They say that one of the things that separate humans from animals is our ability to design and use tools to help us in this world. I would tend to agree. We have an unlimited ability to look at an obstacle in our lives, determine a need for something to help us with the obstacle, discover a tool that could make that situation easier, and finally create it.

We have moved from the Stone Age to the Dark Ages to the Industrial Age to today’s Computer Age and throughout our long, dramatic history we have recognized needs and filled them with tools. We saw that we needed a hammer to build with, a wheel to move with, a weapon to kill food with, a pencil to write with, and eventually a computer to do an infinite number of new and exciting things with. Also, along the way we have discovered a very important element about these tools, we must not only have the RIGHT tool that can do the job, we must also KNOW HOW to use the tool to do the job.

Many times we are faced with Performance Gaps that are a direct result of a breakdown around specific tools. We identify that there is a gap in achieving our expectations and we don’t know why. Upon investigating possible Root Solutions, we discover that we are missing a much-needed tool. We have a Knowledge Gap!

Then we design or acquire a tool to fill the need, roll it out to our teams and find that we still don’t achieve our expectations. With more investigation, we learn that our team members don’t know how to use the tool, don’t know why they need to use it, don’t know when they need to use it, or they just make a conscious or unconscious choice to not use it. They are the ones who now have a Knowledge, Importance, or Action Gap and it is up to us as Winning Leaders to identify which gap it is and determine which Root Solution will effectively and permanently close it.

Winning Leaders understand that they must determine the right tools to get the job done, but they must also move their teams up the Habit Ladder in their usage of the tool in order to not only get the job done, but get it done efficiently and effectively. They begin with communication around what the tool is, how it’s used, why it’s needed and when it needs to be used. They then ask and answer questions around its usage with their team members to ensure that they have a firm understanding of the tools usage and expectations. The leaders then ensure that the team member agrees to the importance of the tool, and the expectations around it, and then commits to using it in their job. That’s when the leader moves the team member from knowledge of the tool to building skills through a series of hands-on skill practice sessions. They don’t just train them all at once; they layer on session after session and provide teaching and coaching along the way. They answer questions and challenge performance levels repeatedly while giving praise and recognition to build positive momentum through the learning process. They allow the team member the necessary time to practice over and over until the skill is built and the actions become habitual for the performer. Using the tool then becomes natural, or second nature, for the team member. It becomes a part of who they are.

Winning leaders understand that they own the first part. They must look for new and better ways to do things. They must seek out improved methods and tools that improve the lives of their team members. They don’t allow a Knowledge Gap to exist around the needs of their team. It is paramount to their leadership. They determine the specific actions and needed tools that will provide the best experience and best results. Then they provide the tools, they train how to use them, they answer and ask questions, they set clear behavioral and result expectations, and they create accountability and recognition around the results.

Winning Leaders know that tools are important…crucial…elements of their success. They also know that closing the Knowledge and Importance Gaps around the usage of the tools are important…crucial…elements of the tool’s success.

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