From 30,000 feet: A Strategic Path to Leadership

by ConnectLA

“The first person to lead is You! You earn the right to lead others when they see you lead your own life well.” 

John Maxwell

In my last post, we peeked into Connect’s transformation over the previous 21 months. Today, I will share my transformation from seeing myself solely as a ‘designer or a technical expert’ to identifying as an ‘entrepreneur’ who has a technical focus. I’ve had to learn fast that how I view myself directly impacts the performance of my business.

While it might sound obvious, being a great Landscape Architect does not equate to being a great people leader or a skilled business owner. For much of my business life, I have been very focused on what needs to get done today to meet deadlines and client expectations. While that was necessary for me to play out, I have learnt it is not my ONLY role. For a business to be successful, there needs to be a significant focus on planning, not planning for what next week will look like but planning for the outlook of the next one, three, five years.

The adage that failing to plan means planning to fail is very true. Our failure to properly prepare for our growth, cultural shifts, and market hiccups (if you can call a pandemic a hiccup) caught up with us. March 2020 forced me to do some things that I am inherently not great at…. pause, ask for help and take a hard look not just at the structure of my business, but my role in my business and how I contributed to the pain we were facing.

Transitioning from a Landscape Architect’s traditional mindset towards a mindset of entrepreneurship is not a linear process. This transition was challenging, uncomfortable, but highly stimulating as my shift in identifying from design/technical expert to an inspirational entrepreneur immediately impacted all performance indicators of our business. We hired a business coach who challenged me to understand that companies need to be led and not just operated. We developed a short six-month strategic plan with a clear mandate, strategies, and tactics discussed weekly. Myself and my Partners were asked to identify ‘why would people follow us?’. We have real conversations around our personal leadership brands and how our behaviours… my behaviours… directly impacted the engagement of our team. We began to look at our financials as a dashboard or forecasting tool to guide and inform. We developed a culture statement, with 4 clear brand promises that gave us a clear picture of what we wanted our culture to be in the future and what we had to do to turn that statement into a reality. So much of our conversations became about where we wanted to go and what we had to do to get there. I started to change, and low and behold; our business started to change rapidly. 

Every week, we now communicate our vision and plans to guide and navigate our progress forward together. Keeping our team informed and sharing in this success resulted in record engagement levels despite the obstacles of the pandemic and internal structural changes. People feel like they are a part of something much bigger – Everyone is ‘on the same bus,’ and we like where we are heading. I like where we’re heading!

The focus on self-leadership created awareness and space to envision success. Combined with an entrepreneurial mindset, having clarity in our destination propels us to a successful business both culturally and foundationally. My primary role now is to create the energy, motivation, and vision to move towards our goal. Seeing these pieces coming together has reinvigorated me, our practice, and our firm. Our strategic planning journey has allowed me to grow and show up as a grounded and thoughtful composer and leader.  

If you’re a business owner only focussed on the now… I’d encourage you to take a step back and look at how you see yourself in your business. Get clear in your vision, challenge yourself why your people would follow you, engage your people in your vision and embrace being an entrepreneur.

In my next post, I will share how we built the strategic roadmap that propelled us to a record year of revenue and cultural engagement. Strategy can seem scary for business owners operating solely as a technician. I hope those who read these blogs will see that anything is possible with an entrepreneurial mindset.


Connect LA is a full-service landscape architecture firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Over 35 years of award-winning success make us a recognized leader in the design and transformation of healthy, vibrant communities. Our diverse portfolio in planning, design and creation of livable places for people is exemplified by our passion for landscape, love for our craft, and through our vision – to connect people to nature through meaningful design.

WRITTEN by Ken Larsson

ART WORK by Mindi Wang


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