We are besieged with messages that the path to success is through service to our clients. There is little question that if we don’t serve them we won’t have any; success or clients. The challenge comes when we misunderstand what it means to serve. Richard Farson in his challenging book, The Power of Design makes a compelling case for reclaiming Design as a profession. He encourages us to buck the trend toward commoditization, and avoid waking up one morning to consequences of the devil’s bargain we make when we follow the lead of our clients primarily because they are paying us.
Lou Marines in The Language of Leadership explains that the ability to lead, in service to our clients, begins with recovering the personal authenticity that some of us have lost through the process of socialization, education and surviving within the culture of a modern design firm:
“When I meet young architects, engineers, planners, and scientists, I usually see that same love, that sense of excitement about the discovery and ownership of a territory, their professional dominion. But 10 years later, when we make them project managers and then office managers, that fire goes out for some of them.”
Marines and Farson call on us to claim the better angels of our nature and rise to the challenge of using the gifts we have been given. Gifts that allow us to see differently, to tolerate ambiguity, and to take on and solve problems, many with durations of 5 years or longer. Our best clients are counting on us to do just that. It’s like dancing: gracefulness comes when partners share a common level of ability, when the leader leads and the partner follows. If you are a professional, you have been hired because of your unique ability and wisdom and it is your job to lead. This is not about power and control. This is about making the world a better place, and making sure it is still here for your grandchild’s grandchildren.