This blog post is written for the AIA Blog Off on the theme “What does architect as leader mean to you?”
Leaders today are storytellers.
This isn’t an original claim. If you cut and paste that first sentence into Google you will see that top universities, trusted periodicals and acclaimed authors are saying the same thing. And this isn’t a new phenomenon. Great leaders from ages past have used stories to challenge, inform and inspire. (You can Google Jesus, Lincoln or King to confirm this, but please, do that later. I’m making a point here.)
Leaders today are storytellers. But as Architects we must first address the overarching mega-story that we are all caught up in. It is a sad, dark tale of unemployment, unfulfilled promise and careers cut short. Some are saying it will never improve.
When I think of such hopeless tales, I think of a little fellow named Samwise Gangee (a creation of J. R. R. Tolkien, a storyteller of considerable renown). He and his companion were going through a awfully hard time, trying to accomplish an impossibly hard task. Gentle Sam compared their ongoing trouble to a story.
It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”
Sound familiar? Architecture is dead and it will never come back… Here’s how Sam saw that type of story:
But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you…”
The dark story of present-day Architecture can be changed, and it must be changed. It will take a “Samwise” approach to stop and see that what we are going through, as bleak as it may appear, is not the end of our story.
Architects can learn to become storytellers and therefore become true leaders.
There are three levels of storytelling that Architects must master:
- Know your story – What is your “origin story“? What are your powers? How did you become this heroic figure, the Architect? Know this story and hide it in your heart.
- Tell your story- Tell a jargon-free story, a true story where your listener becomes the hero. You are the guide who, by your design skills, leads the hero to his architectural goal. There’s a structure to this type of storytelling that can be learned.
- Tell new stories – The world is waiting for great stories of Architects and Architecture. Some of us will have to learn to be writers, filmmakers, poets, playwrights, musicians, biographers, cartoonists, etc. to reach the widest audiences.
I elaborate on these three storytelling ideas in my interview with Mark LePage at Entrepreneur Architect [LINK].
I invite participants of AIA 2013 and Architects and students everywhere to weigh in on this topic. How have you exercised leadership through storytelling? Please comment below.
(Here is my contribution to last year’s AIA Blog Off; “Design Connects” LINK )