you’re not the boss of me

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What is it like to be the boss? (I’m a solo practitioner, so I have no one to boss around). I’m not making any accusations today, nor am I judging anyone’s work performance. Today is about walking in the shoes of the boss.

I often feel that people don’t understand what it means to be the boss – however one wishes to decide that position of leadership. It comes down to the simple principle with every privilege comes responsibility (don’t go thinking Spider Man on me now, I said privilege not power).

One might draw an analogy to our days in school where everyone gets a taste of this…sort of. A student is generally autonomous (excluding group work). They have a client (the professor) and they have a schedule (project deadline). A student (Mr. Stayed-up-all-night) makes decisions about their project and presents it to their client (Professor Coffee-Breath). There is feedback and revisions, but a due date has to come.

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There is only one problem with this – there is no real money being spent on the project (and tuition doesn’t really count). One is not ready upon graduation to work alone (don’t even go there), so we work for another architect and if not careful, become shielded.

What happens if the proverbial buck would stop with you? (Yes, deference to poker players and President Truman).

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Since I started my firm over 13 years ago, I have come to learn at least three important lessons that are often missed by…those who are not the boss. Some have heard me say that everyone ought to be self-employed for at least six months in their life at some point in order to gain an important perspective – especially for those in the service industry. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

The design has to work
With respect to the architectural profession, the work I do, the work we do as leaders has to work. No one else will do it after us. I spend many hours working through solutions until I know they work. Mistakes or oversights rarely creep in, but knowing that there is no one supervising me drives me to be thorough and capable in defending my solution. The money being spent on the construction as well as on my services is constantly in the front of my mind. It’s accountability. I was never one to do a half-baked (or the other term) job with anything I’ve ever done, but I admit that knowing there was someone checking my work gave a safety net that was oddly comforting. There is still great wisdom in checking each other’s work regardless of rank, but for those who have chosen to be the leader can attest that when their name is on the work, a heightened sense of responsibility and awareness prevails. Too much money is at stake as well as one’s reputation.

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No hiding from the client (or contractor)
I believe everyone should get a chance to talk directly to the client and be on a construction site among the various trades and builders. To take this further, everyone should be required to present to a client and everyone should have to discuss the project with the contractor. Facing the music, looking them in the eyes, and explaining the design are necessary skills to being an architect. It will wake you up in the morning. This is especially true about clients. They are funding this enterprise, so the main culpability is to them. We need to be able to clarify to them what we did and why we did it. Convincing them of our reasons and our process is essential. It only takes one rough encounter with a client speaking directly to your face to give perspective to this issue.

No quitting time until it’s done
This doesn’t mean we have to work late every night or any night– despite the stereotype. It simply means as the boss or leader, the job is to get the project completed. There is a fee that has some limit at some point. Even if the fee is not a lump sum, an hourly agreement has a limit at some point. Nevertheless, we must work until the project is complete, until things have been worked out thoroughly and until it can be released knowing it works (see point #1 above). This can sometimes (or oftentimes) mean working past the limits of the fee. (That means not getting paid for those hours). An owner or principal works until completion regardless. This requires developing good habits, setting boundaries, goals and having a plan for each project. Despite that, the project still has to be completed. Hopefully the hours incurred are within my estimate and hopefully I’m on schedule with the client.

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Again, I enjoy the privileges of owning my own firm – something I swore I’d never do. Looking back, it was the right decision at that time in my life. However, it never goes away; it just sometimes gets a pause. If you are seeking a promotion in your firm, think like the boss. Imagine no one but you will inspect your work, review your design or check your details. Are you confident, I mean completely, that it works?

It’s something to think about…and I’d love to know what you are thinking.

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you’re not the boss of me

4 thoughts on “you’re not the boss of me

    1. I’ve only needed to use it once officially…I used it on these drawings because I felt like I don’t use it enough. I bought it when I first got licensed and all but never use it.

  1. Dustin S. says:

    I thought this was a great read. It kind of put to rest (or jump started really…) some thoughts I had about my career and where I’m going, especially considering where I’ve been at this point as well. The problem with today, maybe always, is that lots of people don’t take pride in their work. That brings into question whether people are passionate about what they are doing, without passion, your work is heartless, thoughtless, and pointless, without reason.

    Previously to where I am now, I was a project manager with my own team, my own projects to manage. That being said, you’re right about looking your client in the face. It’s one thing when you work indirectly “for” someone but when you face them however often, you want to make damn sure you’re able to explain why you drew what you did and how you felt your decision was going to benefit them the most.

    Thanks for the read! PS, how often do you post?

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