Leadership: Balancing Art, Craft, and Science

Leadership: That process in which one person sets a purpose or direction for one or more other persons, and gets them to move along together with him or her and with each other in that direction with competence and full commitment. (Clement & Jaques. Executive Leadership 2009)

Leadership: Adding value to the problem solving and decision making of others.

Leadership does not exist in a vacuum. It is observed by others while a person is leading; found while experienced within a particular context. Removing the person leading from the situation creates confusion and uncertainty. Leadership is seen and felt through the practice of leading. To make sense of this practice, I am arguing that leadership is a continuum that combines art, craft, and science each useful and practical when in balance; but ineffective and useless when out of balance.

The table below lists various characteristics of leading under art, craft, and science.

  • Art encourages creativity, resulting in insights and vision.
  • Science provides order, through systemic analysis and assessments.
  • Craft makes connections, building on experiences.


Accordingly, art tends to be inductive, from special events to a broad overview; science deductive, from general concepts to specific applications; and craft is iterative, back and forth between specific and general. This leadership continuum is expressed most evidently in how each approaches strategy:

  • As a process of visioning in art.
  • Planning in science.
  • Venturing in craft.


The Three Poles of Leadership

Art Science Craft
Based on Imagination
(the visual)
(the verbal)
(the visceral)
Relies on Creative insights Scientific facts Practical experience
Concerned with Novelty Replicability Utility
Decision making as Inductive Deductive Iterative
Strategy making as Visioning Planning Venturing
Metaphor The air (spiritual);
can get lost
The earth (rational);
can get stuck
The sea (sensual);
can go adrift
Contribution Art as comprehensive synthesis, in the form of insights and visions Science as systemic analysis, in the form of inputs and assessments Craft as dynamic learning, in the form of actions and experiments

The Three Poles of LeadershipEffective leading tends to happen in the middle of the triangle, where the three approaches coexist, even if there may be a tilt towards one or the other. A third smaller triangle is shown at the center to suggest that too much balance of the three may also be dysfunctional since it lacks any style.

When leading and observing how others lead, take time to reflect on the language, decisions, and strategy to best understand where your practice of leadership is working well and may not be working so well.


Mintzberg, H. (2004). Managers, not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Mike Cardus: Buffalo Niagara Partnership Executive Exchange Facilitator

Some consultants feel as if they are heroes called in to fix something broken, like the knight on the horse. That is quite tragic – to treat people as if they are broken when the teams, leaders, and people have done so much to get to where they are. Mike forms a partnership with all clients to accept where you are, listen to what’s working and understand what isn’t to create a process with you to improve your company’s profitability. Learn more at – https://mikecardus.com/

Executive Exchange: Mike Cardus