As I visited all 18 of the local AIA components in the state of Texas as president-elect, I was often asked to state my “presidential platform.” I was formally asked this by members and past presidents, and, more casually, by colleagues. It was a puzzling question that stumped me. The idea of a platform felt so specific and constraining.
I believe we operate in a continuum as volunteer leaders. Much like runners in a long-distance relay race, we are handed the baton from our predecessor, and it’s our job to carry it to our successor. The betterment of the organization and the profession is always the goal. That’s not to say we are here to maintain the status quo. It also doesn’t mean leaders can’t have our own vision and priorities, but it’s not always about new initiatives. If we completely changed course every year, we would never have the time to accomplish anything substantial. Instead, you run your leg of the relay your way. You adjust for the conditions of that race and try to gain any advantage you can to benefit your team.
I think this take on my leadership role served me well. Two years ago, on the cusp of being the president-elect, things were clicking along at their usual rate. We had a leadership retreat, our first board meeting, a gathering with other large states, and another with peers across the country. It was all wonderfully “normal” for a while, but as we all know, everything changed in the spring of last year.
While the board was fumbling our way through Zoom meetings, it was also initiating a leadership transition. I’m grateful I had no preconceived plans for 2021, as I would have been forced to abandon them. At our annual business meeting, I reflected on what had been a tumultuous year — a pandemic, a reckoning with racial injustice, months of physical separation — and encouraged everyone to band together. I suggested then that we embrace the disruption and use it as a catalyst for change.
Change has been the constant throughout my tenure. I have focused my energy on both accepting it and capitalizing on it. There is little sense in ignoring reality, and I saw opportunity in the unpredictability. There was freedom in it. The executive committee scrutinized why we were doing the things we were doing as a Society. We collaborated with committees, via discussions with their leadership, to analyze their processes and goals. With the guidance of our new executive vice president, we honed our strategic priorities to better align our committees and resources with our organizational goals.
Throughout the year, I have made a sincere effort to improve communication and encourage collaboration on all levels. The Society has been criticized for operating in a silo, and I took steps this year to demonstrate our commitment to reverse this. Together with other AIA components, we funded an unconscious bias workshop for all our volunteer leaders and members. We also renewed focus on supporting the unstaffed chapters in Texas. These collaborative efforts extended to our committees and board: We convened committee chair collaboration meetings to identify potential connections. We also sought out new relationships with allied organizations like NOMA and NCARB.
Underlying everything has been a conscious effort to bring diverse voices to the table, to ensure a more equitable future for the Society. Our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee began by gathering and analyzing data on our board and awards over the last few years. We found we have work to do, and this year we were able to focus on the implementation phase. We started with a call for committee volunteers to expand the pipeline. Our Honor Awards Committee audited the awards criteria and selection process. We have initiated similar conversations about our nominations process and the future of our Annual Conference.
I haven’t done any of this alone. Connie G. Rivera, AIA, the immediate past president of TxA, provided mentorship. Eva Read-Warden, AIA, our president-elect, has provided consistently wise counsel for me. Our other executive committee members, Nicki Marrone, AIA, Jason Puchot, AIA, Krystyn Haecker, AIA, Derwin Broughton, AIA, Andrew Hawkins, AIA, and Anita Miller, AIA, have devoted much time to facilitating change and contributing input. Our board has handled an unusual year with ease. Jim Susman, FAIA, gave an invaluable gift to the Society when he volunteered his time as interim executive vice president for over half of this year. The Society has no shortage of passionate volunteer members, an asset we should continue to nurture. Our 18 committees each average 12 volunteer members, who are critical to the success of our organization. We cannot thank them enough.
As I approach the end of my term, the hardest thing for me to accept is the feeling of leaving unfinished business. I don’t feel like I’m crossing a finish line. I’m merely handing off the baton and hoping I’ve given my successor a bit of a lead. I’m proud to have been a part of the continuing legacy of the Texas Society of Architects. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing the results of the things we started in 2021. In the meantime, this is by no means a final farewell. You’ll still hear me cheering loudly from the stands.
Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects in Dallas and the 2021 TxA president.