My business is training and coaching managers so they get the most and best performance from their employees without driving them crazy. Often I am found facilitating group training because managers usually aren’t born with all the skills they need to lead. One of the first groundrules I establish in training is to “be open to learning” like a ten-year old (don’t act like one, just learn like one). People nod and smile, “ha-ha, bring your inner ten-year old, I can do that.”

We talk about “coaching” as a way of operating in a leadership role and how this approach requires conversation and collaboration. More nodding. We do an exercise that contrasts lecturing and issuing directives with the collaborative, two-way approach. Even more enthusiasm comes out. Then we talk about giving feedback and taking steps to improve performance – and out come the hammers. “Conversation and collaboration” are suddenly a distant memory.

I think what’s happening here is this: We often hear others characterize people skills and management skills as the “soft skills.” If we look at collaboration in this way, then it is only effective until something goes wrong. Obviously soft isn’t working so BAM, down comes the hammer.

Hammers work well for pounding nails, not people. Most people I know would rather be treated respectfully, as an adult, and given a chance to work out a problem. Effective managers have figured out that it works best to be clear and straightforward with staff about performance expectations, set people up with meaningful projects and work goals, provide support for success, and give feedback so people know where they stand. They have figured out that it works best to work out a plan, a roadmap, for improvement rather than beat people up.

One of my training fantasies is to reach into my briefcase during one of these group discussions and grab a hammer to make a visual point. But I’m pretty sure in today’s edgy world, this might be akin to taking tweezers on an airplane. Not going to jail, but not too good.