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Life of an Architect Podcast


By Bob Borson, FAIA | July 20, 2020

Today, Andrew and I are talking about Leadership … but we are going to cover it briefly from the 30,000-foot perspective, but then we are going to zoom in on the experiences and lessons learned throughout the unimaginably successful career of today’s guest – someone whose track record suggests that she will have a far better chance of understanding what leadership means and looks like and help you with your own career.

Barbara Hulit serves as Senior Vice President of the Fortive role leading Advanced Sterilization Products and Invetech. She also oversees Fortive’s information technology (IT), data analytics related to their innovation incubator, known as “The Fort”, and Fortive’s work in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Barbara originally joined Fortive as President of Fluke in 2005 and was appointed Danaher group executive and corporate officer three years later. Since 2013, she has held roles of increasing scope as Senior Vice President with company-wide responsibility for the Fortive Business System (FBS) office, procurement, IT, high growth markets and innovation.

Barbara serves on the board of the Pacific Science Center and the Dean’s Advisory Council of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Named one of the top women in STEM for her role in establishing the Washington STEM Center, she is passionate about driving STEM education from an early age, particularly for girls. She earned her BBA in marketing from the University of Texas, Austin, and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern.

While all of this is certainly impressive, she really developed and honed in on her leadership skills during her childhood in her role as my slightly older sister.

[l-r playing with garden hose, Barbara’s intense stare and my incredibly sexy pose]


What does Leadership mean to you? jump to 2:55
It is possible that this world has various meanings depending on who you are speaking. Our guest thinks that this word is overused because if everyone is leading, who is following? One of the most important things leadership means is a change of trajectory.

If the world just goes on and no changes implemented, you don’t need leaders because things will naturally evolve to the way they are supposed to be (i.e. water will run downhill, you don’t need someone to lead it there). Leadership is about changing the trajectory of what would have happened during the natural course of things.

Can anybody be a leader? Is it something you can train for or is it about harnessing natural talents and abilities? jump to 5:28
It’s a combination of a couple of different things – not everyone is cut out to be a leader. There are natural characteristics that get honed over time. Leadership training becomes important at this time because when you are a new frontline leader what do you need to be successful in managing people for the first time? A common mistake of managing everyone is leading others the way you want to be lead. People respond to different types of leadership.

The value of executive leadership training jump to 7:30
Architectural firms don’t seem to do leadership and executive training with the same intensity, frequency, or veracity that more traditional corporate businesses. There is a model that Barbara likes a lot called “Situational Leadership”; it says that any given person at any given time in their career will need something different from their boss or their leader. It speaks to how well equipped that person is to do the job, do they know what it is, have they done it before, do they have competency in this role? It suggests that you’ve got someone who is a great person but they’ve never been in this role before as a leader, you need to be more of a coach with this individual whereas there are other times when someone is doing something that they’ve done before and if you’re trying to coach them on it … just get out of the way.

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." — George Patton

[l-r worker-bees Barbara taking out the trash, Bob sorting the laundry]


How has being a woman impacted you in your career – either positively or negatively? jump to 21:05
The story that’s rarely told is the positive side of the story, the focus is typically on the side of the oppressed. We try to touch base on both sides to see how Barbara has turned typically bad situations to her benefit because people underestimated her abilities. She tries to make the best of those bad situations and even uses them to her advantage.

How did you balance being a mother and professional? Have you had to make sacrifices (both personally and professionally) at various stages of your career? jump to 24:46
Of course, sacrifices are made – anyone with children knows that the world is full of sacrifices. Barbara has a theory that nobody gets to have it all and so it matters to think of this as more about establishing priorities rather than a never-ending series of compromises. The reality is that you don’t get to be an average employee and then get to take advantage of better assignments, more time off, more leniency, more trust – you have to earn those things.

So in that regard, this isn’t a gender issue because these same considerations are in place for men. The good news is that Barbara feels that things are trending in the right direction – the women that came before her had to make more sacrifices and she hopes that for the next generation of women that things continue to improve. We as a society have accepted a bunch of trade-offs for a period of time that ought not be acceptable.

