gentleness and kindness. When you do that, the person who spoke harshly is likely to tone down, if not soften his attitude. Don't jeopardize the solution by using language soured by tone.

4. Temperature - "He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance" - David Hume. As tempers flare, people are prone to dropping bombs when using a flyswatter will do. That can cause trouble because the size of a problem can change based on how it is handled. When my son was a teenager, I did not do a good job of matching my reaction to his behavior. My wife said, "Don't sweat the kid stuff." Too often I dropped a bomb when the flyswatter would have sufficed. In general if the reaction is worse than the action, the problem usually increases. Anytime we let a little issue create a big reaction then we are using a hammer.

People like Dallas seem to think a hammer is good for anything and everything. I guess you could say they take a hammering approach to life. When high achievers give something their attention, they usually go at it full tilt. While this may be a good approach to accomplish tasks, it is an extremely ineffective way to treat teammates. Consider carefully the bigger picture, timing, tone, and temperature of a situation then step forward with confidence.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Highsmith,, is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101.