Leadership Craft Leadership Art provides cogent insights and observations on the theory and practice of leadership development

“Most of the practices around the art of leadership are really about the craft of leadership,” argues Steven Taylor, in his compelling book on the art and craft of leadership: “Leadership is a creative process in the same way that painting, acting, drawing or other arts are a creative process and the essence of that creative process is in the craft practice, rather than the flash of creative insight.” The craft of leadership only becomes artful when it achieves mastery, but that is beside the point. The point is, achieving artistry in anything is hard work that involves developing and refining your craft. Leadership is a practice.

An excerpt from Chapter 1

Craft, Art, Creativity, and Leadership

Human beings have always been masters of craft. We make things, and some of those things we decorate to make them special. Our ancestors spent a lot of their time making things such as knives and adding complex decorations to the handles to make the knife have some meaning that was different from that of other knives. When I was a teenager, it was commonplace to add patches or embroidery or otherwise decorate your blue jeans to make them special. This creating and making special are the origins of craft and art. The Industrial Revolution consisted largely of taking traditional crafts and turning them into modern production processes by taking the variance out of the process, by breaking the process down into its component parts and making assembly lines, and by introducing machinery and automating as much of the process as possible. Our material standard of living has increased greatly as a result.

Relentless economic forces push the costs of these production processes ever downward through automation, rationalization, and outsourcing. As nearly everything that can be turned into a modern production process has been turned into one, more and more of us find ourselves working in processes that cannot be turned into such production processes— processes that require variance in the process; that require creativity, craft, and art; and that involve working with other people, reaching agreement on what to do and how to do it, and dealing with exceptions to the production processes.

One of those processes is leadership. Despite all the efforts of countless scholars, practitioners, and leadership developers to get at the essence of leadership in order to make it more effective, in order to mass- produce it, leadership remains a craft, at times an art, and always a creative effort. In the words of the leadership scholar James MacGregor Burns (From Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Leadership ( 2003) :

The key distinctive role of leadership at the outset is that leaders take the initiative. They address their creative insights to potential followers, seize their attention, spark further interaction. The first act is decisive because it breaks up a static situation and establishes a relationship. It is, in every sense, a creative act.

Leadership is a creative act, in part because of the challenges that leaders face. We live in a complex and interdependent world where even agreeing on the nature of an issue is difficult. Consider the big issues of our time— energy, climate change, population pressures, distribution of wealth, species extinction, addiction to growth — that may really all be one big, interconnected challenge.  Some talk about climate change, and others respond by saying: well it’s really all about carbon-based energy and we need to move to renewable energy sources.

Others say that it’s really about how we produce food, that much of our carbon use comes from food production and distribution, and that we need to create (or perhaps recreate) a local and organic food system. Others argue that at the root of all of these issues is the ever-growing human population and that we have long since passed the ability of the planet to support so many people. Others say that it’s not population, it’s consumption, because even if population levels off as they are predicted to do sometime in the twenty-first century, we still expect our economy to grow every year, and so growth in consumption is the core issue. Still, others follow this argument further and suggest that investor capitalism has growth at its core and that we need a new system of organizing our political economy that does not require constant growth. Deep down, we recognize that there’s more than a grain of truth in all of these positions and that a leader who could solve these problems would be a master of the art of leadership.

Leadership Craft Leadership Art offers a theory of leadership as an art and craft, as well as reflective practices to help you analyze our own actions and learn how to be more effective, ethical, and artful as a leader or manager.

Try This Reflective Practice to Master the Craft of Leadership 

This work forms the basis for a programme on the leadership craft of connection we created for the Banff Centre in 2017.

About Steven S. Taylor

Steve Taylor is a professor of leadership and creativity and the head of entrepreneurship, marketing, and management at the WPI Foisie Business School. His research has been published in academic journals including Organization Studies, Leadership Quarterly, Leadership, Academy of Management Learning and Education, and Journal of Management Studies. Taylor is the author of the books Leadership Craft, Leadership Art; You’re a Genius: Using Reflective Practice to Master the Craft of Leadership (Available on Amazon); and Staging organization: plays as critical commentaries on workplace life. He is also the founding editor of the journal Organizational Aesthetics

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Updated Oct 23, 2018