Pogo Cartoonist Walt Kelly coined the phrase: We have met the enemy and he is us. If we can accept that we are all our own worst enemy, the next step is to figure out how to become more of an ally? At the risk of really dating myself, I’m revisiting the 50s folk song written by Pete Seeger and popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary and Trini Lopez. Before I will hammer home some insight, let’s revisit the first verse of If I Had A Hammer.
If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land. 1
Now that’s a lot of inspired hammering!
So Why Are We Talking About Hammers?
Let’s take the phrase “If I Had A Hammer” and strip away the hypothetical “if” and consider that, figuratively speaking, you do have a hammer. Your hammer is your most highly developed skill or skills. It is the thing or things that you’re the best at and enjoy doing the most. And because you are so good, using your hammer brings you the most enjoyment and fulfillment. It may also be hindering your effectiveness. The Trap We all have our hammers. They are what make us both unique and effective. The danger is in overusing your hammers. Because…
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. – Abraham Maslow
While your hammer is not your only tool, by definition, it is your favorite. If you enjoy hammering so much, where might you be hammering when you should be chiseling or puttying? All of your problems are not like nails. By relying solely on your strengths, you can occasionally miss the nail and hammer your own thumb. Ouch! The Solution to Over-Hammering Our tendency to hammer inappropriately is not a conscious choice, but a subconscious one. So the solution requires enhancing your awareness of what your hammer really looks like. Ask yourself: What skills do I use most frequently and effectively? And then determine where you have been hammering when there are better tools for the job. Your heightened awareness can also help you to recognize when someone with different toolbox is more equipped to solve the problem. In our coaching and development engagements, we use assessment tools to discover which skills have become hammers. Its an opportunity to meet the enemy and become better acquainted. Once that occurs, you expand your opportunities for improved results. And, you can avoid hammering your thumb and missing the nail.