“It is a Poor Craftsman that Blames HisTools”: Managing for Engagement

Do you ever wish you were the one who said that, I mean something that is frequently referenced, like the saying above,"It is a poor craftsman…"  Well, this is a case where whoever said it doesn’t seem to be getting any credit. After a semi-exhaustive, OK not really that much, search I have come to the conclusion that no one is getting credit for this beauty and it is used all the time. I have decided to assign it to Poor Richard, he of almanac fame. Did he play basketball?


This is a great time of year if you are a basketball fan. It is a great time of year to pretend you are a basketball fan! March Madness has come to be the most participatory event in all of college athletics, maybe all of sports, from a fan standpoint. With men’s and women’s tournaments being played right along side each other there seems to be something for everyone and the outcomes are almost always unpredictable. Even the most casual of fan might win the office pool this year what with all the upsets.

In this year’s tournaments it seems like the eventual outcome, except maybe everyone being dumbstruck if the U Conn women don’t win, is up for grabs. What is not in doubt is that the players involved will give everything they have physically and emotionally. Some will play through pain and injury, many will suffer disappointment over what could have been and the vast majority will go home empty handed save for the experience, which is of course priceless.

What is not so much in doubt is the way the coaches will handle the outcomes. One thing you will be able to count on and one reason these players are willing to give so much and do whatever they are asked is that if they win the coaches will give them all the credit and if they don’t they will share the responsibility for the loss.

Is this so very different from where you work, from where any of us work? I am guessing that the responses are mixed. But why should it be any different at all?

I have noticed, and maybe so have you that in business there is this assumption in the background that everything is supposed to work out, all the time! We hire people and they don’t work out, we promote people and they don’t work out. We are poorly prepared for these all too frequent occurrences yet we know they are coming. It seems that maybe after four gazillion years of running companies maybe we would see this coming and yet when the truth of the failure is finally recognized (often getting there is like pulling teeth) we seem either incredulous or betrayed.

Deirdre Honner recently posted a wonderful piece on her site that I think sheds a powerful light on all this ugly history. In her HR Maven posting of March 19th titled simply, Training and Development, she unlocks the mystery of dealing powerfully with performance failures for all managers, if you are brave enough to face it. Using the current experience of her dog in “good dog school” she offers that the difference between a previous failure and this time around is marked by recognizing that she needs to play the game not just watch it, she has a responsible role.

“This time is different.  Cameras stay home.  I am fully committed and invested to do my part, pay attention and work with Samson.  We work together on our taskings.  When he misses, it’s MY fault.   He can only deliver when he understands exactly what I want him to do.  When he misses, I must examine where I am failing – by sending wrong or conflicting messages, not clear in my instructions, where I am confusing him.  That’s humbling.  Really. Because Samson is a very, very smart dog.  His mistake is my fault. This time, I own it.”

Deirdre is the Associate Director of HR at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. As a former HR manager myself I take great comfort in knowing that there are professionals like Deirdre out there counseling managers, young and old, to realize their responsibility when it comes to the people reporting to them. Deidre clearly recognizes that her pal Samson is an asset to be treasured and developed, so are your reports. It is humbling I know, to see yourself as responsible when they fail. If you can’t do this you should step down from the post to make room for someone who can.

As the coaches in March Madness will repeat time and again during the tournament, yes it is about winning, and it’s also about how the game is played. There is tomorrow to get ready for, set it up to win.

  • Where are you spectating your people’s performance?
  • What’s the roll you could be playing?
  • Are you willing to step up and engage with the game today?



Leave a Reply