We scoff at stereotypes in our profession, yet it seems most of us are doing everything in our power to self-identify with those very stereotypes. Sadly, the perception is that there are only one or two kinds of architect that will be respected and valued, so we either bemoan the fact that we are not one of them, or work against our own strengths trying to become something we are not. Believing that playing the “right” role leads to opportunities to move up in a firm, aspiring and current leaders who are not naturals for these roles can do a lot of collateral damage in their quest to well, conform. At lunch with a friend recently this very subject came up. We were discussing some individuals that I also know and it really struck be how “true to type” they were, as well as that they may be miscast in their current roles.
Recognizing that there are multiple architecture archetypes is important. Otherwise it is easy to think that you have to be someone you are not to be successful, all the while feeling that it would be unacceptable to admit that you are out of your element. We need to move beyond a stereotypical and quite narrow definition of what an architect is and is not. This leads to minimizing or devaluing all of the other archetypes necessary to make really great space possible.
Getting pigeon holed has no upside, but being able to play to the strength of your archetype will revolutionize your career. Each archetype has both positive and negative qualities and, more importantly, can be easily miscast into one of the more stereotypically understood and valued architecture roles.
You are a gregarious person who is networked up the wazoo and knows how to make it rain. An Entrepreneur tends to be a people magnet, a pied piper to those who want to bask in the glow of your aura.
The bright side: An amazing mentor, you can inspire and uplift others. You know how to put two and two together and get five. You are a natural born leader and a strong voice in your community.
The dark side: You have a tendency to gloss over details and make gross generalizations. Once you get a “read” on someone, you never give them the opportunity to show you another side of themselves, and sometimes your “read” is wrong.
Commonly miscast as: The Manager where you can do more harm than good, the Publicist, where you may send mixed messages.
More focused on details, you concern yourself with getting the job done. You shine in your ability to keep everything together on a project, in and out of house.
The bright side: You know how to organize complex issues and delegate according to ability. You keep everyone on task and working toward common goals.
The dark side: You can under-appreciate the efforts your team is making. You can also unintentionally set people up to fail by delegating to them but not providing guidance or oversight.
Commonly miscast as: the Entrepreneur, where you are outside of your comfort zone and won’t get results.
The expert of experts, you prefer to work in your zone of genius and otherwise be left out of all the messy details of a project. You have invested extensively in your professional development and have a passion for what you do that is contagious.
The bright side: You can be a fantastic mentor and often don’t have an ego about your work. It’s most important to you that innovative ideas get into your projects so that they can make a difference.
The dark side: You can be too much of a lone wolf, tending to disregard the contributions of the other members of the team or work on your part until the 11th hour neglecting to give anyone else a chance to react to what you have done.
Commonly miscast as: the Entrepreneur or Manager. While your expertise is critical to winning projects, you are not in your comfort zone in either of these roles and tend to avoid dealing with project or staffing issues because you would rather focus on “more important” things.
You have the unique ability to listen to multiple points of view and find common ground. You can unify opposition and make everyone involved feel that you listened to what they had to say.
The bright side: You are extremely tuned in to the needs of building users, clients, consultants and your team. You can streamline complex information and keep a project moving forward with purpose.
The dark side: You can be too much of a pleaser and end up satisfying no one. You may end up driving the project toward the lowest common denominator.
Commonly miscast as: A, Entrepreneur or a Publicist, although you do have skills that make you valuable in both of these roles, you don’t feel comfortable being assertive.
You have a talent for spellbinding the audience. You can sweep people up in a project story so compelling they will agree to anything you show them.
The bright side: You know how to make things personal and meaningful. Clients resonate with your project solutions. You lead them on journeys that exceed their expectations by making them feel safe outside of their comfort zone.
The dark side: You can be so focused on the narrative you created that you don’t have the flexibility needed to adjust to changes in project requirements.
Commonly miscast as: Publicist or Entrepreneur, both of which detract from your hands-on focus on projects. You may not be detail-oriented enough to excel in the role of Publicist or tactical enough to make a great Entrepreneur.
The guru of any and all things digital- you can do anything from make a website to an animation or 3D print. And you have mastered the whole CAD/Revit thing.
The bright side: You bring fresh ideas about how to present work to make it more interesting or easily understood. Your love of technology makes you eager to embrace new processes and products.
The dark side: You can sometimes get lost in the details or fall prey to style over substance.
Commonly miscast as: Publicist or Storyteller, when you really prefer the back of house role as the engine of the project. Sometimes made a Specialist for, you got it, the technical details.
Perhaps the most stereotypical version of an architect, you are all about design. You have strong opinions about everything from the cladding material to the landscape regardless of whether uou actually have technical knowledge in these areas.
The bright side: You bring style and a sense of wonder to the projects you design. You never stop looking to improve upon every detail.
The dark side: You can get lost in aesthetic issues and archi-babble and you can overcomplicate details. There is also a tendency to be either judgemental or indecisive as you endlessly question design elements and make changes. Not a people person at heart.
Commonly miscast as: the Entrepreneur where you may have trouble connecting with clients who don’t “get it,” Publicist because often marketing is not your strength, or Manager, because delegating and collaborating in a multidisciplinary effort with the likes of engineers are not your strong suits.
The consummate marketer, you can sell just about anything. You also have a knack for getting work published and for leveraging social media. You are always in the right place at the right time with the latest scoop on clients. projects or the market.
The bright side: You know how to give the audience what it’s hungering for. Your efforts shine a spotlight on all the hard work that’s been done. You have your finger on the pulse of the industry.
The dark side: you can get lost in the spin, or start to let ulterior motives affect your work. The message can become more important than the actual logistics of getting the work done, leading to understaffed or inappropriately staffed projects.
Commonly miscast as: the Entrepreneur, you are more passive and less active in your networking, Artist, although really good design may not be (ahem) your strength, Technorati early in career.
In my book Career Crisis, I identify these archetypes and provide an exercise that you can download here to help recognize your own strengths. As you read these architect archetypes, you will probably recognize yourself most strongly as one of them and a little less strongly in about two more. There is no best archetype (even though the Entrepreneur, Artist, and Manager are most typically the mold in which we try to cast ourselves). They are all necessary to have a strong firm, and most importantly, they are never all found in a single person. Realize that leadership comes in many forms and is not a role suited only to the three most recognized archetypes. Trying to play against type isn’t in anyone’s best interest, least of all yours.
For more information on uncovering your archetype and playing to your strengths, please contact me.