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Chainsaw or Scalpel? By William A Horton

Chainsaw or Scalpel? Which is the best tool for you?

We all know that a chainsaw is used to cut down trees. A scalpel is a tool that a doctor uses to perform surgery. You would never imagine giving a plastic surgeon a chainsaw or a lumberjack a scalpel. Yet, we have all used the wrong tool for the job at some point in our lives. Have you ever turned a screw with a butter knife? The fact is that the right device exists for a reason. It has been designed to do the job as efficiently as possible. As mentors, we need to know what the right tool is and when to us it.

At times, you need specific tools or skills to succeed and you literally cannot be useful without them. Mentor’s must ask themselves: do I have the tools to succeed? You can start with these three questions:

  • Do I have the tools required?
  • Where can I get the required tools?
  • Am I willing to embrace the necessary tools?

Do I have the tools required?

Adam did not feel adequate when he first started mentoring people. He felt like he had plenty of Biblical knowledge, but not very much worldly experience to back it up. Because of that, he was very up front and factual. If the Bible said you are not supposed to do something, it was simple for Adam, just do not do it. Jeff, on the other hand, copied his mentor by putting a lot of pressure on those he mentored and telling them what to do. These approaches made it hard for either of them to effectively mentor.

Adam and Jeff were both young and inexperienced as mentors. Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge (2017) remind us that a leader needs to feel confident to strengthen those who follow them to get them to forge ahead to uncharted terrain. The first step is admitting you don’t have the right tools for the job.

Where can I get the required tools?

As a mentor, we must know where we need to turn to get the tools required. Jeff, when struggling to be a mentor, turned to his own mentor. Jeff realized that his mentor also frequently used the wrong tools. Jeff learned what not to do from his mentor. Similarly, it’s worth it for you to approach your mentor to get their opinions about what you need to do to succeed per Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge (2017). Adam also turned to his mentor, who started asking questions. His mentor did not give him the tools; he led Adam to the tools. Mentors ask questions, Hesselbein CEO of the Girl Scouts says, “Ask, don’t tell.”

Am I willing to embrace the necessary tools?

You will always get the best results if you start by using the right tool. Embracing the right tool takes a step of humility and some sacrifice. A mentor cannot be expected to supply their mentee without having the proper training to enhance their competence says Pittenger and Heimann in Building Effective Mentoring Relationships (2000).

Jeff spoke with his mentor only to realize that he needed to learn what not to do. His mentor put a lot of pressure on those he mentored and Jeff was getting bad results by taking the same approach. Jeff took what he did not like about his mentor and changed his approach to those he mentors.

Adam sought out his mentor to get feedback about his own approach. His mentor led Adam to the tools he needed then stated, “You are using a chainsaw, but sometimes you need a scalpel.” Sometimes the mentor must be a storyteller. While other times they must have an empathetic ear and listen. Occasionally, it’s a pep talk that a person needs to hear per Dr. Peddy. In The Art of Mentoring (2001). Dr. Peddy says mentoring is not about knowing what to say, but how to say it and when.

It is easy to make do with the tools that you have, and then grumble about why they are not working, but it’s not wise. So, which “tool” do you need to have as a mentor?


Rev. William A. Horton is an associate pastor at NC Church in Houston, Texas and a graduate student at Regent University School of Business and Leadership. He has a passion to equip people to fulfill their God-given calling in life.

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