Handcrafted Leadership: The Art and Craft of Building Engaged Workplaces and Communities by Bob Chartier Book Review

By Cory Davis

This is a review of “Handcrafted Leadership” by Bob Chartier. This book was published in 2015 by Doghouse Publishing in Calgary Alberta.


“Excellent addition to your leadership repertoire”

About the Author

I received this book from Bob Chartier himself in 2016 while attending a course he taught in Prince George, British Columbia at the Ramada Hotel. It was my first multi-day course on the art of facilitation and engagement. If you have the opportunity to attend one of his courses, I highly recommend it. As you could imagine, a course on facilitation and engagement should be engaging and well-facilitated. It was.

Bob Chartier is a speaker, writer, artisan, and musician. He is the author of two books, “Handcrafted Leadership” and “Bureaucratically Incorrect: Letters to a Young Public Servant”. He also authored several essays. He had a long career with the Canadian public service in many different capacities including working with Deputy Ministers and their management teams and has taught executive leadership programs at Royal Roads University. I got my B.Sc. from Royal Roads University in 2015 and only wish I were smart enough to know he was instructing classing there.

I have no affiliation with Bob Chartier and make no money from advertisements. However, if you are interested in his work, please visit his website at www.BobChartier.ca to find out more, or better yet attend his courses, hire him to speak at your event or buy his books.

What is Handcrafted Leadership All About?

Handcrafted Leadership is a guide to the art of facilitation and engagement giving the reader tool after tool to lead meetings for business results. It tackles difficult problems and is forward looking. It is practical, concise, and short. The tools provided in this book are tried and true. They have been rigorously tested and proven to be effective.

This book is an excellent addition to your leadership repertoire. However, on a deeper level this book does much more. These are critical times for humanity. Thus, we need to work efficiently and effectively. Throughout my career I have seen hundreds of working hours wasted in ineffective and inefficient meetings.

I often hear people groan about attending meetings. Well, if you don’t want to be in a meeting, you probably shouldn’t be there. This is a problem with meetings today. We often do not accomplish enough. They are bland information disseminating relics of a previous era. Today, we know that meetings and teamwork can accomplish much more when facilitated well. There is power in numbers: innovation, collaboration, comradery, motivation, community, and relationship building. However, most of us know that teamwork is difficult. At university, you may have hated working in teams. Teamwork is tough – when it is accomplished haphazardly.

There is an art to teamwork, facilitation, and engagement. These are real skills that needs deep consideration and practice for your team to achieve its potential. This book is an excellent addition to this compendium of knowledge.

What “Handcrafted Leadership” promises the reader

This book promises to help you develop as a leader through sharing ideas, theory, and facilitation and engagement tools better. Reading this book will not make you an expert on leadership, facilitation or engagement. However, you will be more informed and hopefully inspired to put some of this content into practice at your job or volunteer practice.

How it delivers on its promise

The book starts off just how Bob Chartier started his course in 2016. He showed a hand-drawing of a skating rink. This he said, “is the status quo”. He noted that, “it works pretty good”. However, the skating rink is a somewhat rectangular shape – it is a hockey arena first and foremost. If you are unfortunate enough to be a figure skater, then you skate in circles. If you are a speedskater, you skate in an oval shape, if you are just going on a date, then you have to just adhere to whatever shape the rink it. So, this is a problem. Skating rinks are designed for hockey and therefore are best for hockey.

See the source image
The traditional skating arena, retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/ff/Joe-Louis-Arena.jpg/1200px-Joe-Louis-Arena.jpg

So, some skating rinks tried to improve on the model and added a little pond for little kids to skate while older kids played hockey. Great improvement, now it accommodates more use. This improvement can be thought of as a metaphor for change in an organization, community or even a political or socioeconomic framework. You can always tweak it for the better. These small innovations still keep the same old skating rink model as before, but improvements are always good.

