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Leading before you're a leader

Jul 26, 2023

Why this is the key to being a successful leader.

Just to be clear, I don’t advocate for this in order to take on more workload.

When you step outside of architectural studies, you want to save the world and you feel as though design is the way to do this. 

It can be.

But it’s backed by the curation and leadership of design throughout a lengthy period of time, especially if you’re involved with ambitious and complex projects.   

I’m on a mission to nurture design and creativity in the built environment through greater support for leaders. Giving next-gen leaders the courage and capabilities to approach leadership with an entrepreneurial spirit and the compassion to lead more effectively and enjoy it.  

Not just a decade after graduation. 

If we encourage leadership roles at every stage along the way, leaders will be supremely ready when the time comes to take on the accountabilities associated with leading a project and or business.

What are the common mistakes that project architects make when stepping into a leadership role for the first time?

The hard part is letting go of the control over the details that you have as a team member immersed in designing and drawing firsthand. This can be huge challenge to overcome. Losing sight of the details can be uncomfortable. It’s important to build trust in your team that they hold the crucial detail information and you hold the essential big picture information.

Accepting that this transition takes time is my best advice here.

Knowing how important the details are and being able to furnish your team with the broader context in which to produce these details will become your strength.

Leadership for me is a curatorial role. 

You are an enabler of change.

As a leader you enable your client to make the most informed decisions, your stakeholders to share what it is that they need from the project, and your team to perform at their best to deliver these ambitions.

When you see your role as an enabler, this changes the way you behave.

You begin to see that you can start early with this behavioral change making it a habit by the time you are a leader.

Project success is often determined early on a project’s lifecycle. In many cases before an architect and design team are commissioned. Therefore as soon as practical when you are building your team and capabilities you want to secure leadership as a trustworthy, reliable means to navigate through the project.

Leaders at multiple levels can help anticipate obstacles and opportunities before they arise. 

Leaders who can understand the importance of a vision and what it takes to bring people with them.

Leaders who can say no or not now to a client because this is where we are going and this is the process for how we will get there. People who can explain that spending more time to resolve an issue in the beginning - while hard - is far better than trying to resolve it further down the line when it will be more expensive.

People who are humble enough to say, I don’t have the deep technical skills or design sensibilities to explain this challenge but I’m prepared to bring those people who do have this expertise to the table. 

This is courageous and a departure from the norm.

There are 4 key areas to focus on as a leader and you can start contributing to all of thees before you are officially a leader and without taking on more workload.

Understanding the importance of a vision and how this can help you to streamline decision-making at every stage of the project. If you’re a team member who is advocating for the vision then this should be rewarded by a leader. In my opinion, you should move into leadership roles faster and more easily.

Acknowledging that a project needs a framework for what, who, and how the project will be delivered and that this must evolve with the project is another key driver for success. If you’re a team member who contributes to the framework and even better that you support and understand the accountabilities that accompany this framework you will help your current leader and become a more effective leader too.

Measuring what matters - instead of just the project outcome - will change the game for the built environment industry. To do this, we need team members at all levels to understand what can and should be measured to ensure progress is more visible and tangible. Alongside helping to cultivate a fail-fast mentality for aspects of projects to improve the outcome. This requires buy-in across the team and the leader should incentivise colleagues who support this culture of innovation.

Building and developing high-performing teams is of course the role of a leader. But I believe that when you instill feedback loops at every level for every team member you start to share the weight of this responsibility and simultaneously build a more respectful and resilient team. Imagine that team members advocate and support each other at critical moments throughout a project - how much easier it will be to perform at your best collectively.

Can you imagine if next-gen leaders are so primed and ready to be courageous, to take a stand, to do the right thing, to support their teams, do amazing work for their clients, and to love their job again . . . ? What a difference this will make!

This is my mission. 

In writing my book Build Success, I gained clarity on what is it that has worked on small-scale projects right through to large-scale projects. By drawing the strands together I have developed a framework for leaders to be more effective, regardless of the scale or stage of the project. 

If leadership is more effortless, more leaders from diverse backgrounds will want to step into this role and enjoy it. If you can be guaranteed of project success because you have put an effective leadership framework in place and you’ve created a working environment that your team love being part of and all whilst you are developing next-gen leaders - this is the ultimate goal. 

When you lead before you’re a leader you give yourself the time to develop good habits to become a more courageous, effective leader.




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