What Is Leadership?

Emerging Professionals Tackle This Big Question

By AIA Pittsburgh Posted on May 17, 2016

“Everyone has the potential to be a leader and everyone should have the opportunity to learn to be an effective leader.” What is Leadership? was the question posed in the AIA Pittsburgh Foundation for Architecture’s essay contest last month. The newly reestablished Foundation is focusing on providing leadership development for architects and emerging professionals, and the organization’s first initiative was to send one individual to AIA Convention, chosen via essay. The above quote is just one line from the award-winning essay written by Jessica Stuck, AIA. Keep scrolling to read Stuck’s entire essay, as well as snippets from the other entries.

What Is Leadership? by Jessica Stuck, AIA

The definition of leadership is often over-generalized and cliché. Effective leaders can be found in every context and can lead with a multitude of skills and abilities. Leadership transcends hierarchical labels often found in offices, organizations, and teams. A CEO and a summer intern can and should be equivalent in their capacity to lead as well as follow. If an intern is not equivalent, the experience is an opportunity to grow and learn from leaders around them. While there is no definite set of skills that a leader has to possess, there are ineffective methods that do not lead to success.

Leadership is not delegating tasks because they are beneath you. Leadership is not refusing to get your hands dirty. Leadership is not promoting ones’ own agenda and brushing aside other ideas. A leader does not value his or her opinion or contributions over another. A leader does not dictate. A leader is not omnipotent. Everyone has the potential to be a leader and everyone should have the opportunity to learn to be an effective leader.

All too often in design education, we are taught to think individually, then persuade others to buy into our personal design aesthetic. While these skills are valuable to some aspects of the profession, in this light, design can be construed as a competition rather than a collaboration. Transitioning to the professional world, emerging professionals often lack an understanding of the true role of a leader. We are taught that design is not linear; the same can be said for leadership. Leaders listen, communicate effectively and often, curate ideas, embrace team identities, and synthesize results.

Effective leadership is necessary in every profession, but is especially critical in design. One must manage consultants, contend with demanding agencies, and solve highly complex problems. The leadership skills necessary to handle issues such as communication and collaboration are essential qualities every leader should embrace. It is crucial that leaders understand their teams’ strengths and weaknesses as well as their own. Rather than creating blame for setbacks or mistakes, leaders collaborate with their team to determine ways of moving forward. Above all else, leadership is making a fresh pot of coffee after drinking the last cup (even when no one is watching). Anyone and everyone has the natural ability to be a leader; an ability eager to be fostered through proper mentoring and education.

More Thoughts on Leadership

Bea Spolidoro, Assoc. AIA:
Leadership is the practice of power, through love. This means that Leaders should guide their congregations by showing care and respect. To do so, it is fundamental to exercise empathy, which means to be able “to suffer together.” Similarly to “care,” which basically signifies to “carry the same worries.” Ultimately, a successful Leadership requires good listening skills, an open heart, and strong hands. There is always a lot to do in every organization, and Leadership is about getting it done in an ethical, moral and sustainable way.

Ilana Gutierrez, Assoc. AIA:
The word leadership has been shaped by the many opportunities and experiences I’ve come across. Some are achievements, some failures, and some were just people who have inspired me on my journey through the professional world…. Leadership doesn’t always mean success. Failure and lessons learned are an important part of growing as a person in the professional field. Sometimes the best examples of leadership are learned in times of failure. Allowing someone to struggle and fail are sometimes necessary.

Rebecca Lowe, AIA:
As an architect, having leadership qualities is extremely important. In order for a firm to prosper, there needs to be leadership to guide the firm to success. Leadership in a firm can take many roles. A person doesn’t have to be a principal to be a leader. Leadership can be shown to someone by assisting them with a technical question and explaining how to detail something. Providing guidance to someone can boost their confidence when they encounter a similar situation later. That guidance begins to give others focus and inspiration which begins to grow leadership qualities in others…. A leader wants to create a better organization with goals and a clear vision. True leadership strives for long-term effectiveness in order to achieve success.

Catherine Adams, AIA:
Leadership unites a seemingly disparate group of people with a common set of traits and outcomes. Any of these types of leaders are able to inspire other people to do things that they might not have otherwise achieved without the leader’s influence. Successful leaders understand the value of mentorship and adopt protégés to lead the next generation. They know how to handle and adapt to diverse situations. All of these traits are common to and define quality leadership.

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