Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

I have been asked the question “What one piece of advice do you wish that you had received as a young professional?” multiple times in recent years.  I struggled with the answer to this question, because I was blessed with several great mentors in my years as a young professional.  The advice I received was sound, and I gained a great deal of technical knowledge in the process.  Clearly their advice helped me to become the professional I am today.

The bit of advice that I was missing from my early mentors was that no one ever told me that TO BE A LEADER IS TO SERVE.  Got that?  To be a leader is to serve others.

It took me years to learn this truth.  As a youngster, I pictured a leader as something of a drill sergeant; telling others what to do and how to do it.  Through the school of hard knocks, I learned that being a leader often means leading by example.  In order to do so, one must lead by doing.

When we chartered the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI in 1990, I was in the midst of raising a family.  During the pre-charter meetings hosted by then Institute Director Byron Dickson, I realized that if I expected an organization that benefits me to exist, I’d better be willing to assume a leadership role, and became the first treasurer of the chapter.

Fast forward about 15-20 years and I watched my three daughters take on leadership roles in the organizations to which they belong.  I did not deliberately teach my children to be leaders, but as they say, your children don’t do as you say, they do as you do.

Somewhere between my misguided high school days of envisioning a leader as a drill sergeant and the time I was participating in CSI leadership, I figured out that in order to lead, I must be willing to work hard and be of service to others.  To this day, that knowledge has served me well.


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I’ve spent this week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week of R&R. While walking the beach, I’ve observed how the forces of nature have left their mark.  There are water marks left at high tide and ripples in the sand deposited by the wind.  The fiddler crabs left myriad tiny footprints in the sand as have the marine waterfowl.  Multiple animals deposit their shells on the sand following their passing.  We are admonished to leave only footprints and take only memories as we leave.

Like the natural forces on the barrier islands, those of us that are design professionals are obsessed with leaving a mark. Hopefully that mark constitutes a beneficial impact on the community that is the world.

We need to leave functional infrastructure, architecture that provides shelter, and somehow with both of these, we need to leave a beauty that users and observers will appreciate. Easy to think of this from the standpoint of monumental architecture, or a Golden Gate Bridge, but something as utilitarian as the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge that connects Hatteras Island with the rest of the US has a certain beauty in the rhythm of the pilings and the stantions that support the guardrails.  The built legacy should survive us and benefit society for generations to come.

In the process of creating the built world, we have a far more important obligation to leave an intellectual mark with the younger folks that work with us through the intentional transfer of knowledge. This takes place through mentoring, networking, associations, and certification programs.  Experienced professionals such as myself need to make certain that when we leave our professions that we don’t create an unfillable void.  Our professional legatees need to be ready step in and fill the space.  It is our obligation to make certain they are.

Likewise, we have much to learn from the younger professionals in our lives. They are full of energy and new ideas.  New ideas are worth our time, attention, nurturing, and even of our championing.  Pay attention seasoned professionals, as your young colleague may provide the idea that makes something work in a new and wonderful way.

So a quick memo to my younger colleagues: I want to spend time with you.  You have the capacity to make me better, and we can make each other better.  The best place to find me on a first Tuesday is at a CSI meeting.  In that venue, we can both learn something new.

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Today I wrote Field Report #1 for another project. My observations were limited to walking the property lines and ascertaining that the corners were properly marked and that the wetlands on the property were still flagged.  While this isn’t a lot of progress, what it represents is a new project has reached the Construction Phase.  The beginning of a project carries with it a special sort of excitement.  This occurs with each new project, road trip, another year at Construct, and the list goes on.

I also experienced this feeling when I left my first architectural position after three and one half years of working for a difficult boss who happened to be a great mentor. In spite of distancing myself from my mentor, I found myself looking forward to the next step, a four year term running construction operations for a local general contractor.  My time spent as a member of the constructor team became a large part of who I am as an architect and contributed heavily to my technical expertise.

So as I contemplate my new project, I can’t help but think about our younger colleagues whose careers collectively constitute new projects. I feel an obligation to give back to the profession as a mentor to these folks.  After all, there were many people who did the same for me.  So as I observe the beginnings of people’s careers, I share their excitement as they submit Field Report #1 on their careers.  I look forward to intentionally sharing knowledge for years to come.

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One of my friends and mentors passed this past week. He was one of those people that whenever we had a casual conversation, I would learn something.

Dick was a retired police officer and an experienced volunteer firefighter. It was from him that I learned much of what I know about how fires behave in buildings and also what extinguishes them.  This has served me well as an architect over the last several years.  I’m not sure if Dick realized that I was learning anything from him or that I consider him a mentor.  It was more about making friendly conversation about topics in which he had a wealth of knowledge and interest.  I will sorely miss the warmth and fellowship of our visits.

With that said, this is very much a reminder that members of my generation need to be focused on transferring the knowledge we have amassed over a lifetime to younger people. Being a mentor involves sharing our knowledge or, better still, sharing the means to acquire the necessary knowledge.  This may be a simple matter of answering a well placed question, or being there (hanging out) when the protégé isn’t aware that a question needs to be asked.

