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9:13am EDT December 20, 2002
My father-in-law, Robert, and I embarked on a not-so-successful adventure recently when my car broke down. Bob, who counts automotive mechanical expertise among his skills, offered to help.

A repair shop replaced the dead battery, but then we discovered the alternator wasn't working up to snuff. It wasn't bad, but the mechanic noticed fluctuations in the alternator's energy wave when he put in a new battery. Having the repair shop replace it, when neither they nor we were sure it had to be replaced, would have been expensive, so Bob suggested we give it a whirl.

We purchased an alternator, then set out to install it. Predictably, we failed. But not because we didn't possess the skills to accomplish the job; in fact, everything almost went smoothly. We failed because the replacement part didn't quite fit into the rigid casing in the engine body, and we lacked the proper tools to get the job done.

In business, the same tenet holds true. Great leaders may understand exactly how to lead their companies successfully, but if they don't have the right tools in place to help them accomplish their goals, they're doomed to fail.

Sometimes the missing tool is people. If your company doesn't have the right people in the right jobs, your personnel resources are misplaced. Other times, the tool that's lacking is technology. If your sales department can't electronically talk to the accounting department or warehouse, it's difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether you have a specific product available or if your customers are up-to-date in their billings.

You can have all the smart ideas in the world and be the best paper technician ever, but it is only how you're able to put those ideas into practice that truly matters when the green light is on.

In my case, Bob called a friend who owned a repair shop and agreed to install the part at a low cost. His friend had the tools to make the part fit and succeeded with little effort. If you have the right tools in place, you can too.