A few weeks ago, I attended the AIA Northwest/Pacific Regional Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, and participated in its first Leadership Institute. The leadership institute was made up of about 20 students and young professionals from Washington, Montana, Oregon, and Hawaii. This remarkable group of young leaders spent two days discussing characteristics of leadership and how we as architects — or future architects — can contribute our talents to the betterment of the built environment. Among the many leadership characteristics that the group discussed and began to dissect, one rose to the top as particularly germane to the challenges facing our future — and the opportunities architects have to lead this future.
The group identified a key attribute for leaders — both present and future — to be collaborative integrators of information and perspectives. The reasoning for this should be apparent, so I won’t elaborate further, as we spent time not discussing why this was important, but rather are we really? We talk about the architect being the person at the table who can bring various view points together. We believe that the design process is inherently collaborative, and the architects as “master builders” are the rightful leaders of this collaboration.
As necessary as it is for the future, are we training the next generation of professionals — or current professionals for that matter — to be facilitators and communicators among various groups with different interests? Are we truly good communicators or collaborators?
Schools across the country are getting better about teaching collaboration through the design process — the Solar Decathlon set to open in Washington, D.C., this weekend is a perfect example. Leading firms are offering professional development courses in collaboration and communication for staff, particularly to those talented individuals identified as future leaders of their firms.
If architects and designers wish to assume the role of the visionary and collaborative leaders best equipped to improve the future condition of our communities, it is time we stop giving lip service to these issues. A sustained, focused effort is needed by firms, institutions, and professional organizations to strengthen the focus on leadership and building the skills necessary to assume these roles. We are making baby steps, but I believe it is time for a few leaps forward!