October 29, 2015



I know I’m a leader because my 8th grade teacher told me I was. It’s true. He pulled me out in the hall one day, got real close, looked me in the eye, and said “Moss, you’re a leader (…pause…), and you had better stop leading that little band of outlaws from disrupting my class.” It’s a sad story. I only wish it wasn’t true.

Leadership, it’s much written about, often discussed. I think good architects are leaders. Essentially, they conduct a large orchestra of people over a long period of time, to create buildings that are functional and beautiful. Sorry for the musical analogy. I should disclose I have no rhythm, my children ask me to lip sync in church, and I got kicked out of band – sad, but again true.
Everybody has their formula, their list of things that make a leader. Here’s mine:


Architects are in the vision business. We have ideas, granted initially they sometimes exceed budget and the laws of physics, but we tend to be eternally optimistic about how great things could be if…


We believe what we do is important, that it makes a difference – in that school that inspires learning, that hospital that enhances healing, or in that business that operates more efficiently. I think our clients sense we care about their organization as much as they do. It’s one of my favorite clichés because it’s true, “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” We care a lot.


My dad was a leader. He used to say, “Look behind you. If there is no one following, you’re not a leader.” An architect must take that vision and passion and communicate it to an owner, a congregation, a school board, or the public. You can have all the vision in the world, but you have to get others to see it too.


You are asking someone to trust you with millions of dollars and a facility they depend on for many, many years. Before we build buildings, Architects must build a reputation. Integrity is an essential ingredient in the recipe for leadership.


Or persistence. This can be a challenging, sometimes heartbreaking, business. Leaders aren’t always popular. My short stint in politics taught me you can’t please all the people all the time. Sometimes as a leader, you have to take tough, unpopular stands. Buildings are complex, things don’t always go without a few bumps on the road to success. Architects are used to working through challenges. Quitting is not an option.


Architecture is a team sport. It takes a whole team of people to create great buildings – owners, architects, engineers, interior designers and contractors. Howard Roark, in the 1943 Ayn Rand novel, was an Architect who projected extreme individualism. Architecture in the 21st Century is not an individual achievement. A leader puts his team first. Architects are building team leaders. Harry S. Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Of course many other things can be used to define good leaders – good instincts, good problem solving skills, good communicators, etc. I do know the best Architects are good leaders. I’m privileged to work with a number of them here at CMBA.

Mr. Hamil, I just want to say…you were right when we had that little chat in the 8th grade. You’ll be happy to know I’ve put those skills to more productive use the last forty years. Thanks for the talk though.


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