Becoming a Craftsman

To become a craftsman, is to become competent. Competence is an attribute of leadership. There is an old Latin saying: Nemo dat quod non habet – You cannot give what you do not have. How do you purport to lead if you don’t know the way? Knowledge. Do you have the ability to explain, show, and do the job? Skill. If you’ve done the work you should strive to understand the how, why, what, where, when, and who of all aspects of your craft. Why? You can’t give what you don’t have. If you expect your people to do a job and to do it well, then be able to properly prepare them to meet and exceed the standard. In this post, I will look at a few angles associated with craftsmanship. I will share a priceless excerpt from C.S. Lewis short essay, The Inner Ring.

The Crisis

Stories of incompetence abound in every profession. Why? There is a crisis of leadership today. It’s easier to accept incompetence than it is to ask, tell, and make subordinates, come up to the standard. People like easy. You have to care to endure the discomfort involved in leading. Patient coaching of subordinates or holding them accountable is uncomfortable. Leadership requires teaching, reproofs, and correcting. Confrontation is a major part of this. A failure to confront is at the very heart of this crisis. Hoping the problem will somehow fix itself, is not a plan. Failure to lead is indifference at best, and cowardice at worst. Confronting another human being with patience, kindness (concern for), and firmness is challenging. There should be no hint of compromise. It might sound something like this:

I’m making a commitment to you to do everything within my abilities to help you to meet and exceed standards. I will break my back, as it were, to coach you to success. I care and I’m willing to do the work it will take to prove it. I want and expect to see you improve at this, that, or the other thing. I’m also making a commitment to you, that if you refuse to do your job, then I will begin documenting. I will keep documenting and start the disciplinary process. That will continue until you have suspended, demoted, and fired yourself. Please accept my sincerest desire to help you. You have to decide. My job is to confirm your decision, and let the consequences play out!’

Too many people who ought to care – don’t! If you’re in a leadership position, spend your time focused on becoming a craftsman. Provide your people with the highest probability of success.


Merriam Websters defines accountable: 1) Subject to giving an account; answerable. 2) capable of being accounted for: explainable.

Both definitions carry a responsibility for leaders. There is a responsibility to discipline, fire, or properly defend your people. Is the accused actually responsible (answerable), or is he able to explain (explainable) it away? Discipline those who deserve it! Properly defend those who acted rightly and justly! This is simple, yet hard to do. Accountability is not a one way street. One way justice, ain’t justice, it’s revenge. Here is a partial definition of justice:

“As a virtue, it is the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due…1

Accountability depends upon who is innocent and who’s unjust. The innocent go free, the unjust answer.

Is your leadership “willing” to do the hard and seemingly dirty things that need to get done? Is your leadership “willing” to do the unpopular and inconvenient things that need to get done? Who does your leadership fear? My boss won’t like me! This, that, or the other special interest group won’t like me! The media won’t like me! My troops won’t like me! Indeed. Just do the right thing and don’t worry about who likes you and who doesn’t! If you stand for something you will have people lining up, who don’t like you. Stop with buzzwords, and define things clearly. If you want to be liked, buy a puppy.

You Do It Right

I recall a Catholic priest sharing he once asked a seminary professor: What do we do if we find ourselves serving under a bad Bishop? The answer was simple, yet profound. He said he was told to be aware of the problems, but in the end: You do it right. Doing it right often involves the risk of paying a price. The authority given to leaders is a responsibility. It’s not about you! It’s for your people.

One of my best friends is a pilot. He told me when he became a Captain, an authentic leader told him to look over at his right shoulder. On his right shoulder were four stripes representing the rank of a Captain. As a First Officer, he formerly sported three stripes. Upon completion of his final check ride, this leader extended his index finger and poked my friends shoulder as he touched each stripe he emphasized four words. He said: Its – all – your – fault!

What was he telling this young Captain? He was telling him to accept the responsibility given to him to do right things. He was telling him there are no excuses in the end. He was telling him you can’t blame the flight attendant who’s begging you they need to make it home tonight. He was telling him you can’t blame the first officer. You can’t blame the company. You cannot blame an incompetent air traffic controller. He was telling him, the authority given – is – for – your – people. Time to grow up and be answerable as it is all the Captains fault. A Captain is answerable for doing the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time, and in the right way. The way we fix this crisis in leadership is one person at a time. You, whoever you are and wherever you find yourself, do it right. Become a craftsman! Why? You can’t give what you don’t have.

C.S. Lewis The Inner Ring

C.S. Lewis was a Christian British writer born in 1898 and died in 1963. If you have not had the pleasure of reading The Inner Ring you can read it at:

“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.”2

The Inner Ring is about a desire to be inside the innermost circles of knowledge, influence, and power. Lewis provides deep insights into these innermost concentric rings. It comes down to time. What do we do with the time given? Today many focus on ‘the game,’ meaning politics. Politicians spend all their time focused on becoming a craftsman at politics. We need craftsmen at the jobs professions actually exist to do. Political craftsmen often fail to properly defend their people when they act rightly. Why? Compromise (a form of indifference), or cowardice.

Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself, these principles apply to you. Whatever you do in life strive to become a craftsman. Don’t settle for mediocrity or substandard performance. Use your time well. If you are accountable for subordinates, help them and if they refuse to do their jobs discipline them. I’m going to conclude this post with a quote from Vince Lombardi. It is very relevant:

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” Vince Lombardi

May God give all of us the grace, in the end, to lay exhausted on the field of battle.

1 Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon

2 The Inner Ring, C.S. Lewis