Digging in FAR PAST my Skill Set – Uh, Oh.

I am a bit of a tinkerer. I am somewhat skilled at handyman activities. I typically am confident that I can do a job or task quickly. At times, however, I get into a task that is well beyond my skills. How I have learned to recognize and cope with that scenario may shed light on how leaders can deal with similar circumstances.

The Wiring Challenge

I am a working musician in my free time (check out the Jones & Raine band on Twitter, Facebook, and on the web). I have a nice collection of instruments that inspire me. I’ve upgraded over the years, often trading newer instruments for vintage ones. With some of these instruments, I tinker.

My “opportunities” come when I think a job will be easy and it turns out to be much more difficult than I had imagined. This is one of those times. The guitar in the clickable photo above is a 2001 Fender Custom Shop Telecaster. It was a “player’s guitar,” worn but played great! I didn’t like the sound of the original pickups. I already have another Telecaster with classic Fender pickups. I thought, “I can soldier, how tough can it be?” I pulled the original pickups and bought a different set. I also decided to replace the standard three-way switch to a cool five-way switch (vastly increases the tones you can get from the two pickups).

I installed the pickups without difficulty and routed the wires to the switch cavity. I checked out some wiring diagrams on the web but none showed the same way to wire the new switch! I tried following one diagram; I got sound from the pickups but the different switch settings did not work <sigh>. I’d reached the limits of my knowledge base and skills.

Despite that realization, I continued to futz with the wiring for a couple of weeks. I reviewed numerous diagrams on the web, trying various ways to get the switch to work properly. I finally came to the conclusion that 1) I wasn’t going to fix this on my own and 2) I needed expert help.

The good news is I sent the above photo to friend and expert luthier Tony Nobles in Wimberly, TX who, with one email, directed me exactly which wire needed to be soldiered to which spot on the switch. It took me 15 minutes to follow his instructions, put the guitar back together, and hear remarkable tones from those pickups.

The Moment of Realization

Some of you are thinking, “Why’d it take you two weeks to reach out to your expert?” For many leaders, they want to be right and they want to figure it out for themselves. Admitting they don’t know what they’re doing or they don’t know how to fix an issue is seen as a sign of weakness. Leaders want staff to be confident in them and follow them. Many leaders are convinced that staff will not follow them if the they reveal a lack of competence. At anything.

The reality is that I can’t know what to do in every situation or how to fix any problem. My best bosses always created a safe environment to share not only what we knew but what we didn’t know. I’ve evolved as a leader and believe I am much faster today to:

  1. Admit I’m struggling and don’t know exactly how to best fix an issue, and
  2. Ask specifically for others’ help to fix that issue.

One last note: that Telecaster now has a different set of pickups (fourth set) and has a b-bender installed by Gene Parsons. Always tinkering!


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