Blacksmith, India, C19th, British Museum
Ideas for Leaders #009

Leadership Tools: Magnet to Pull, Hammer to Drive

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Key Concept

Theorists often speak of management ‘tools’ when discussing resources. This Idea explores how successful leadership is based on two tools from the tool-shed, the magnet and the hammer, and shows how, with an understanding of why and when to use these tools, managers can effectively lead their teams through challenging circumstances.

Idea Summary

The authors set out to examine the leadership tools required to help managers rise to new challenges faced during uncertain times. Using case studies of prominent leaders of the past 50 years, they explore the keys of effective leadership.

They find that in order to inspire others and lead change in difficult times, the two important tools needed are the magnet and the hammer- the dual aspects of executive leadership.

  • The magnet: a set of leadership actions that create a pull toward a destination, such as vision, storytelling, charismatic speaking, role modelling, etc.
  • The hammer: a set of leadership actions that drive change directly, such as direct orders, coercion, control systems, hiring and promotions, financial incentives, etc.

The authors found that successful leaders developed their magnets and hammers over time through experience in leadership positions, both inside and outside of professional settings; for example, it was Ronald Reagan’s experience as President of the Screen Actors Guild that helped him to hone his skills in the areas of negotiation and diplomacy

Business Application

In order to become skilled at using these tools, leaders must identify the right one for a given challenge, and then actively follow through and apply it in the real world. The authors identify four practices they have noted in effective leaders that give them the clarity to choose and effectively use the right tools:

  1. Forge your vision: develop a personal vision in each important area of your life; identify mentors (i.e. people with at least 15 years’ more experience than you); realize the power of your position and be prepared to give up to lead sometimes.
  2. Articulate the vision: consider writing about your vision to large groups, in, for example, a blog;; tell stories to illustrate your ideas; take an active role in the career development of a subordinate; consider speaking engagements in front of a live audience.
  3. Hold yourself accountable: practise spending more time on things that are not urgent, but important; spend more time on work driven by you, not your environment; learn about different aspects of your organization; identify three important goals that are important for you and will help you improve as a leader, then share them with a trusted friend or coach.
  4. Hold others accountable: ask others to do things for you and practise sharing out tasks and motivating peers; be prepared to be let down, but always consider how you can improve;

The authors advise that developing your magnet and hammer in other spheres is also a part of the learning cycle of becoming an effective leader. A leader may be all magnet but no hammer, or all hammer but no magnet. But the supreme goal should be to develop a balance of the magnet and the hammer within your own unique leadership style. 

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Idea conceived

  • 2010

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number



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