A Smart Leader is Accessible

My dear friend, architect Barry Thalden, Chairman of Thalden, Boyd, Emery Architects—Las Vegas, St. Louis, Tulsa, Phoenix—told me a great story a few weeks ago during our annual Cubs/Cardinals get-together; Thalden is a Cardinals fan and flies into Chicago from Las Vegas every summer so I can take him to two Cubs/Cardinals games at Wrigley Field and renew our 51-year friendship.  As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ve ever been in The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, you’ve seen his firm’s incredible artistry on display: Thalden, Boyd, Emery Architects provided the detailed technical drawings for the interior and exterior themed facades that make it look like Venice.

A number of years ago he was working in his St. Louis office when one of the firm’s draftsmen entered and asked to speak to him.  Thalden always has his door open so he can be accessible to any employee who wishes a few minutes of his precious time; he doesn’t believe in enforcing a step-by-step chain of command.  He wants his people to feel free to approach him any time to express their pertinent thoughts, opinions, ideas.  The young draftsman had an idea he wanted to present; Thalden listened attentively.

“Mr. Thalden, we really need to have a website, sir; it’s the wave of the future.”

Thalden sat back and explained why he didn’t think a website was necessary.  He was of the opinion that prospective clients didn’t choose an architectural firm from the yellow pages or other forms of advertising, including websites.  He told the young draftsman that the top brass making the final choice on an architectural firm were of his own generation, a generation who weren’t all that technologically savvy and who didn’t pay much attention to this new modern way of communicating a firm’s message.  He was adamant: he thanked the young man for his idea, but wasn’t interested in pursuing it.

The young man wasn’t about to give up so easily; he insisted a website would be a huge boon to the company and that it would be a costly mistake to not have one.

They went back and forth for quite a while—Thalden sticking to his guns, the young draftsman sticking to his.  Most leaders would not tolerate that kind of opposition once they had made a definitive decision, but Thalden is far more open-minded than your typical leader.  Finally he laughed, threw up his hands and said, “Alright, if you believe in it that passionately, go ahead, take care of it.  I predict it won’t matter an iota, but I guess it won’t do any harm, either.  Do it and let me get back to work.”

The website was designed and operational in a week.

Within ten days, the new website directly led to two huge jobs.  Thalden was stunned.  A few weeks later, while he was discussing the project with the CEO of one of the new clients, he asked the man what it was about the website that had drawn his attention.  The man said, “Oh I never saw your website; I just told one of my younger underlings to check out some architects, make a few recommendations.”  Again, Thalden was stunned at his naivety.

The young draftsman got a big raise; deservedly so, wouldn’t you say?

To this day, Thalden believes in accessibility.  Do you?