Handmade Leadership

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Thom gave Liz a beautiful stool to use in her kitchen. You can admire the stool, but if you want a stool like that, you can search the known universe and not find it. That’s because Thom made the stool for one person and situation. It’s unique.

The best leadership is like that. We used to think that there was one best way to do everything. I remember learning that what you should do when you talked to a teammate about performance was “Use small talk to put them at ease.” I discovered, though, that some of the people who were my teammates weren’t set at ease by small talk. In fact, small talk made them more anxious.

Now we know that the best leadership is handmade. When you want to talk to a teammate about performance, think about who the teammate is. Start with small talk with some. Get right to the issue with others. Adapt your leadership to the teammate and the situation. Filter it through your personality and strengths. You can use Liz and her stool as a guide.


Thom’s stool is absolutely perfect for Liz. She can sit comfortably in it next to the table in the center of her kitchen. It’s high enough for her long legs. That’s not an accident. When Thom made the stool, he already saw how other stools weren’t quite high enough.

The Situation

The stool is purpose-built. It’s perfect for Liz sitting next to the table in the center of her kitchen. It’s not a piece of living room furniture. It probably wouldn’t be comfortable on the porch. But it’s perfect for the situation.

Your leadership challenge is to adapt your behavior to the situation. Every person is unique. Your leadership challenge is to learn about your teammates. You must learn their strengths and weaknesses.  You must understand what makes them anxious and what makes them feel safe.

Every situation is unique. You must be observant and skilled and flexible enough to use the right behavior.


Thom is creative and a skilled woodworker. The seat of the stool is a piece of found wood that he finished. I couldn’t create and complete a stool like the one Thom created. I don’t have his skillset. I have thumbs where my fingers should be.

If Thom had a different skillset, he would need to find a different solution. He could hire a skilled artisan to complete the stool that he wanted. We call that “outsourcing” or “delegating.”

Thom could have bought a premade piece that was almost perfect. It would have taken him some time and shopping skills to do that. He could have arranged for a fine dinner instead of the stool as a present. He might even have cleaned out the garage as a present.

Your leadership challenge is to build on your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant. You must use your particular skills to get the job done. Think of it as filtering your behavior through your personality and skillset.

Made with Love

The stool Thom made for Liz grew out of their relationship. It came from observations when they were hanging around in the kitchen making dinner or just chatting. His knowledge of her and what would be a good gift didn’t happen all at once. It grew out of many small moments and observations.

If you do your leadership job well, you’ll spend a lot of time around your teammates. You’ll have lots of conversations with them where you learn about them and they learn about you. Those contacts and conversations and challenges will make the relationship stronger. As the relationships get stronger, your work will get easier.

Maybe the word “love” is a little strong or anxiety-making for you. Don’t worry. Make contact often. Have lots of conversations. Let relationships develop. One day, you’ll discover that you’re leading with love, even if you don’t call it that.


There’s no one-size-fits-all in leadership.

Great leadership solutions are tailored to the teammate.

Adapt your behavior to each individual teammate.

Great leadership solutions are tailored to each unique situation.

Adapt your behavior to each unique situation.

Build on your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant.

Build relationships so you lead with love.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Jacquelynn Segars   |   08 Apr 2021   |   Reply

As a retired manager, I enjoyed getting to know my team members. I found that as library employees we had much in common. As this blog illustrates, each person is different and best results are achieved when you discover individual personalities and conversation techniques.
Thank you Wally for rekindling my thoughts on this topic.
I may be retired but communication skills remain important in my life.

Wally Bock   |   09 Apr 2021   |   Reply

Thanks for adding to the conversation

Caroline Filbey   |   11 Apr 2021   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing these simple yet important insights! Plan to read more of your blog!

Wally Bock   |   12 Apr 2021   |   Reply

Thanks, Caroline