By all means, we should take a younger colleague under our wing and share the resources we have developed over the years. I don’t need to be in younger folks’ shoes.  I was there once.  I am eternally grateful to Dick – and Tom, Sandy, Roxanne, and Sam.  I have learned so much from these five people, that I would not be the architect I am today without their willingness to mentor me.  It is my intent to pass it on to whoever is willing to listen.

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we Boomers have been turning gray in recent years. That means that there are two and soon to be three defined younger generations in the workforce. As time marches on, we will inevitably pass the world on to folks that are younger, whether through retirement or otherwise. Are we ready for that? Will our businesses and associations survive without us? Therein is where our priorities should lie.

Regardless of the generalizations that have been uttered about younger generations, I have to say that today’s young people are NO DIFFERENT than my contemporaries were at a similar age. Yes, we have different tools with which to deal with life, thanks to today’s technology, but the deep down issues are universal. All generations at any given age share the same hopes and fears.

With that said, as each individual and each subsequent generation enters the workforce, they will inevitably have questions. How else would one learn? The thing is, those of us that have been around for a while need to be willing to mentor and share the knowledge gained from years of experience. If we act appropriately in this regard, those on the receiving end of this intentional transfer of knowledge will be able to avoid our mistakes and create things that were not possible thirty or more years ago.

It is my goal, therefore, to share my technical knowledge with anyone willing to listen, then get out of the way so that I don’t micro-manage how they put the information into practice. That allows me to get great pleasure out of looking over someone’s shoulder and see how much faster they can produce something than I can (but I must confess that I have to remind myself of this).

So I will continue to intentionally mentor, hopefully without being overbearing.  It’s the least I can do to help ensure that what I have learned will not be lost.  After all, young people are the future!

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Last Wednesday evening, I was delighted to hear a one hour concert by “Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Bones”, a wonderful trombone ensemble.  Most of us know the sound of a solo trombone.  The sound can be rich or thin, loud or soft, strident or mellow.  Imagine taking the rich sound of a solo trombone and combine it with three others and imagine the four part harmony, particularly if the highest part is played up in a typically trumpet register!  The effect was wonderful, particularly the piccolo part of Stars and Stripes Forever played on trombone.

 Now imagine the sound of a professional symphony orchestra.  Each of the players can produce a rich solo sound, but combined, the acoustic output is so much more!  By utilizing each individual player’s talents, the somposer and conductor can do so much!

 So it is with the construction team.  Good buildings don’t just happen.  It starts with an owner’s vision.  Mix in the talents of an architect and several engineers and other designers.  Now add in a great contractor with his accompanying group of specialty subcontractors.  Mix in a plethora of good material suppliers and product reps.  Let’s not forget the local inspectors and planning departments.  The result is so much more than any one individual could produce on his/her own.

 CSI is the one place where the entire construction team can get together in a collegial setting and discuss items of importance to each of us andd the entire team.  This week is Construct 2012 in Phoenix.  I have been in town less than twenty-four hours and have already encountered friends and colleagues who are manufacturer’s representatives, specialty product reps, contractors, association professionals, specifiers, and yes, other architects.  Every one of us is committed to excellence in the built environment.  It’s what we do at CSI

 Now extend the concept to life in general.  If all individuals were alike, we would be a lot poorer (we might as well be a rock on a desolate planet).  Thankfully, we all have differing personalities, different talents, and differing opinions.  This makes our lives far richer.  So I salute my friends everywhere.  I rejoice in you for who you are individually.

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I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours or so in Colonial Williamsburg and the experience provokes the following thoughts:

There is a certain order to the Colonial Era architecture.  The details that aficionados cherish today had a practical function.  For example, the Flemish bond masonry walls were so designed for structural stability.  The fact that responding to the forces of wind and gravity produced a beautifully ordered pattern is somehow lost these days when Flemish bond is specified for brick veneer.  It still is beautiful, but is a caricature of its original function.  The same is true of the elegant proportion and detailing of such mundane elements as the dormers above a steep shingled roof.  Siding was installed on a slope parallel to the roof surface because it was easier to flash and wouldn’t absorb water into the end grain as it would if installed horizontally.  The ogee crown mouldings would throw the water clear of the siding.

The same sense of order applied during colonial times.  Everyone who owned property was saddled with the responsibility to be a part of the local militia, and from the ranks of the property owners, legislators were chosen.  This was the price one paid for being a citizen of the Commonwealth.  The premise was that citizenship was worth the sacrifice of leadership.

So it is still, that everyone who is a member of an organization should be willing to lead it.  I find that organizations that are failing are failing because leaders are burning out and other members are running from responsibility.  This is a reaction I fail to understand.  If an organization, a community, yes even a state or nation will fail if we don’t step forward to lead.  We have a responsibility to do so.

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