Inflection point


Wow, how the world has changed!

I drafted this blog in early March 2020; only a few weeks have gone by, and now the world is experiencing an unprecedented inflection point in the form of the COVID 19 pandemic. For those of us with the responsibility of leading a group of people during this uncertain time, remember to be present for your team more than ever. Check in regularly, increase communications, and be available to guide your team through the current ambiguity. We all need to be patient and kind with our teammates, co-workers, supervisors, and clients as we all navigate through this new and unfamiliar space. 


Woman in black suit looks off to the left and smilesinflection point [inflection point] NOUN

1. Mathematics – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.

2. Us – (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We all have inflection points in our lives and our careers—turning points that cause us to pause and look at our situation with a new perspective. While these pivotal moments can be uncomfortable, they can also be tremendously important in our career growth and development. This is how I turned a key inflection point in my career into a positive outcome.

With 20+ years of experience as an architect and designer, a wonderful boss and a culture of growth and support, I was unstoppable! I was traveling around the world for my job, making a difference in people’s lives and helping to shape the future of our global enterprise. The world was at my fingertips, literally.

All was well until a new leader was hired into our group, dramatically shifting the dynamic of the team. It didn’t happen immediately, but over the course of a year or two, there was a shift from camaraderie and teamwork to competition and discord. Where there once was trust, there was now a culture of fear and uncertainty.

Woman and man stand next to eachother in front of well lit house at nightWhen I eventually decided I had to leave that job, I felt a great sense of loss since I loved it so much at first. The experience inspired me think hard about what I was seeking in a workplace culture. After a deep discussion with a colleague about what we should expect from a leader, I wrote this list of leadership traits, which I later published as an article. Today, I strive to live by these traits as a leader myself.

Ten things to be as a leader:

  1. Be trusting. Trust people to do their jobs. Hold people accountable, and give them room to explore and fail so that they can grow. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they are competent in the skills they need to be successful.
  2. Be respectful of people’s skills, talents, time and energy. Say you are sorry and admit when you are wrong. Come to meetings on time or let people know that you will be late. Give people credit for their great ideas.
  3. Be genuine. Be sincere, honest, authentic, truthful. Give feedback in the spirit of helping others to grow. Give wonderful feedback and difficult feedback in the right proportions. Ignore some of the mistakes and little negatives, and always acknowledge the good stuff!
  4. Be mindful of others. Follow the golden rule. Be thoughtful and considerate in your interactions and communications. Notice what people are saying and doing, and respond accordingly.
  5. Be grateful. Everyone has a choice—your coworkers and staff choose to be there every day. Your team should know that they are valued and that you are grateful to have them on your team. Be grateful for clients who hire you and partners who work well with your team.
  6. Be joyful. Incorporate play and surprises into your days. Celebrate projects, deadlines, budgets, little wins, big wins. Teams getting together. The 100th meeting on a project. Licenses and Certifications. Birthdays. Weddings. Babies.
  7. Be an advocate.  Support and endorse the team. Help them to clearly see where they can go and help them find the path to get there. Help them build their skills and help them to overcome their mistakes. Don’t hold people back from their potential.
  8. Be available. Be accessible to people who need advice, counseling, a friendly ear, a conversation, a favor, a pat on the back, a push to move forward. Always choose to have an attitude of friendliness and openness.
  9. Be present. Pay attention. Put your devices away. Really listen. Stop rushing through every encounter while checking the clock. Ask open-ended questions and give them the time they need to answer.
  10. Be an example. Act with integrity. Be trusting, respectful, genuine, mindful, grateful, joyful, supportive, available and present. Show by example what authentic leadership presence can look like.

In my role as a department manager at Mead & Hunt, this is how I show my leadership every day, and what I expect from others around me. Looking back, I am actually grateful for the position I was placed in years ago, faced with a toxic culture created by poor leadership. This was the point that spurred me to reflect, and ultimately become the leader I am today. I am grateful to be part of the positive culture of our firm. I challenge all of us to think of the great leaders—or not so great leaders—who have shaped our careers, and decide what kind of culture we want to foster. We all have a choice; let’s choose to be thoughtful leaders.


Mary Shaffer

About the Author

Mary Shaffer, AIA, LEED AP is a department manager for Mead & Hunt’s Architecture and Building Engineering group. She is passionate about leading her team through coaching, mentorship, and active involvement in the day-to-day work. Outside of work, Mary is an active volunteer with the American Institute of Architects Minnesota, serving on the AIA MN board and co-chair of the Equity Diversity and Inclusion Committee. For fun, she loves hanging out with her family in Minneapolis, gardening, bicycling and exploring different cultures through travel.

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