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  • Eli Gottlieb

Tools of the Mind


When asked what they hope to learn from a leadership development program, candidates often answer, “tools.” I can rarely resist the urge to ask some annoying follow-up questions: Tools for what? Of what kinds? Why do you need help to acquire them? What makes you think I have the particular tools you need and that I can teach you how to use them?

These questions aren’t rhetorical. I genuinely struggle with the question of what kinds of knowledge, skill, disposition, habit, and – yes – tool, educational leaders need in order to succeed. And I’m curious to hear from others what they think they need. In my efforts to explain what people can and can’t expect to acquire in the kinds of leadership programs I am involved in, I designed the following visual metaphor.



The hammer and sickle in the Soviet flag are tools of the hand, symbolizing physical labor. The question mark and exclamation mark in my invented flag are tools of discourse, symbolizing intellectual, interpersonal and intrapersonal labor.

The tools leaders can expect to receive in leadership development programs are primarily tools of the mind – new knowledge, new ways of thinking, new questions, new ways of learning from and with others. If we can help educational leaders to ask thoughtful, tough and fruitful questions, and to discover, formulate or rethink their exclamation marks – dayenu – we will have done plenty.

For more on tools of the mind, see Vygotsky & Luria (1930) Tool and Symbol in Child Development.

#tools #mind #hand #leadership #discourse

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