When I lived on my own for the first time, I bought some furniture with “assembly required” instructions, art for the walls, and curtains for the windows. What I did not buy was a set of tools. In the excitement to set up my first place, I did not fully assess everything that it would take to put furniture together efficiently and even effectively, hang art, nor hang window coverings. I had one flat head screwdriver, no hammer, and definitely no drill. It was all I had in my dorm room at college when I was at a different stage in life and so I figured I could use this one tool here too. And so began a very frustrating and tir
ing process. I tried to hammer with the heel of a shoe to only end up hitting my hand and bending the nail which by the way was the wrong size and left a gapping hole in the wall at the end of the lease. I tried using a knife in the absence of a Phillips head screwdriver. I am glad I still have my fingers. Thankfully, the furniture box included its own set of Allen wrenches. But my pictures “hung in the balance” without a balance to ensure they were “bubble center”. The curtains? They lay on the floor for weeks. Thank goodness my cute little space came equipped with blinds, but blinds are not curtains and didn’t quite reflect the vision I had for my space. But at the time, I thought “they will do”, when in reality they really didn’t.
This experience taught an important lesson. I needed to have the right tool, at the right time, for the right job. This lesson is applicable in the non-profit and even for-profit business settings. In order to accomplish the intended purpose of the organization, you must properly equip the organization with staff who have the right skill sets, and then equip the staff with the right tools. This may not be the easiest task. In the life cycle of an organization some of your start up staff were your good friends, well-meaning family members, or even a neighbor who just wanted to lend a hand to help. They were suitable for your first stage. And we are forever grateful for folk like that. But now you have grown. You are in the space where you are ready to “live on your own”, so to speak, and have found that these well-meaning people do not possess the skills you need at this new stage. How do you know? You are experiencing the same frustration and tiredness that I described when trying to use the one tool to carry out the work that was required in a larger arena.
It is okay! We can give ourselves permission to say – “I need a different of set tools”, “I need to employ or outsource some help”, and “I need to improve the process for getting this done”. This is a sign of your own leadership development. When we get the right skills, resource equipment, and set up processes, we will see improvement, we will see increased effectiveness, we will also experience the opportunity to scale our growth to accomplish the mission. We will even find an opportunity to enjoy the art on the wall. That is not to say, unless it adds no value, that you should throw away the old tool that was helpful in one space but not quite right for the new space. Simply assess and reassess and find where the most effective utilization may be found.
Growth and development require that we always prepare today for tomorrow. At this point, you may find, like I did, the true value of a power tool.
You may wonder did I ever hang the curtains? Yes! A few weeks later equipped with a power drill, some bits and a step ladder, I hung the curtains with ease. The power tool allowed me to scale up. Because I was now equipped with “power” I handled a few more tasks too. But it was not just about the tool. It was about what having the right tool allowed. Hanging the curtains made the space feel right. Being home with perfectly balanced curtain rods made me feel secure. They made it feel like a safe space free from frustration and being tired. Most importantly the curtains enhanced my vision for my space. The hanging curtains, metaphorically, taught me to stick with the vision I have for what I want to reflect in the world and to never settle for something or even someone just because it “will do” to functionally met the need but did not fully align with what I really wanted.
I learned that I needed not just tools, but I also needed a personal toolbox that would expand to allow the introduction of new tools necessary for me to “be great” as my sister always says. My continued growth would require different tools in different seasons and spaces.
You started the organization you have committed your life to for a reason. If you are finding yourself frustrated, tired, or even anxious more than you are feeling fulfilled by daily doing “the work of justice” as we so often refer to what we do, ask yourself “Do I have the right tools at this point in our growth and are they being used for the right purposes?” If your truthful answer is no, give yourself permission and even forgiveness to get some new tools.