Monday, September 23, 2013

Is there a place for the quiet leader?

Part of the discussions my firm is having about the next ten years involves leadership. Some of the conversations are basic--who's retiring, who's staying, who's advancing or should be advanced, and so on. Some of these conversations are more abstract and revolve around leadership itself. We've had previous discussions about what does it take to reach certain titles in our office, but there's still something lacking, something not quite right about those rules.

Many of our firm's, and indeed our society's, hallmarks of leadership include what might be considered extroverted behaviors and traits. Speaking up (and often), being visible, tooting your own horn, being involved in multiple visible roles, etc. are often considered what it takes to be a "leader" in our culture. But if we are to believe the research presented in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (and I do believe it myself), we need quiet, more reserved, and less "out there" leaders as much as we do the social butterfly multitaskers that we've rewarded with leadership roles and power for so long.

I'm often thought of as an extrovert, but the truth is I prefer to work alone or with only one or two more people, and I require a lot of alone time to recover from public speaking and teaching engagements. I consider myself just barely an extrovert, but I also find myself getting louder and more involved and vocal when something really matters to me. Even now while trying to slog through my burnout and get some much-needed rest, I find myself compelled to be involved in these long-range planning efforts going on in my firm right now. This is due in part to the fact that it's something I've wanted to be involved in for a long time, and it's also due to the fact that whenever something needs to be done as part of this planning, there is only a handful of people willing to do it falls into my lap or the lap of one of a few colleagues. Extroversion through coercion, so it seems.

So I do wonder: is there a place for the quiet leader, the monotasker, the thoughtful sage in lieu of the verbose savior? And can architecture make that kind of leader work both in its firms and as its face in society?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Random thoughts on architectural work

I still don't have anything lengthy and coherent to blog, but I have had some musings I thought I'd share. Our firm has been going through some major changes regarding how we manage and treat employees and how we're going to move forward for the next ten years, and the conversations that are causing and are caused by these changes have given me some random insights and/or ideas. (Or maybe they're just brain droppings.)

  • Empowerment is a two-way street. Your manager needs to allow you to take something on and run with it and do it without his/her micromanagement or constant supervision. On the other hand, you have to be willing to accept responsibility if/when there are errors and do what it takes to get that task (or part of a project) done.
  • If you can't get right what I've given you so far, chances are good that I'm not going to give you new or different stuff to do.
  • The farther you go up the ladder at an architecture firm, the less actual architecture you do every day.
  • The biggest skill that young architects and interns (as well as the rest of the world) isn't learning before they hit the work world is how to communicate clearly and civilly. Your bosses didn't learn it either, but we have to start somewhere with good communication in the workplace.
  • Good communication doesn't mean "always being nice" or never calling people on poor performance. It means that when you do call out bad performance, it's about the performance and not the person.
  • Cultural change takes time. Even when an entire organization is on board with changing the way it works, it can still take 3-5 years to see the changes and get them firmly entrenched in daily office culture. It's still worth doing; just be patient.
  • "People want change, but people don't want to be changed." --Winston Churchill
  • No matter how much you try to help make things better, there are always going to be a few people who aren't going to be happy. It's still worth making things better.
  • There are two sides to the happiness at work coin. One side is that you have to be able to do the things you enjoy doing so that you can stand coming to work every day. The other side is that you have to do the crappy stuff sometimes in order to get the job done. Not every day should be a horrible grind, but not every day can be sunshine and flowers.