The Craft VS. The Art Of Leadership

I think it’s fair to say that I am an expert, or at least, very exper-ienced, in the realm of arts education. Since leadership is an art form of sorts, I thought I would weigh in with an artistic perspective on leadership and management training.

When people talk about “arts education,” most of the time they are really referring to “craft education,” e.g., learning how to find the notes on a keyboard or a clarinet. That is an essential element of arts education, but it is not the same as the “art” part of it, which has much more to do with perception, imagination, one’s unique presence, and evoking emotional responses.

It is important to keep craft and art separate. This is because it is very easy, and very common, to get them out of balance.

Many people get by on their art even though they are short on craft. Pavarotti could not read music, but this did not get in his way. Arthur Fiedler had no baton technique, but it did not prevent him from being the most successful conductor in history. “Fik-Shun” won the title of America’s Favorite Dancer last year, even though he had minimal standard dance craft training compared to his competitors.

But while many people get by despite having minimal craft, many people are defeated by having too much of it. Too much craft can fog up your perception, suppress your imagination, shame the imperfections that make you unique, make you afraid of your audience, and just delay everything generally.

Just one example, when I wrote my first book, I was scared to death of failure and rejection, so I bought and read every book I could find on how to get published. Sad to say, I spent so much time reading these books and following their many detailed systems for success that I ended up never actually . . . you know . . . publishing a book. Years later, it was only due to a sense of total desperation that I finally took on the “art” of it. With guts a-churning, I sent a check and a pdf file to a book printer. Three weeks later, I was “published,” and four months later, I had sold every typo-laden copy. The “experts” had given me lots of nifty advice, but they had not given me the courage to simply place the order and put the book on display. In fact, they had sort of gotten in the way of it.  I could tell you identical stories about learning how to play the bass, how to dance, and how to be a public speaker.  All too often, lessons in craft get in the way of the art.

In a world where “content is king,” many people promote themselves by publishing advice on how to manage and lead. It is all done with the best of intentions, but beyond a certain point, the sheer volume of it makes it a time-consuming liability.  The “art” of leading is made of your own odd combination of desire, perception, courage, imagination, and personal presence. If those imperfect elements are suppressed, no external system or craft can take their place.

So here I am giving out yet more management advice, but in this case the advice is to ignore my advice. Sure, feedback and coaching are essential to cultivating your talents, but one must be careful not to become overly deferential to an outside system. As Dorothy learned in the Wizard of Oz, there are some things that no one can teach you, you have to figure them out for yourself. Don’t let too much leadership craft get in the way of your leadership art.

(About the Author: Justin Locke spent 18 years playing bass in the Boston Pops, and his musical plays are performed all over the world. He is a philosopher, humorist, author, speaker, and coach. He shares an amusing pragmatic approach to personal growth, “people skills,” and management, based on his experience in the world of the performing arts. For more, visit his website at

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