Architecture and Leadership – What is your leadership style?

This video shows how we can use architecture to reflect about our leadership style. Should we provide more structure and direction or should we rather create space so that our teams can gain greater autonomy? There is no right or wrong, but the analogy to architecture can help us assess our style and adjust it to the needs of our teams and of the business.

I have recently read “Experiencing Architecture” from Steen Eiler Rasmussen (MIT Press, 1964), where found an interesting classification of different styles of architecture, which could be used in analogy also for leadership styles.

Architecture and leadership

This is not the first parallel that is drawn between architecture and leadership. A number of words from architecture are used in our leadership language.

We speak for example about creating space where people can work together, about building a structure for our organization, about the strategic house and about keeping everyone under one common roof.

FILLING the space versus CREATING space

It is therefore not surprising that this book from Rasmussen has inspired me as well.

The chapter that I found particularly thought-provoking classifies architecture into two schools: one that if focused on FILLING the space and another one that is focused on CEATING space.

An example of the “filling space” architecture is the Gothic style.

The Renaissance or the Bauhaus are examples of the “creating space” architecture.

Leadership styles

In terms of leadership, many of us have probably experienced the difference between a leader who is very present and who is constantly filling the space with ideas and by providing direction and advice, versus other leaders, who are actually sometimes quite distant and who leave a lot of space for their team members to take initiative.

More interventionist leader

Just as in the architecture, there is probably as such no right and wrong. A more interventionist leader might be highly engaging, motivating and inspirational.

Her/his proximity might drive their teams to the highest levels of performance and might create a strong team spirit that is centered on her/his personality. Such a bond might be of great benefit especially in a crisis situation, where holding very closely together becomes a critical success factor.

Leaders who offer more space

But in the same way, you could argue in favor of leaders who offer space to their team, so that they can develop their own entrepreneurial spirit and initiative.

This leadership style that is focusing on ensuring that team members have the necessary space, but without being interventionist is probably particularly suitable for individuals who have reached a higher level of autonomy and maturity and who need that environment in order to develop their full potential.

Assessing our own leadership style

Both style have their advantages and might work well, if they are exercised with mastery. But being aware of these differences is certainly very helpful. It allows us first of all to assess our own leadership style.

We can also reflect back on the experience we have personally made with different leaders and what has worked for us. We can then reflect on our own leadership practice and ask ourselves the question, if our style is adapted to the needs of our teams and to the specific business context.

Questions to ask
What is our concept? What leadership design we tend to follow and why?
Is it adapted to the needs of our teams and to the business requirements we are confronted to?
Is there opportunity to optimize our leadership practice?
Would it be helpful for our team members, if we gave them more direction and proximity or should we – in the contrary – step back, leave them more autonomy and focus on creating an environment where they have more space?

I hope that this analogy to architecture can be a useful basis for this reflection on your leadership.

Book reference: Experiencing Architecture, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, The MIT press, 1964.

More information in my book:

Sven Sommerlatte : Successful Career Strategy – An HR Practitioner’s Guide to Reach Your Dream Job (Springer, June 2023).  ISBN: 978-3-662-66790-3

Click here to find my book

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