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Frank’s Field Notes: Session 3, Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program

by Frank D’Andrea, Project Architect at FOX Architects

In our previous session of AIA‘s Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program, we learned about working with others, but how do you lead a firm that others want to join for the long haul? This session was dedicated to entrepreneurship and firm management — another area in which architects (as a profession) could use more training. (New to this blog series? Catch up here!)

Thankfully, three leaders in the profession came to share their insights on how to be an effective manager in our field. Mat Daw, Senior Principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH), Ryan Moody, Founder of Moody Graham landscape architects, and Barbara Mullenex, Managing Principal at Perkins Eastman DC all spoke about their journeys to management positions and how they developed management skills once they attained these positions. Each leader experienced a process of trial and error to find out what worked and what didn’t. Their lessons learned include:

  • Be prepared to put in long hours
  • Give people opportunities for career advancement
  • Make as many professional connections as possible
  • Always keep in mind that some things are just out of your control.

If the above could be called the “feel it out” strategy for developing your own firm and management skills, Martin Ditto, Founder and CEO of Ditto Residential, presented the “force of will” method. This overall strategy can be summarized as “be yourself and don’t look back.” Ditto focuses on residential projects in underserved markets and neighborhoods, using unconventional solutions and great design. This work doesn’t conform to the typical market profile, and Ditto uses this to his firm’s advantage to set the firm apart from the rest of the pack. What I took away from Ditto’s experience and example is that sometimes, in order to bring your vision to reality, you need to be unapologetic and a bit stubborn.

As emerging leaders in architecture, we applied to the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program to learn how to lead a design firm, but what I’m learning is that I can design my way to firm leadership. Jordan McAnaney, Global Head of Organizational Development at Altisource Portfolio Solutions, is an expert in organizational psychology. He spoke about designing your career trajectory with an individual development plan — a blueprint for building the career you want. Jordan discussed career development from many angles: firm leadership needs to invest in staff members’ development, and employees need to know where they are going and how they want to get there. This requires both leadership and individual employees to design a process for development and success.

What I learned from this session is that there is no secret sauce for being a good leader and for being an entrepreneur who designs their own career. But I do know that entrepreneurship and firm management require practice and diligence, which will help me make wise decisions as I grow into management roles.

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