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Artisans, Professionals and Leaders
The depth of why, the shallowness of how.
I was struck by a short post by Roman Eggenberger last week titled ‘I am 100% unprofessional”. For anybody who follows Roman, it is a statement that instinctively jars, which is why it is so valuable.
c. 1200, professioun, "vows taken upon entering a religious order,"
In sports and amusements, "undertaken or engaged in for money"
Amateur. 1784, "one who has a taste for some art, study, or pursuit, but does not practice it," from French amateur "one who loves, lover"
Vocation. early 15c., "spiritual calling," from Old French vocacion "call, consecration; calling, profession"
The artisan sits between amateur and professional. They have the love of the work that defines the amateur and the skill of the professional, but without being defined by a quasi-religious relationship between work and money.
Work as a vocation.
The definitions question the idea of a professional leader.
Professional managers? Certainly.
Professional leadership, though, is more challenging. Leadership demands putting a cause and the welfare of those led in front of ourselves in pursuit of a course of action.
A quick scan of the business news on any particular day does not reveal much of that. Despite the fact we spend vast quantities - around $300 billion each year on leadership training, what we end up with is cultures of Machiavellian management. Management cloaked as leadership.
There is nothing wrong with management - it is vital. It is about performance. It is honest. It does not hide behind cosy descriptions of values, or purpose, or community. Management gets the job done. Give me a choice between somebody who is a proven manager and someone who is an aspirational leader, and the decision is easy.
Professionals get hired to get the job done, to operate in the world of the finite game. Professionals gave us Thames Water, as well as countless other highly efficient vehicles of value extraction rather than creation.
Artisans, on the other hand, operate in the world of the infinite game. The work is the work and has its own intrinsic value. The artisan can pick up a piece of work done centuries ago, and identify with it. In creating their own work, they are aware that someone a hundred years hence may do the same with theirs.
There is no reason why a professional cannot become an artisan, but many reasons an artisan is unlikely to become a professional. I think it’s the religious nature of the professions - the dogma, hierarchies, rituals and ceremonies. The pictures on the walls of wood-panelled offices. By comparison, the artisan is recognised by the work they leave behind. Artisans lead by example far more than short-term action. The work they create today is inspired by those long since dead and is part of a thread that goes forward.
Something perhaps we should reflect on when we think about the work we want to be doing in a few years’ time.
Because AI seems likely to become really good at professional management but not the inspirational qualities of leaders in uncertain times.
The leaders we need have the hearts of artisans.