7 Common Traits of Leaders

I was fortunate enough to attend an event recently in which Pat Williams, Senior Vice President of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, keynoted. I’ve listened to a lot of speakers in my career, and I was impressed with Pat. He has researched key leaders through history: Jesus to Mother Theresa to Winston Churchill to George Washington and so forth. He managed to distill seven common traits of these truly transformative leaders for the audience.

Pat says to be a truly effective leader, you need to have these seven traits. Even if one trait is missing, you have a gaping hole in your ability to lead.

  1. Vision
  2. Communication
  3. People Skills
  4. Character
  5. Competence
  6. Boldness
  7. A Serving Heart

As he talked about each of these traits and told stories, it made me start thinking about the people in my life that I know to be good leaders. And I could see these traits in them. So, what do they each mean?


Want to read more about each of these traits, check out his book Leadership Excellence – the Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century. Feel free to stop by our office and ask to borrow my copy.


2017 AIA Conference on Architecture

Each year architects from our office attend the National AIA conference. They hear best practices in the industry, network, visits projects, and come back invigorated. Here’s what this years Schmidt Associates attendees took away!

Sarah Hempstead, AIA, LEED AP

 “Michelle Obama talked about how it is our role as architects to make sure youth are introduced to the profession. Women all over the world, and the US, are looking for jobs. They can’t enter the industry if they don’t know the industry exists. It is our job to reach out and mentor youth.”

“This is part of the reason I serve on the Board for Junior Achievement of Central Indiana. JA has a program called JobSpark. Firms from various professional industries provide hands-on learning experiences to introduce local students to the career. Schmidt Associates was actively involved for the kick-off event and is helping plan the second annual JobSpark now. Working with IPS, we created an internship model that required every participating firm in IPS Capital projects to hire IPS interns. In fact, we are super proud that one of our old IPS interns is now at Ball State University, on her way to becoming an architect, and has returned to us this summer for another architectural internship!”


Wayne Schmidt, FAIA, HonD.

“The absolute best thing was Michelle Obama’s keynote. She was funny, intelligent, humorous, and insightful. She was the best!”



Ron Fisher, AIA, LEED AP

 “One of my favorite things to do at the conference each year is site visits. I enjoy seeing architectural solutions. A tour of the Daytona 500 Speedway was incredible. The Speedway features five main entrances, each with sponsorship rights for naming and branding the area. One was the Toyota Entrance featuring their vehicles, history of the firm, participation in racing, education about their manufacturing in the US, and more. It was intriguing to see the way the Speedway is designed to funnel the visitors throughout the grandstand.”


Desma Belsaas, AIA, LEED AP

” I was reinvigorated about all the good architects can do for the betterment of society. I got more inspired to do more writing when I attended a session about the Top 10 Things Architects can do other than architecture.”



Lisa Gomperts, FAIA, LEED AP

 “The session that stood out to me was about unique ways to engage the emerging professionals at your firm. It was a panel of millennials from architecture, engineering, and construction firms. They had created young professional development groups with chairs and co-chairs for learnings in networking, cultural events, continued education and more, all on a low budget. They found ways for their peers to get more involved at their firms, all while learning more about their career path.”






Brighter Today, Better Tomorrow

This time of year—when color, light, and warmth have faded from the natural world—is the perfect time for us to create our own. And we do! We know the antidote to spirits grown worn and weary. If it momentarily escapes us, we soon rediscover it in the eyes of a child or someone in love. Turn up the lights, turn on the music, and let that hidden knowingness deep within remind us once again that there is good reason to be festive.

Come the darkest night, though our hearts be sore and tattered, if we do not harden them against feeling, we find something else stirs inside us too. Could that be why man, of all the creatures, heralds coming happiness before its arrival? We know that chill, bleak days are numbered. We are made for better things so we go make things better.

The magic of simple enchantments like snowmen and starlit nights arise in sharing. After the laughter, the feasting and song—after the expressions of care and goodwill—we are sufficiently heartened to deal with everything else—together. Give your heart its song—find a child, fall in love, follow your bliss. It all makes good on hope and hope looks good on you!


“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Way that Works

Originally we were an autocracy—just one man establishing an architectural business. That worked awhile. As the business idea became reality and the firm grew, additional human capital was necessary. Each unit of human potential joining our ranks came with hands, mind, and ideas of their own—a good thing since there was much to do and no one does everything well. This also increased the well of creativity to be drawn from and provided synergistic advantages.

Schmidt Associates has never become a full democracy. Not all heads and hands count the same way, but all heads and hands count. It’s an organic model that encourages the contribution and circulation of intelligence from all quarters with greater information sharing than is typical. Observers may notice open, congenial work spaces and the switch up of team members as projects conclude and others launch. All staff are updated monthly in a single group, celebrating achievements, sharing recognition, and sometimes exasperation. We each participate in a yearly 360° review so all levels of staff provide input on one another. We foster life-long learning and community service. And yes—we brake for fun!

‘My people’ bears significance to one who builds a business, shoulder-to-shoulder with others who cast their lot with his. Such a one is grateful and committed to a way that works for all.


“The more you trust folks, the less they let you down.”

– The Universe (Mike Dooley)

In Search of Self

Services that trace genealogy or determine one’s ethnicity through DNA are just the latest version of mankind’s enduring quest to know self in larger-than-self context. These are exercises in identification—that transformative step beyond relationship.

We each sense that we are more than the singularity who stares back from the mirror. So we look here, there, everywhere and what do we discover? Experiences of solidarity with others—as often found in family, fellowship circles, teams, community endeavors, and collaborative working partnerships—foster an esprit de corps that somehow makes us ‘more’. Once we identify with others, missing dimensions of a greater self appear. It turns out others are not as separate and apart from us as we are used to thinking. And the process of gathering in all these misappropriated parts of our very own self not only makes life a more gratifying adventure, it uproots judgment and grows appreciation in its place.

