Leadership and Craftsmanship

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, 3-LI

Real World:

Fresh out of engineering school and excited to begin my new job, I enthusiastically started work on test equipment design for a digital fuel-control. One of the more memorable experiences was working with the technician assigned to our team. He was (is?) a true craftsman. He built the circuit-boards we designed in a neat, logical, and efficient manner. To my eye, they were beautiful.

Recently, I needed to employ several different contractors. Two have been true craftsmen, but several others, well, not so


much. One of the craftsmen is still working for us. He’s rebuilding a porch/deck at our home. I’ll call him Barry.


It’s a significant project, and together Barry and I chose the decking materials and discussed how the project should proceed. He and I talked with the lumber store assistant about the options available to us for the design we had in mind. Both Barry and the clerk left the decisions all to me. They only answered my questions without inserting too much opinion. I saw Barry’s eyes light up as I chose the best materials for the job—they were also the most expensive, of course! He also appreciated how he got no push back from me when he explained that we might need some additional lumber for the framing and some cement for a new stair footing. He grew to understand that I wanted the job done right, not quickly, or with corners cut to save expense foolishly. He was not used to working with someone who understood his craft’s mechanics and the need for structural integrity.

I watch him work for a few minutes each day. He likes to explain to me why he is doing what he is doing. He always mentions how grateful he is that we are patient with his progress, allowing him to take care of an ill spouse and practice his craft. He is proud of his craftsmanship, as well he should be, and enjoys the autonomy to make decisions on the construction. He is pleased to extend his mastery of the craft by learning a new decking system.

It’s All About Quality:

I know we are getting a superb product that will last a very long time. Why would I not be patient? Why would I not let this master finish-carpenter build something he will be proud to show others?

We have craftsmen throughout our companies. They may not be providing work product that is as visible as our new porch, but they are craftsmen in their own rights. Perhaps she or he is a billing clerk or a shipping clerk or a machinist. Maybe you have a craftsman on your leadership team who patiently develops other leaders in her department. Real Craftsmen take pride in what they do. They will soon disengage if we force them to produce what they know to be inferior work product.


The question is, are you shaping a culture allowing autonomy and mastery? Are you providing a vision that inspires the craftsmen in your organization? Is the balance between timely delivery and quality of products correct, or are you rushing things? In short, have you crafted an environment that allows Craftsmen to flourish, or is your environment or one that inappropriately demands unthinking adherence to procedures?

All of this reminds me of a story related to me a very long time ago. It speaks to the power of vision, autonomy, and mastery. Here’s my version.

[Lightly edited in 9/2020 for our new website.]