Now you’re boss*

*Boss is cool for a title, but the power imbalance it implies is not. When you find yourself in a position of responsibility or leadership, what should you do?

The first time my parents went away leaving me home alone for a week, my mind was blown with the possibility. I can eat whatever I want, was one of my first thoughts. I could eat ice cream all week! Whoah! I didn’t go quite that far, but safe to say the food pyramid got locked outdoors and slept in the rain. When you become the boss the possibilities seem endless, but eventually you’re going to need to make some healthy decisions.

When we’re given responsibility, more often than not we’ve had some time to observe others, to learn from them. We might have developed our own ideas about how things might be done. We might have even foreshadowed decisions or strategies either silently or proposed them for discussion and consideration. We’ve learnt about the responsibilities through experience and potentially training. I knew how to cook tasty and healthy things (and less healthy things) because both my parents had taught me. I had choices about what to cook and eat. There were also many things that I couldn’t cook, either because I didn’t know how or I didn’t have the right tools to do so.

When we take on roles with responsibilities we can be tempted to do the things that make us feel good. Often, however, we don’t have the tools, the skills or the right knowledge to do our work as well as we might, the work that serves those that we’re leading. That’s not necessarily our fault, we don’t always know what we don’t know. We might not have had time or opportunities to learn all that we need. So instead of seeking sugar hits, we need to seek out opportunities to learn, to acquire the skills and knowledge we need to be a good leader.

A good place to start is to develop a culture of feedback. Feedback about the work that you’re doing. Seeking feedback from those above and below you about what you’re doing well and what you’re not and how you might do your work better. Don’t wait for formal reviews, seek it out regularly and informally. It might feel vulnerable but it will make your work and leadership better when you learn from and apply the feedback. The feedback loop that you create also helps to develop respect and trust. Heightening your leadership and developing a space in which everyone can learn and build the culture. Instead of making yourself feel good, lean into how you might do that for others.

You might do so by also seeking feedback, training and advice from external sources. It seems obvious but it’s surprising how few people do so. Blindspots often can’t be seen from within an organisation or institution (& I include professions under this). This is typical to a common culture – you can’t read the label on the box from inside the box.

It’s also worthwhile taking the time to answer good questions:

  • What’s the hard part for me? How might I lean into that?
  • Who might help and support me?
  • Find a great role model and/or mentor and study them. Ask what they might do in certain situations.
  • Why do we do things this way? Is there a better way?
  • Who is the person I need to become, for those around me to become the people I need them to be?
  • Where is the gift in this? – this applies to every experience you have good and bad. How might I learn from this experience or feedback?
  • What’s going well? What’s not? How might I do things better?
  • How might I be more generous?

It’s tremendous when you’re promoted and your abilities and leadership potential are recognised. It’s wonderful when you leap and choose yourself to take on that responsibility yourself. You might not feel ready, often you’re not and you now have space to grow into. You also now have choices. Make healthy ones.

Picture by RODNAE Productions on Pexels [edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

Hear more

subscribe to unmeasured updates & the useletter

Recent Posts

I've just launched a new workshop

Audit your practice

If you’re struggling with your architectural practice,

thinking about changes within your practice,

or wanting to take your practice to the next level.

This workshop is for you.