This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and the human experience. Here, we sit down with two United States military veterans Stephen Katz and Brett Taylor.
What branch of the military did you serve in and how did you come to join it?
Brett Taylor: I served in the USMC from 1991 to 1997 (0311) and the Army National Guard from 1997 to 2001 (11B). I joined the Marines out of High School and then went to Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont. I graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Architecture. I joined the Marines because I felt that I needed to give back to the country and then went to Norwich to fulfill my dream of being an architect. I always thought I would have to pick one or the other.
What lessons from your years in the military seem most relevant to your work in the private sector?
BT: A big lesson that does not get discussed often is how to lead and take leadership over your friends and those where a massive age difference is present. These dynamics can be extremely difficult … leading friends and specifically critiquing them can be hard. It takes training and practice. It is never fun but sometimes necessary. Also, leading people with more experience in the profession than you can be very hard. The military and firms put people in this position often and respecting the experience of someone while potentially changing their mindset on how to accomplish tasks is a challenge.
Stephen Katz: Architects tend to be the people on projects that connect all the dots between the various stakeholder groups. Meeting this expectation from our clients can be difficult but my time in the Navy taught me how to effectively communicate up and down the chain of command can keep everyone informed with what is known as situational awareness. Making sure the team is aware of what other the groups are doing and what their priorities are helps move the project forward.
What is the most important thing you learned in your time in the military?
BT: I think the most important thing is leadership. My favorite book is “Leaders Eat Last” — it is the philosophy that you ensure that your team is taken care of first and then you worry about yourself. This can apply to everything, finding empathy in the mission while still completing the tasks.
How has serving in the military helped you in your current career?
BT: I am a project manager (design manager), and this role requires me to wear many hats. I need to lead teams internally but also externally. I need to understand the mission and drivers of all stakeholders and find a clear path. I need to find the calm in storms but also motivate when the winds aren’t blowing. I like to be the person that can be relied upon, that I am in a man of my word.
SK: The most important lessons I learned in the military centered on how to be an effective leader. As an officer, you are placed in leadership positions with responsibility well beyond what you experience at the same age and level of experience in civilian life. This can be incredibly challenging and stressful, but the good part is that the leadership training you receive in the US military is probably the best in the world and often based on years of case studies both positive and negative. You also have a significant support network of both fellow officers and senior enlisted personnel.
When it comes to leadership, what have you taken from your military service into civilian work?
BT: Leaders Eat Last, is still the best one. I think the other one is the chart of skill versus trust on axis. You will find in the military assessment of high value team members; trust matters more that skill. People with low trust never make it. Skills can be learned, but without trust, there cannot be a unit.
SK: A top leadership lesson for me is to set the example. The team will focus on what the leader does and how they do it. If you want a high performing team, then you need to be the example for how to act and produce at a high level. This can be tiring but it is part of the job, and it is a critical part of mentoring.
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