Contributed by:
Chris Marble
Assoc. AIA
Contributed by:
Tess Ross

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AIA Dallas 2020 Emerging Leaders Program: Firm Leadership

Empathy is the root of all human compassion and, to feel compassion, we must recognize that we are all human beings.

The Emerging Leaders Program participants’ June discussion with Pete DeLisle, PhD, Hon. TxA, was a little different due to the state of the world. As we all checked in to kick-off our meeting, it was evident that the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests were at the forefront of everyone’s mind. After a heart felt team check-in, a humorous lesson on smoking meats, and a recap on the Guild Hall leadership development model; Pete requested our approval on shaping the leadership discussion around today’s complex environment with a discussion on reciprocity and empathy vs sympathy.

Pete set the tone by blessing us with his perspective of the civil rights movement and his experience of the protests/movements from 50 years ago.  Pete discussed the idea that civil and social non-violent disobedience, where people are willing to risk their lives, is one of the only ways to instill lasting change. For each of us to witness this firsthand, makes Pete’s lessons more far-reaching than ever expected. The BLM protests are a call to leadership to make changes to the areas that we, and those before us, have failed. Pete reminded participants that as emerging leaders; we make a commitment and the highest form of commitment is, reciprocity. We, as architectural leaders, strongly believe other people’s rights are our responsibility and we must suspend judgement, listen, and process; prior to responding.

Prior to moving on to our formal leadership lesson, Empathy vs sympathy was explained. To truly connect with someone, we must be empathetic with them, meaning we must get into the same emotional state as that person, rather than simply feel sorry for them. Empathy is the root of all human compassion and, to feel compassion, we must recognize that we are all human beings.

Pete continued with a more formal lesson on the difference between Management and Leadership. The main difference is the development of fundamental interpersonal skills. While management is organizing and controlling, leadership is an interpersonal skill requiring foresight, awareness, and the ability to make hard decisions.  We can use the Farm Gate model as a tool to measure these qualities, but a true example of one’s interpersonal skill, and the most important skill as a leader, is to be trusted by others. Do those around you, trust you?

After our very well received lesson from Pete, we had the privilege of having 4 uniquely different panelists for our discussion on Firm Leadership: Graham Greene, AIA, of Oglesby Greene Architecture; Paul Lowers, AIA, of Guide Architecture; Bob Morris, FAIA, of Corgan; and Kirby Zengler, AIA, of JHP Architecture. We kicked off the panel with the discussion on the ideas of change, as they relate to the pandemic, as well as systemic racism within the Architecture profession. The panelists all had different yet corresponding answers that highlighted flexibility, adaptability, instilling trust, mutual respect, and open lines of communication, to ensure the firm is led in the right direction. We learned about the need for transparency within a firm, the ideas of security vs risk and flexibility vs consistency. Understanding what it means to be fulfilled within one’s role and the drive to advance within a firm or open your own firm was a hot topic, as many of us are at a pivotal point in our career. The panelists reminded us that a firm itself has a moral compass that is evident in its culture, its work, and its people. Due to the varying sizes and backgrounds of the panelists, the answers were all unique yet all very well phrased and well received. We ended the panel discussion with three books on effective leadership: Measure What Matters by Jon Doerr, Principals: Life and Work by Ray Dalio, and Factfulness by Hans Rosling. 

Our June session wrapped up with the Dallas Pets Alive project update.