Her advice? Keep focused, be dependable, build trust, and work hard.

[posing for photos on the stairs of our childhood home]


Do you have any recommendations on dealing with unconscious bias? jump to 35:15
The issue with unconscious bias is interesting because, at it’s truest form, you aren’t aware that it’s there. Interestingly, despite having a reputation for being a good mentor to women … she takes the test and learns that she has an unconscious bias against women in the workforce and old people. She challenged Andrew and me to take this test and possibly against our better judgment, we said we would post the results of that test here …

Unconscious Bias Test jump to 40:19
The thing that is interesting about these tests, assuming that you put some sort of measure of stock to them, is that I am okay with the results. I learned from my tests that I have a slight preference for young people (which is the vast majority of employees that I work with) and I have a moderate association for Males with the family and Females with careers.

I’m glad to think that I don’t have a traditional gender bias in the office but considering that I am the youngest sibling with only older sisters and that I had a mother who was in the workforce (teacher) until she retired, I clearly have a healthy admiration for females who want to work.

Andrew also had similar results – one could argue that his test results are actually better than mine since he has no preference between young and old people.

If you have an interest in taking any of these unconscious bias tests for yourself, you can just click here.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders? jump to 41:08
Pretty simple … “Know what you want and what’s important to you.”

You are going to run into tradeoffs and if you think that none of us gets to have it all, then knowing what important to you and being confident in your choices is important. You have to stand up for yourself if you think there is more that you can do.

[Barbara and Bob playing at the beach]


What are your thoughts on mentorship? jump to 47:29
Andrew and I discussed mentorship before and Barbara’s thoughts are fairly in line with what we’ve said before when we covered this topic in far greater depth on podcast episode 042: Mentorship.

Formal mentorships never seem to work – that is all of our mutual experiences. To get the most out of a mentor you have to be pretty vulnerable which suggests that there is a fair amount of trust and you probably wouldn’t have that on day one with someone you don’t really know. Instead, she advocates creating your own “Board of Directors” and you think about what do you need, find those people, and in fact, they don’t even have to know they’re on your board.

The concept is no one person has it all so you need to build a community of people who together have the knowledge and skillsets to help you complete your own picture. This also allows for the members on your personal board to change over time to suit your changing needs for personal and career growth.

Should we spend a few minutes and let Andrew ask some questions about how amazing it was to grow up with me? This is probably a bad idea … jump to 51:43

If there were ever a time when listening to the podcast was better than reading the accompanying blog post, this would be it. Just so you know, I am not going to write out the fun storytime that Andrew and my sister had sharing stories of stupid things I did when I was younger. I’ll just tell you my sister thought it would be a good idea to tell the story about that one time when I snuck my Dad’s corvette out for a late-night joyride … and all she cared about was that I didn’t get in trouble for it when I was caught.

[l-r Barbara Hulit presenting at FLC19, Bob Borson presenting at the AIA Wisconsin convention]


Now that we have covered today’s topic is a satisfactory manner, we are at the point of today’s program which is really what most people tune in for … the hypothetical question. We have a rare opportunity since I have convinced my sister to participate in today’s hypothetical question and I thought about making the question centric to my sister and me … something along the lines of if you could copy one quality from the other for yourself, what would it be? But since Andrew isn’t related, I’m not sure this is a fair question since it basically excludes him from participating.

The hypothetical question for today should have been an easy one … jump to 56:54 

"If you could have any single skill that actually exists in the world – which means teleportation, etc. is out – what would that skill be? For example, you could say “I want to be able to paint like Pablo Picasso"

Both Andrew and my sister chose somewhat abstract talents (after my sister graciously pandered to the host) but I played this one a bit more straight up.

Leadership is about realizing and unlocking potential, providing the environment and effort to help get the best out of individuals. Being a leader is a skill like any other and it must be maintained and requires effort to keep performing it at a high level. In essence, you have to continually work at being a good leader. Leadership is not just about being able to take risks, but it is also about understanding people and being able to motivate them to perform at a higher level. Good leaders understand that everyone is different and can adapt to those differences and lead with impact.


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