2017 marks the fifteenth year since I founded JTCPL Designs; just typing that puts me into a reflective frame of mind….
Over the years, my own experiences and observing leaders across my clients, have led me to hone certain leadership values. They influence how I interpret client briefs, add my layer of inspiration and expertise over them, and then inform, motivate and guide my team’s work.
Gratitude: This is my founding master-key to effective leadership. When viewed through a lens of gratitude, every new project is a potential treasure trove of intellectual enhancement, and my chance to study another enterprising leader.
At a functional level, a new project engages and challenges my team and our partners, to grow. I’m even grateful for project pitches, because pitches, with their compressed timelines, sometimes bring our team closer together than an actual commission does.
I make sure to explain my gratitude to my team, so that they see the design brief in the same context as I do. Gratitude insulates me from ego and helps us collectively achieve something more than the sum of just constituent parts.
Empathy: Every project allows us to study a work culture, study behaviour, understand a leadership style and draw out cues that will inform our design interpretations of that client’s needs – but also inform how we work for future clients. In my work context, this is what empathy is, and sensitive and effective design stems from it.
Empathy comes from knowing the ‘Why’. Many people in an organisation know the answers to ‘how’ and ‘what’ – those are founded in technical expertise, training, your education and so on. Leaders are those who know the answer to WHY things need to be done.
The clients I most resonate with, are those who keenly empathise with the needs of their business and people, and subsequently know why they want/need their space designed/redesigned. I generally find I generate the most powerful design briefs for such projects which my team then executes for a customised and responsive work space.
Respect: I’ll digress here, and lead with an example of a recent client who embodied the values I’ve mentioned so far, plus a relationship rooted in immense, all-round respect. Respect for us, our expertise and processes, which in turn made us work in a more connected way, and made us willing to go out of our way to accommodate their needs.
The commission to design the Mumbai office for multinational financial consultants Third Bridge came with a deadline, as all projects do. But this deadline was in place due to a tri-partite understanding already in place between Third Bridge, the landlord of the space they were vacating, and the incoming tenant for their existing office they were moving out of. For whatever reasons, this date had to be moved up by a whole month.
Normally, this is the sort of googly that would throw a design team off their mark and cause corners to be cut. But their respect for our experience, for the millions of square feet of successful builds behind us and the weightage they gave to our opinions and recommendations, made us pull up our socks and meet their tightened deadline. My team and I met the compressed deadline without us insisting that they make a temporary arrangement for that month, or diluting commitments we made at the start of the project.
Faith and Trust/Empowerment: Leaders are the torch bearers for an organisation’s commitments, but they aren’t the executors of them, which brings me to the fourth critical value that makes a good leader – Faith and Trust. If the vision – or in my case, design brief – is an outcome of gratitude, empathy and respect, then I need to have faith in my team and empower them to execute it to our firm’s credit and pride.
This is the mind-set I value most in a client: the trust in my abilities and the faith to take a step back and empower us in every way to see the job through. Once more, Third Bridge is an excellent exemplifier for this trait. The decision-makers were in remote locations – with one in London and the other in New York but they didn’t even meet us till the very end of day the project. We were approved based purely on our credentials and the faith that the Mumbai custodian reposed in us.
Discipline: Of all five values, discipline is the one closest to the ground, most key to execution. Only a disciplined leader can drive a similar organisational culture.
For me, this translates first and foremost, into publishing our commitments to the client at every step of a project. Every client of ours receives reports with micro-detailing about design features, materials and timelines – all explained in lay terms.
As the job evolves, we update these reports with progress and record any deviations from schedule. Client meetings are a crucial supplementary tool and we gauge how often they need to happen, sometimes weekly, fortnightly… whatever the periodicity, we ensure they happen.
Discipline is essential for keeping my team on its toes – it must be specific, and measurable. Communicating transparently with our client is our accountability mirror, and we strive to ensure that the image looking back at us is to our liking – polished, efficient, responsible and contemporary.
In summary, a leader does not only possess these values, but he or she also needs to be an evangelist – someone who champions their personal culture to clients, vendors, their team. A good leader is a Value Evangelist, and these are the 5 values that I try to champion all-round in my work-life.