Profile | Pete DeLisle, Hon. AIA Dallas

Profile | Pete DeLisle, Hon. AIA Dallas

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Contributed by:
Charles Brant

Talk About It

About 9 years ago: Ryan M.

Nice work Charles.

Profile: Pete DeLisle, Hon. AIA Dallas

There is a good chance that you have not heard about Dr. Peter DeLisle. You may not have heard that he is a professor and Leslie B. Crane Chair of Leadership Studies at Austin College—or that he is director of The Posey Leadership Institute at the college. You may not have heard that he has taught at the University of Illinois in Urbana and at the University of Notre Dame, or that he has professional experience as an executive at Hewlett-Packard Company and Convex Computer. You probably don’t even know that he served as an officer in the United States Army.

Certainly, you have not heard that he founded three successful companies and acted as an advisor, consultant, and teacher of leaders in more than 200 companies and communities over the last 30 years. They include the American Institute of Architects, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, the E.M. Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurial Leadership, the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, and the Texas Governor’s Executive Leadership Program. If you have not heard about all of this, there is a very good chance Pete DeLisle, doesn’t mind. Not at all. 

However, there is a very good chance that you have crossed paths with one of the 120-plus pupils of the AIA Dallas Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and Executive Leadership Program (ELEAD) who have gained from his knowledge. Pete’s engagement in AIA Dallas began in 2008 with AIA Dallas’ development of the Emerging Leaders Program, designed to provide guidance to younger professionals on the topic of leadership in the firm, in the profession, and in the community. 

A married (42 years) father of two adult twin girls, Pete is not one to boast of his credentials.  However, he will frequently draw upon his experiences―good and bad―to provide guidance for the younger professionals in the chapter and to provide suggestions for the more seasoned professionals.   The program provides direction and tools for developing professionals to use as they move into positions of leadership in their firms.

During Pete’s discussions, you won’t find a book with his face on it or a PowerPoint slide in sight. He prefers hand-drawn diagrams on a flip chart, self-awareness assessments, movie references (Apollo 13 is a favorite), a few demonstrative activities, and most importantly, a healthy and frank discussion of life experiences that resonate with the audience every time. Throughout the leadership programs and beyond, Pete maintains his availability for those wanting to continue a discussion or seek guidance for a particular situation. As a result of Pete’s expertise, dedication, and impact to AIA Dallas over the last five years, he was named Honorary AIA in 2014.

Come learn more about him through the questions he answers below:

You have spent the last six years working with architects, developing leadership programs, and learning the profession. How has that time impacted your views on leadership (if at all), and what aspect of architectural practice do you find the most interesting and/or most surprising?

Actually, it confirmed my hunches that thoughtful, reflective people can and should lead. I’m continually excited by the capabilities and facility with which architects apply theory to their practice. However, I was surprised to learn how rigorous the academic and professional licensure process is. I don’t recall having worked with another profession with a similarly rigorous process.

Having worked with AIA Dallas to establish the Emerging Leaders Program, what are the biggest challenges you see for the young leaders and/or the current firm leaders in the profession?

I think the biggest challenge for Emerging Leaders is finding the time to live a balanced life. With work, family, and professional contributions (community, association, etc.), the time and energy commitments can be very large and it can be difficult to find that balance. Often, when people are successful in an organization, they are continually asked to add more to their loads and that usually comes at a cost to some other aspect of their lives.

The challenge for current leaders is understanding the tempo of change and embracing the need to understand the dynamics of the future. Architecture has a long history, back to the pyramids, and as it moves forward, the current leaders need to be able to make good decisions to keep their offices and staff fresh and productive.

If you could have a conversation with three people (past or present) who have influenced your approach to leadership, who would you choose and why?

I’ve been blessed in that I’ve had a chance to actually do this: The past―General of the Army Omar Bradley and author and guide Dr. Michael Maccoby. The present―Walt Humann of Dallas, a statesman. They spoke of, wrote about, and practiced courage and human compassion. That, I believe, is the core of effective leadership.

What change(s) would you encourage the leadership program participants to make in order to have the most significant impact on the profession?

To echo Walt Humann, architects see the whole problem (the gestalt). I would advocate that architects take their place as leaders of the community as well as the guardians of the built environment. We should learn to build and sustain cooperative environments for the best possible outcomes for all.

You have noted the absence of leadership education for architects in the university setting. How does this impact the profession in the long term, and what can be done to bridge that gap?

I see it as an emerging opportunity for colleges of architecture. Right now, we [professionals] are playing catch-up to place in front of young architects the importance and skills of collaboration, conflict management, effective communication, and problem-solving. Many of these skills can be addressed while students are in development by finding the right opportunity and weaving in some of these practices in studio, or through professional practice classes. We need to work in partnership with the architect scholar to build a new model of professional development and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

AIA Dallas, along with many firms around the city, highly value your knowledge and experience in leadership. How do you respond to individuals or companies that do not see the same value in these leadership programs?

My personal response is to feel some sadness and frustration. However, my hope is that they will develop an awareness of the need to practice effective leadership, without being forced to by some shock or significant failure. My commitment is to keep the climate for conversation alive and respond when and if invited to help out. I find very few people who don’t want to practice effective leadership, but many who don’t know what it looks like, or don’t know how to engage.

Looking back over the last five years and the development of the leadership programs with AIA Dallas, what do you see as the biggest accomplishment of the programs? What do you want to see happen in the next five years?

I see 120-plus women and men who have a common experience, have developed a new sense of perspective and if we’re lucky, who feel a sense of collective purpose and connectedness. One might call it “bench strength for the profession.” I think of it as a strategic intellectual capital to be engaged and bring influence to our profession and our community.

You were recently inducted as an honorary member of AIA Dallas, which speaks volumes to a person’s character and impact and is one of the highest honors that the AIA can bestow upon a person outside of our profession. What legacy do you hope to leave within the architectural community?

To be worthy of the trust that this award bestows on me. To honor, elevate, and promote the profession of architecture which I have been privileged to see through the eyes of the next generation.

Aside from your family, wife and twin daughters, what achievement, award, or recognition are you most honored by and grateful for?

The feedback I receive from former (and some current) students that I have helped is valuable. When I listened and did things well, more formal recognition came, even when I did not seek it. I was truthfully blown away by the Honorary AIA award. It has been my honor and privilege to work with AIA Dallas and our colleagues—a peak experience for me.

Any thoughts or discussion on something we didn’t cover?

I hope that the efforts we have made set the stage for architects to be the vanguard: to lead communities and society and to achieve a reflective, hospitable, and thoughtful world with a sense of place and purpose.


Interview by Charles Brant, AIA, an architect with Perkins+Will.