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Tools of the Trade

Optimize Blog - April 8, 2013 - 0 comments

The Swiss Army knife has been around for a long time. During the late 1880s, the Swiss Army decided to purchase a new folding pocket knife for their soldiers. This knife was to be suitable for use by the army in opening canned food and disassembling the Swiss service rifle, the Schmidt-Rubin M1889, which at the time required a screwdriver for assembly – not the sort of thing that you want in the event of a surprise attack!
In January 1891, the knife received the official designation Modell 1890. The knife had a blade, reamer, can-opener and screwdriver. At the end of 1891 Karl Elsener, a Swiss who had a company that made surgical instruments, took over production of the Modell 1890 knives, but he was not satisfied with its design. In 1896, he succeeded in attaching tools on both sides of the handle using a special spring mechanism. This allowed him to use the same spring to hold them in place, an innovation at the time and allowing Elsener to put twice as many features on the knife.
U.S. soldiers bought Swiss Army knives in huge numbers at PX stores on military bases following the conclusion of the Second World War. As the German brand Schweizer Offiziersmesser was too difficult for them to say, the Americans decided to call it the “Swiss Army knife”, the name by which the knife is now most commonly known worldwide.
Since 2006 the brand has produced a knife called “The Giant” that includes every implement the company has ever made. With 87 tools and 141 different functions it is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most multifunctional penknife retailing for about $1,000. The Guinness Book of Records recognizes a unique 314-blade Swiss Army-style knife made in 1991 by Master Cutler Hans Meister as the world’s largest penknife, weighing 11 pounds.
Considering this useful gadget got us thinking about the leadership toolkit – the tools that we need on a daily basis to allow us to lead and create value through others. We considered just how many tools the modern leader needs and it’s a lot.
Communication, decisiveness, risk management, delegation, vision, ability to provide open and honest feedback, goal setting, stakeholder engagement, coaching, mentoring, political savvy, business literacy, strategic thinking, planning……the list goes on and on. In fact as a metaphor we might even challenge the “Giant” with its 87 tools mentioned above.
Unfortunately, whilst we can go into a hardware store and buy a Swiss Army knife, there is no such store for the leadership toolkit. We have to develop and learn the skills ourselves and there is no short cut. There are books that we can buy and coaches that we can hire but ultimately the toolkit is developed and honed by practice – lots of practice.

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