Reflections about Leadership

AIA CA President Rona Rothenberg, FAIA, at the July, 2022 AIACA Board Retreat Preservation Park, Oakland, CA | Photo: Christina Best Photography

"I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down."

In her seminal tome about Lincoln, “Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” on which the award winning film “Lincoln” was largely based in its themes and focus, Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin builds a story which is at the same time an historical dissertation on the U.S. presidency, a dramatic narrative biography of an ordinary man rendered extraordinary by the circumstances of the place and time of his life, and a dramatic case study on the timeless dynamics of human behavior. (Read about the important work in this NPR story.) 

In my view, the long and captivating book should be a required, modern non-fiction reader for all undergraduate students of history and English and also used a mandatory source for the future leaders who attend graduate schools of business and administration. Lawyers, architects and engineers might also benefit in the lessons in teamwork and leadership at every level exemplified in Lincoln’s life and story, as brought to life and told so well in this book.

While everyone’s life experience temperament, education, motivation, inspiration, aspirations and ambitions and work ethic differ, I challenge you to think about leadership in your work experience. I would ask:  Have you found that leaders can emerge at every level in an organization and in every team in unexpected and inspiring ways? Have you made it your practice to search for and learn from diverse leaders in your teams and to grow leaders in your work by examples set by you and others? What will your legacy be as a leader?

Implicit in our Board’s 2022-2025 Strategic Goals and Objectives are opportunities to lead through board service with AIA California and in your Chapters, in countless ways which will contribute to the profession and your own career, complimentary to your work whether it is in design practice, project or construction management, government or industry or in teaching.

You may have opportunities to meet other leaders across backgrounds and generations both within and outside California, and to mold your interests and ideas while supporting the Board’s mission and vision.

Our Board is also seeking to grow our leadership programs in the pipeline to architecture from the schools with the BEEP program, throughout professional education and at all stages of the career journey through a visionary program under the California Architectural Foundation pending significant funding for 2023 and beyond. We also took a first look this year at a wide variety of programs in every state component in the U.S., and at those offered by NOMA, as a model for formally developing and growing a leadership program through AIA California.

One particular program which has been adapted most successfully in multiple components and chapters is the Christopher Kelley Leadership program developed by AIA DC over a decade ago and going strong.  Founded in memory of an inspiring young leader from their Chapter, the Christopher Kelley Leadership program offers a graduate school level opportunity for future leaders with direct professional benefits from which our future AIA California members can benefit. Take a look here.

Recognizing the outstanding leadership of Bill Leddy, FAIA, and Marsha Maytum, FAIA, at MDC 2022. Photo: Art Gray

When we reflect on our careers, there really is no way to fully thank the people who have supported and led us.  For me, there were colleagues I met through our volunteer work-people like Bill Leddy, FAIA, and Marsha Maytum, FAIA, and Mike Malinowski, FAIA, Mark Christian, Hon. AIA CA, Nicki Dennis-Stephens, Hon. AIA,  and Nora Klebow, AIA—plus countless others with whom I would never have had the privilege of knowing and working if not for AIA, here in California and through the AIA National Knowledge Communities that I have greatly enjoyed for decades.

Then we have mentors in our work lives-managers who hired us, people who led our construction projects, quiet people in the background who knew how to design things and taught us in the old-fashioned way-by patient example. We have had our families and friends, some of whom are no longer around to thank, who have supported our crazy long work hours and fussy, disproportionate focus on architecture, whatever that meant to each of us. So look around with gratitude at the leaders in your lives and continue to pay that leadership forward wherever you can, whatever that means. Hopefully it will be with AIA California.

1 Grassroots 2020 New Orleans, LA AIA 2020 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture Presentation Remarks Photo: Jose Cotto 2 Climate of Public Architecture Symposium April, 2022 AIA Headquarters, Wash., D.C. Rothenberg with her son David Ben-Israel, MBA, LEED AP, RPM, MGAC Consulting 3 With Nora Klebow, AIA and Nicki Dennis-Stephens, Hon. AIA, at the AIA Conference on Architecture, June, 2022
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