An improved skating area. Retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Night_ice_skating_on_Mount_Royal.JPG

However, Bob Chartier was inspired when he saw a new kind of skating rink. It was not a rectangle or any one simple shape. There was a fireplace on the ice where people could warm their hands. There were several interconnected areas where people could skate accommodating a much wider range of activity than could with the original hockey-model. This is analogous to a paradigm shift – a complete transformation. This is a major innovation, not just incremental improvements.

Retrieved from: https://seasonsofbownesspark.ca/fw-event-slug/ice-skating-at-bowness-park/
Bowness Park Skating RInk
A new ice skating arena paradigm, retrieved from: https://calgaryplaygroundreview.com/skating-bowness-park-lagoon/

Why is such a transformation or paradigm shift so hard to achieve? Why is it so difficult to “unlearn” ways of thinking or ideas? When I say “skating rink” we all think of the rectangular hockey-style arena. Why can’t we imagine something much better? We all see the world through a particular lens sometimes referred to as a “mental model”.  It is important to understand that mental models play out in organizations just as they do your personal lens.

So, the analogy of the skating rink applies to your organization. Organizations tend to cling onto their mental model with employees left feeling disloyal for challenging it. So how do we shift the mental model of an organization to enable it to transform, embrace a paradigm shift and develop major innovations? Well, one way you could try is to put together a fully engaged team of people who won’t hesitate to ask big questions. This may be the simplest pathway to great big thinking.

I know what you are thinking – “right, like a meeting”. Well, not a meeting in a traditional sense. I mean a meeting that is fully engaged – one that is productive, open, and efficient – that gets results.

This book is a supplement to your toolset for engaging employees and communities. It provides ideas, thought, theories and facilitation tools to help you develop as a leader. It really emphasizes the tools. Most chapters will provide you with several tools for engaging people for results efficiently and effectively.

What you will get from this book

This book will give many tools to put into action. Tools to engage people, teams, systems, and audiences. It will give you tools to replace old-school traditional ones like meetings, committees, and workshops.

Favourite quotes

“A wise man once said to me that you could start to get your head around the challenge of moving an organization of one thousand people when you just consider that such an organization is really just one hundred teams of ten.”

“The whole system is rife with bad meetings, managers making critical decisions behind closed board rooms, and eight-person committees sending reports off somewhere, wherever reports go to die.”

“Action without relationship has no commitment. And action without possibility has no imagination”.

Favourite Part

My favourite part of this book is the facilitation tools it gives. They are not necessarily given in a step by step format. Many of the tools are presented as ideas for you to tailor to your situation.

Least Favourite Part

The book often looks at problems through a management lens making it less relatable to the employee. It looks at problems from a place of authority within an organization as if handcrafted leadership is something for managers only. It does try to accommodate the employee, in some instances, but then goes back to the old boys club management perspective. I would have liked it to give more power and tools explicitly to the employees. So in some ways, it did not resonate with me as much as it could have.

The book is forward looking, however, nobody could have predicted the enagement and facilitation challenges that arose from the pandemic. I hoped that this book would have given more tools that could have been used virtually. It even notes in the “RadioShow” tool not to use internet or video streaming platforms due to technical challenges. This is not the way of the future. We are using video conferencing services more and more. This was a trend prior to the pandemic – the use of telework agreements to attract top talent. Even the public service acknowledges that it is not about where you work it is about what you work and how you work. Why go to an office to do something you can do just as easily from home, or Tim Hortons for that matter. Most young people I talk to love that idea. It saves office space, reduces carbon emissions from the commute and provides autonomy for your work. Even Harvard studies suggest that employees are more engaged with work-from-home options. What we need are facilitation tools for the virtual world – a mental model shift that is desperately needed, but not acknowledged at all in this book.


I highly recommend this book. It is full of useful tools, examples, and new ways of thinking to boost the productivity of your engagement programs. It is a book that I have revisited on several occasions through my facilitation endeavours. However, with that said, there are many resources online as well such as facilitator toolkits. Regardless, this book makes an excellent addition to your toolbox, a deeper look into facilitation and engagement in a clear, concise, and well-organized format.

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