Are you using a sledgehammer when you need a wedge?

Most leaders are very passionate about what they want to do with their business. I’m talking about the energy and inspiration that transfers to others and helps everyone get through difficulties.

Unfortunately most leaders apply their passion in a way that doesn’t help the business as much as it should. Allow me to illustrate…

Pounding away yet getting nowhere

The other day I was out working in my backyard. My 5-year-old son was watching me splitting firewood using a maul – something like an extra heavy axe – and he asked what I was doing. I explained that by splitting the wood it would fit better in our small woodstove and the rough faces made the wood catch fire more quickly.

Then I hit a very twisted knot which caused the maul to get stuck. My son and I went to the shed – he got the sledgehammer and I grabbed the splitting wedge – a heavy, pointy pyramid of steel.

“I’ll help, Dad!” he yelled as he started smacking on the log with the hammer.

After a bit he looked at me and said it wasn’t working. I was able to convince him to try the wedge between the log and the hammer, and after a few whacks the log split neatly into three pieces, freeing the maul. He beamed at me, proud of his accomplishment.

The key is focusing your energy

Most business leaders tend to confront difficulties by essentially pulling out the sledgehammer of their passion. They bang away at problems, hitting different angles and with greater intensity. Meanwhile the business starts looking a bit battered and the leader becomes tired and frustrated.

Rather than pounding away, it’s much more effective to figure out what’s most important in a situation and focus your energy in that one area. That will lead to a little success which then will lead to another and another…and suddenly you’re through the difficultly.

Actions you can take today

  1. Stop pounding. Grab a sheet of paper and look for a quiet minute. Reflect on what you're most frustrated with and write those things down. Now think about the energy you've invested - are you wearing yourself out? Pick one thing and give it and yourself a rest. Bonus points if you see others' eyes brighten when you tell them.
  2. Find your focus point. Pick one difficulty you'd like to resolve. Do 15 minutes of research on the problem - use the web, a colleague, a coach - and see what other people have focused on to resolve it. Bonus points if you find a good tool - a "splitting wedge" - that you can use on other challenges to focus your passion.

For a quick, fun quiz to tell when you’re unfocused, visit our blog.

Chris Hutchinson


Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.