Humanity is a group enterprise (and a brilliant design). This sense of our greater self only being possible in a fuller embrace of our fellow has long defined our world view at Schmidt Associates and shaped the way we do business. It is a prime component of our legacy that continues to unfold. Isn’t that greater wholeness found in being “part of” just as much your legacy?

“Identity is an assemblage of constellations.”

—Anna Deavere Smith

About Turning 40

WilFra Before

Turning forty for a business is different than it is for a person. For one thing, there are no teasing implications that “it’s downhill from here”. More the contrary—if a company weathers all the challenges it will encounter over that length of time, it is probably proving itself multi-generational. That takes us into the province of legacy.

Heritage is what we receive from past generations; legacy is what we leave future ones. At this very moment I sit upon a chair I could not make, wear clothes I could not fashion, write with pen upon paper I could not produce—and that is the small stuff. We are surrounded, sustained, and enabled by the developments and accumulated work product of countless generations. With appreciation for all that has come before, what do we see as we turn to the present and future?

What we see at Schmidt Associates is that our turn to pay it forward is now 40 years along with plenty of road ahead. Although this milestone finds us in chorus with Kool and the Gang: “Celebrate good times, come on!” we are also engaged in a bigger, broader picture of all that we have been and yet will be. We see your journey is on the same map as our journey, so go on expedition with us! Uh, you can lose the pith helmet.


“You don’t get older. You get better.”

—Shirley Bassey


These past few months while we were considering the five pillars of trust necessary to lead a team of jet pilots through tight aerobatic routines and how those criteria apply to leadership at large, the nation has been having a larger discussion about leadership. Many citizens do value character, commitment, competence, connection, and communication. They intend to vote for those they feel are best qualified to represent them according to such criteria. Others are demonstrating something more fundamental. It falls under the heading, “trust a bear to be a bear”.

Significant numbers of people are trusting candidates to be who they are, not who they presume to be if elected. It is not just personal history being taken into account, either; they expect politicians to be politicians—not a promising choice for what these voters want pursued. There is perhaps more energy behind what they want to see undone as done, and destruction is preferable to deconstruction in some instances. Throw the baby out with the bath water and make a new baby.

The paroxysms we endure through this shake up and the consequences that shake out are what it looks like when people try to regain footing on ground they trust. It’s quite a messy process but primordially sound.

“Character makes trust possible, and trust is the foundation of leadership.”
John C. Maxwell

Show Me

We are midway through George Dom’s illumination of the Blue Angels’ leadership model gleaned from his experience as C.O. and flight leader in the 1980s. The world’s best aerobatic team operates on a platform of trust built on five core competencies. These are the determinants for all effective leadership. Could asking questions that reveal these strengths (or lack thereof) help us choose better leaders?

“Can you and will you get the job done?” queries competence and commitment (covered last month). These two are coupled as the most basic and direct of the five qualifications. The question of competence must be affirmed demonstrably. Unlike capacity or capability which are “coulds”, competence is a reliable doer. It leaves tracks.

“Are you good enough to lead us?” Prove it. Smart is a start, but wisdom it is not. Show me you’ve done your homework, that you’re knowledgeable, trained, and prepared. Show me relevant successes and failures you learned from. Show me a tool box with more than a hammer, evidence of the skill, and will to wield various implements effectively. Show me how you get the best from all players. Show me you improve. Show me objectives met with well executed plans. Show me where openness expanded possibilities. Show me how humility and appreciation drew greater contributions. To earn my trust, you have to show me.

“Strategy is a commodity; execution is an art.”

– Peter F. Drucker

Walking the Talk

George Dom, commanding officer and flight leader of the Blue Angels during the late 1980’s, has never seen levels of trust as low as they are now. The crisis of trust is vividly apparent to someone whose leadership/team experience meant those who inhabited his world personally came to work every day and literally put their lives in his hands. It was all about trust.

The platform of trust that enables a handful of individuals to perform precision aerobatic maneuvers in supersonic aircraft as little as two feet apart is built through training. It is grounded, however, in five core competencies established in each of them beforehand: character, commitment, competence, connection, and communication. These core competencies qualified them as candidates. Dom convinces us these are what we should pay attention to in the selection of any person we expect to lead.

Dom posits each competency as a qualifying question. “Does this person walk their talk?” elicits an assessment of character. If a person lives their values, keeps promises, honors commitments, and holds to truth we can answer yes to this first criteria of character to be a qualified leader. If we place trust where it isn’t warranted, are we blameless when outcomes disappoint? We, the team, choose our leader.

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”


Out of the Blue

It’s 2016, so let’s have a happy new year. And in this space over the next several months, let’s chew over how we know and choose good leaders. We will explore from an angelic perspective—Blue Angel, that is.

The members of our US Navy’s precision flying team are ‘youngish’. There is nothing abstract about the leader/team dynamic of world best. It is real for them. It is performed—every second—every time—perfectly.

George Dom held command of the Blue Angels in the late 80s, after the USAF Thunderbird crash in 1982. The perfectly symmetrical crash site of their diamond formation burned into his being. That is what zero tolerance looks like from Blue Angel perspective. There is no room for hesitation or error, no allowance to have a bad day.

After 30 plus years in aviation leadership, what George Dom lived in the cockpit—what he and his team members came to know in bone and sinew—turns out to be that which is core to effective, superior leadership in every and all regards. It begins with trust.

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

-Colin Powell