Stephen Parker, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C AIA Leadership Institute Architect I, SmithGroup JJR

Stephen Parker, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C
AIA Leadership Institute
Architect I, SmithGroup JJR

As with any design, there are numerous variations and modes of thoughts in leadership, from the prominent to the humble, the charismatic to the meek. Each leadership language is specific to the architect that employs it, especially with the rise of public interest design and a growing advocacy trend both within the profession and society at large. Whether we passionately defend smart growth in our communities or sustainable materials in our projects, we find that such leadership helps our practice, our client’s bottom line and our communities.

Advocacy especially, has become part and parcel of the profession’s core values, from the Equity by Design project, to Architecture for Humanity, and even legislation such as the National Design Services Act. The AIA Leadership Institute will bring together a confluence of forward thinking professionals, with the goal of making an impact locally while building dialogue on leadership in the profession nationally.

While the program developed over the past year ranges from the inspirational to the practical, its impact will only be as profound as the leaders who take up action where words left off. Such service leadership and advocacy has been an integral part of my own architectural journey, from my first apprenticeship in a small town firm to national leadership posts and my current role as an aspiring architect in a large firm community. My first mentor lead through service, often seeking to give back to his community with far more humility than any designer I’ve had the pleasure of working with. The AIA Leadership Institute hopes to capture these lessons, elusive they may be in words but best manifested through action. Action is especially important for developing ones leadership language, despite the uncertainty of what stepping up and leading might be. For example, while developing grassroots momentum for the National Design Services Act, I engaged in the political process I had long been agnostic toward. Along the way, I met with many passionate students and architects whose motivation ranged from addressing student debt to community design -- but they acted together for a common goal, as we so often do in practice.

Leadership languages may differ but they can be complementary just as well. One such lesson came about when our team of volunteer architects and contractors engaged the local community leadership during a large urban farm project. We learned to check your assumptions at the door.  This revealing dialogue allowed us to develop numerous improvements to the project in the process rather than simply imposing our vision. Sometimes good leadership is learning to step back as well as to step forward.

Engagement as an advocate is what I find myself most passionate for, and something I believe is at the core of my own leadership language. That idea, of a leadership language all your own, goes hand in hand with developing ones design sensibilities. It evolves over time with practice, persistence and reflection. Our profession is blessed with an inherent heart of service, utilizing our creative potential to benefit our clients and our communities. It’s high time we moved beyond the drafting board and onto the streets, the classrooms and courtrooms to advocate for our profession and our communities. This is but one reason we should learn to live our lives as leaders.