Professional development

How to Build Leadership As a Young Architect

For women in architecture, working in a heavily male-dominated industry can be daunting, let alone getting into a position of leadership. According to the American Institute of Architects, only 17% of registered architects in 2020 were women, even though women make up approximately half of architecture students in the United States and United Kingdom.

Joanne Lui knows this well: She is a personal branding strategist, registered architect with 10 years of experience, and founder of Women Architects Collective on Facebook. In a webinar with HP, Lui shared her experience climbing the career ladder as a young female architect and gave tips on the qualities architects can develop to become leaders at work.

Leadership: What it is (and is not)

People often confuse leadership with authority: managers or bosses are often assumed to be the leaders of a team. Based on experience, however, you may have realized that leaders may or may not be in a position of authority, while those in management may not necessarily make good leaders.

There are several varying definitions of leadership, but they all make similar points:

  • The ability to bring out the best in others
  • The ability to inspire, motivate, and guide a group to accomplish a goal

More importantly, leadership has nothing to do with age, intelligence, and skill in your profession. Being a successful architect does not automatically make you a good leader (and this applies to any profession or field). Similarly, being a young architect does not mean you are automatically relegated to being a follower.

Thus, if you find yourself rising to a position of authority or have a goal in mind that requires help from others, you will need to develop your leadership skills.

The biggest challenges in developing leadership ability

Although some people may have traits that make them more suited for leadership, good leaders are made through experience. Being a new leader can be challenging, especially when people expect you to instantly know how to lead and deliver results.

While you will face a plethora of challenges like coaching and developing employees, managing resources, and dealing with conflict, the bigger challenges are within your internal self. Here are the top 3:

1. Having a vision and conviction

The late Theodore Hesburgh, 15th President of the University of Notre Dame, wrote, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet.” Think about it: If you don’t have a goal that you want to achieve, how can you even begin to convince others to help you?

Along with vision, conviction keeps you standing firm in the face of doubt and uncertainty. This is vital for reassuring your colleagues and teammates so that they feel secure and can do their best work. However, this does not mean that you have to force your opinions or methods on others. Instead, simply work towards what you believe in, ignore the naysayers, and let the results speak for themselves.

2. Overcoming fear

Being a leader usually means taking more responsibility and having to make more decisions that come with possible negative outcomes: changes, being wrong, failure, being disliked, and more. Fear of these can impede your ability to lead well and achieve results.

Here is where mentors and peers are invaluable. Consider speaking to experienced leaders or friends — maintaining confidentiality where needed, of course — and getting their advice. More importantly, keep in mind that being decisive beats doing nothing. If you are wrong, admit your mistakes and learn from them. If you are “failing”, which more often means “this is not working”, change tack.

3. Self-confidence and impostor syndrome

This is an especially challenging issue for young architects and female architects; “Women are easily forgotten in architecture,” said Lui as she shared her own experience of being overlooked for a promotion. When your views and contributions tend to be overlooked or dismissed, self-doubt can start to creep in. You may even feel that you need to act a certain way at work or put on some sort of “leader” persona based on what you have gleaned from leadership training programmes or high-profile business leaders.

While “faking it till you make it” might work for some time, putting on a front can take eventually a toll on your sense of self and lead to burnout. More astute colleagues may also notice inconsistencies in your behaviour and start to distrust you.

Instead of trying to be someone you are not, consider authentic leadership. This leadership theory was developed by Bill George, an American businessman and senior fellow at Harvard Business School and has gained popularity in the past two decades. Studies in the creative and healthcare industries found that authentic leadership had positive effects on individual and overall organizational performance.

Authentic leadership: what, why, and how

Authentic leadership advocates for a management style in which leaders are genuine, self-aware, and transparent. The model also focuses on five distinct qualities that authentic leaders have or can develop. These are: a sense of purpose, values conveyed in behaviours, building relationships, self-discipline, and having a heart for their team.

Lui herself shares that she took some time to find her passion for marketing and branding, and eventually combined that with her knowledge to start the Women Architects Collective. She also gave examples of how she connects with industry peers on social media and sent care packages to her team during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While authentic leadership is but one of many leadership models and has its flaws, it helps young architects and other professionals step out of typical notions of how a good leader should look and act.

Start leading today

Remember: You likely took on (or found yourself) in a leadership role because you have a vision, or because people look to you as someone who inspires and motivates them, so run with it. Perhaps you can take the initiative on a project that you are particularly excited about, help an intern with their licencing exam or job hunt, or simply lend a listening ear to frustrated colleagues.

Whether you are among the growing ranks of women in architecture or simply want to develop the qualities that architects need to grow in their career, you can start leading today. Not only will you grow your leadership skills, but you will also become an asset to your company.

Looking for ways to grow your expertise and your business? Discover tips and insights from on-demand HP Webinars.

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