From the Archive: Emerging Leaders, What Type of Leader Will You Be?

Originally published November 14, 2017. Contributed by Brien Graham, AIA.

An alumnus looks back at the 2017 Emerging Leaders Program [a transcript]

When we think of leadership, I would assume that many of us may have differing opinions of what defines a leader, and what makes an effective leader.

Webster’s defines leadership as, THE CAPACITY TO LEAD – but what does that mean? That definition only leads to more questions. How can you gauge someone’s capacity to lead, unless you first have a relationship with them? How can you gauge someone’s capacity to lead, unless they are already occupying a position of leadership?

Very early on in our class we realized that leadership is multifaceted. Effective leadership encompasses the following attributes:

  • making the hard decision; with or without authority
  • the foresight to think through what might happen “if”
  • having a moral commitment to the outcome
  • the ability to make decisions even if they could be catastrophic to you
  • having an awareness of how these decisions will affect you, others, and the situation at hand

That definition has stuck with me, and it’s helped me to evolve my thought process on an issue that has bothered me for some time. And I think that’s what assuredly makes an effective leader. It’s the ability to evolve your thinking when presented with new, differing, and substantive information.

As a minority aspiring architect, I tended to look at the profession and its make up from a singular perspective; as an African American designer — one, in a sea of others. Knowing I would more often than not be the only one in the room could be intimidating at times, but this class helped me to understand that I am not alone. We’re an amalgam of men, women, black, white, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese. An almost equal division of men and women. This class has shown me a vision of diversity in architecture that I hadn’t experienced until now. We’re all a part of an elite collective, and I’m sure everyone [in this room] who spent endless hours in studio and graduated from architecture school can attest to that. We share a common goal with varied vision, and that’s ok. That’s what makes our profession great.

So, with renewed insight, how will I apply the lessons learned from this class going forward?

I’ve taken a look inside my Johari window and I realized my hidden self has been hidden for far too long. Its time to step out of the corner and share my differentness with all who I encounter. As architects, we are shapers of society. So, I challenge you to:

  • Make strides
  • Make mistakes
  • Learn
  • Create
  • Give opinions
  • Speak up
  • Speak out
  • Be bold
  • Be innovative
  • Take action
  • Be confident

A leader puts him or herself in a position to seek change, to chart a course for success, and to encourage others to forge ahead. For all of us in the class of 2017, my hope is that we rise to the occasion. Emerge like the sun from behind the clouds and be a bright light in your firm and in the city. Embrace being a citizen architect. Put into practice all the principles we’ve learned this year. Cultivate relationships with those above you and below you. Whether you’re an adaptor, bridger, or innovator…I hope we all seek out opportunities to push the profession forward and use the skills we’ve been gifted with to make a mark.

What type of leader will you be?

Life changing moments are defined by bold actions. So again, BE BOLD.

In one of our last classes, Pete asked us to chart a course for our future, both personal and professional. My vision for the future is a more equitable profession in culture, race, and gender. We’ve seen firsthand what can be accomplished when we embrace our differences, and use our collective skills to achieve a shared goal. Remember we’re already amongst an elite and unique group, and in an era where division seems to be the order of the day, let’s be a shining example of unified diversity.


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