Lead by Craft, Not By Spec


Several years ago, a family member asked me how to make my (delicious, I might add) pulled pork chili. I responded by giving her a few of the most important tips. For instance, make sure the meat is thoroughly browned before its added to the pot. Also, be sure to add a chili pepper with a just a little smoke to it, but not too much. Otherwise, it will overwhelm the other flavors. I offered a few more craft secrets that I thought would help her rock the next potluck.


She looked at me blankly and said, “No, I need to know how to make it.” I was thinking, “I just told you how to make it.” She went on to ask, “What are all of the ingredients and how long do I leave it on the stove?”

Uhhh… I wasn’t sure what to say, so I offered gently that you can’t just put the ingredients in the pot at the same time and leave it on the stove. Things had to be done in certain stages and you need to kind of “hang out” with the chili for a while – tasting as you go. I could list all of the potential ingredients, but that won’t tell her how to use them, in what order, or more importantly speak to her individual tastes. I added that I’d be happy to teach her how-to and what’s what.


She responded rightly by saying, “Oh, I actually hate cooking. I’ll never take that kind of time just to make chili.”


“How about I just give you a big container of leftovers to take home?”, I responded. She was thrilled and completely satisfied.


What can leaders learn from this little culinary tale?


Like great pulled pork chili, working by craft and not by spec will always yield a superior result. You can buy acceptable chili in a can. You can order chili to go from a great BBQ joint. But you can’t make it on your own unless you’re ready to take the process “seriously” and learn the craft.

When we ask others to grow in their leadership ability, we are inviting them to enter a craft, not work the steps in a recipe. We should be clear about that and make sure they are up for the adventure.


We can sell the joys and benefits that come with learning any craft, but individuals need (and deserve) the opportunity to make that decision for themselves. We’ll find that some people, like my family member, actually have zero interest in the craft and just want some of the benefits that comes with great outcomes (or chili). That’s good to know. That person will never be excited about learning how to perfectly brown a pork shoulder.


That’s not a judgement. Each of us have some area of life in which acceptable is well, acceptable – areas in which we are happy to leave the craft to others and enjoy their work. However, there are some areas of life that by their nature demand craft and not working to spec: great music, parenting, love, leadership, and of course, superb pulled pork chili.


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