Contributed by:
Matt Morris
Contributed by:
Suruchi Shrivastava

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AIA Dallas Emerging Leader Program: Civic Leadership

As July rolls around we still find ourselves quarantining and isolating. It was evident during the class check-in, how all of us have devised ways to stay productive through social distancing. As cases started to spike, particularly in Texas, we all seem to have accepted this as our reality for foreseeable future, understanding our privilege that we have the means to stay safe in a pandemic.

To open the leadership discussion, Pete called somewhat of an audible and presented us with the opportunity to discuss something not in the playbook for the day: Stress and Anxiety. We are all familiar with these two emotions, and at the same time, it seems as though we are experiencing them in ways we have not before. A concept that was particularly helpful during this discussion was the idea that stress is progressive, from intellectual to emotional to psychological, and that at any point we can negate that stress by formulating a successful plan to solve the threat at hand. A good plan relieves stress by mitigating the threat and a not-so-good plan can create a negative feedback loop that allows the stress to continue. By “right-sizing” our expectations and testing whether perceived threats are real or not, it is possible that we have more control than we think over the levels of stress and anxiety we face.

Leadership takes a special role during this time. Pete has always stressed on the efficacy of a leader to influence without authority, which is particularly challenging when the mediums of communication are so limited. Expertise, attitude, information and most importantly relationships are our tools that we are now depending on to be able to express ourselves, lead and influence.

Building upon the session from June, Pete introduced the class to a managerial grid, that explained an approach towards management and leadership. We all have different personalities and different styles of leadership. The grid is a tool that provides a framework to understand where we stand as a leader and what is the target, with “relationship” and “task” being the variables. Situational leadership calls for striking this balance - the balance between relationship and task. There may arrive situations where a leader may choose a high-task-low-relationship method of reaching the end goal or there may be a need to let go of the task to be able maintain relationships within the team. The goal is to be high task and high relationship in most situations, while understanding that this balance may not always be perfect.

The session with Pete provided a segue into our panel discussion on Civic Leadership. As we survey the condition of our communities in light of current events, the issues we face can seem overwhelmingly numerous and difficult. Our panelists, Zaida Basora, FAIA, Brent Brown, AIA, Angela Hunt, Hon. AIA, and Bob Meckfessel, FAIA reinforced the idea of setting healthy expectations by encouraging us to simply “show up”. Brent Brown advised us to “pick an issue” and “pick a place”, bringing an issue down to a scale at which we can address it. The overarching theme was to start somewhere: get involved, reach out to local decision-makers, get to know your community. The simplicity of both of these messages was a welcomed counter to the complex environment we currently face.  

To conclude, as we navigate and explore new ways of living thru this pandemic, it becomes our individual responsibility to lead and show up.