If It's Not Criticized, It's Not Leadership

August 15, 2004 · by James P. Cramer

When you step into a leadership position you become the target of criticism and second-guessing, likely beyond what you are prepared for...It is a permanent price that you pay, so learn to cope with it.

When you step into a leadership position you become the target of criticism and second-guessing, likely beyond what you are prepared for. You will be hurt, frustrated, and baffled by it. You’ll be confused as to why you are being wrongly singled out. Criticism of your leadership is never far away; it is around the next corner. It is a permanent price that you pay, so learn to cope with it.

Leadership in sustainable design is especially challenging. When you understand its potential, you separate yourself from those who are living in the past or in denial about environmental issues. You must develop the strength of purpose to press on and to persevere even when it means taking a point of view against conventional wisdom.

Leaders constantly deal with change, and true leaders always make waves. Your goals and objectives regarding the future condition you are working toward mean that the present condition is always incomplete and the objectives only partially accomplished. Frankly, some criticism is probably legitimate, because we operate within a culture of categorical deficiencies and shortcomings. Criticism arises from this—but don’t let your vision wane.

The Nantucket Principles arose from one of our think tank sessions of the Design Futures Council during the first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design in 2002. Sandra Mendler of HOK and Phil Enquist of SOM led delegates to grow the will and thick skin needed to instill sustainable principles back home in their practices. For illustration, here are a few points from those principles:

1. It is time to redefine our conscience and look toward expansion of sustainable principles.

2. It is time to expand our view of the client to include tomorrow’s child.

3. It is time to expand our obligations to include the health of the public, the environment and the planet as a whole, minus man-made boundaries.

4. It is time to expand our consideration of the community, site, and space to always include the larger systems and influences.

The Nantucket Principles will be up for policy review during the DFC’s 3rd Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design next month in Cambridge, Mass. As further progress is made toward refining and applying a sustainable agenda, leaders need to brace for even more skepticism—and yes, criticism.

However, the more you understand the future and the implications of that future, the more you will alienate yourself from those who do not want to change their behavior or practice. Don’t let criticism distract or demoralize you, and don’t take it personally. You can look at leadership of sustainable design as the most frightening thing in the world or as the greatest opportunity in the world. Dream forward, and let your imagination find solutions (not currently understood by the mainstream) that are necessary for design’s future.

—James P. Cramer

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