As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Bradley, AIA, NCARB, President and Founder of The Bradley Projects. He seeks to create boundary-pushing concepts that fuel the evolution of built environments. With over 20 years of experience, Bradley has grown to understand the value of designing with wellbeing and space-making in mind. The firm’s clean, modern, and crisp concepts celebrate their local community and showcase architecture as a true art form. His imaginative and progressive designs have guided the firm’s approach to development. His scope encompasses a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, transformation within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.
Bradley has accumulated an extensive background in architecture, urban planning, and real estate development with expertise ranging from single- and multi-family residential projects to high-end restaurants, retail, mass transit and institutional projects. Having served as lead project manager on a wide variety of high-profile projects, he possesses the adaptability, knowledge, and skills to foster successful relationships with clients, government officials, jurisdictions, community stakeholders, and other special interest groups.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, and I’ve been an avid skateboarder since the 1980s. I had an incredible work ethic instilled in me at a young age, but also had this passion for building and experimenting with forms and space, speed, balance, and everything that goes into being part of skateboarding, which later translated into my career in architecture.
I was very fortunate to find a way into a progressive and avante-garde architectural program at the University of Kentucky College of Architecture. I had never seen, heard of, or experienced anything like that before, yet somehow it felt familiar. I didn’t have the classic Lincoln-log-dream of becoming an architect. It’s been a very fluid and experimental process, and looking back there were three distinct phases:
I was introduced to an amazing architect, Mark Steele, FAIA, FAICP, who was an Alumni from my architectural school and happened to be in La Jolla, California. Meeting him in San Diego was a dream come true at that point in my life. He gave me a chance, and it was all I needed. Mark was an incredible role model and really laid the framework for the professional I am today — everything from how I lead community discussions and presentations, to the way I taught my graduate students in my teaching days. As I was soaking up everything Mark said and did, I was so fortunate to be able to watch and learn from several great architect-developers who were creating architecture in a totally different way, with freedom, passion, and seemingly no limits. I had several friends who were very close to Jonathan Segal, one of the top architect-developers in the world, and that had a huge impact on me as well. I was also very fortunate to have been around Lloyd Russell, who I have always admired, and he was also an architect-developer creating projects in his own way.
It wasn’t long, however, until I realized how the profession of architecture was being corrupted by the ever-thirsty development world. It was clear that I was never going to be happy at a traditional architecture firm. I figured if it was this difficult to beat them, I’d better try to join them. So I went to work in the development world for a while and submerged myself into the corporate world. Land acquisitions, financing strategies, partnership structures, and asset management became my new vocabulary for some time. This was such a juxtaposition to everything I knew, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was time that I put this all together, but in a way that fit my ideas and desires.
I then branched out on my own and started an architectural practice with the sole purpose to fuel development projects that I would pioneer. I found strength in what I learned from Mark Steele with community involvement, political spheres, and rebuilding and strengthening our inner city. I also found strength in partnerships as opposed to working alone. I began working with the mass-transit agency in San Diego, among other arenas and started building a portfolio. Similar to realizing that development was key to my career, I began to realize that the building, the actual construction of our projects was critical. So I set my course on becoming a general contractor, putting years of smaller building projects, manual labor, and passion for all built things in the center of my practice. It’s funny that after many years of working in this capacity in San Diego, I began to hear a corporate term for this, a cliché and misused by a lot of people these days; “vertically integrated.”
About eight years ago, we had some family issues on this side of the country, so we sort of randomly chose Nashville due to its central location, growth trends we were noticing, and a few people I met in the capital of Tennessee. We relocated with our two boys at the time and had another boy shortly after we moved, and suddenly began to grow roots in Nashville. It certainly wasn’t planned, but we have been blessed since being here. Our businesses have been growing and thriving, and I can see and feel the difference we are making in this community.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As I mentioned before, and sort of skipped over, the notion that I was going to leave local giants like Mark Steele, the clients I worked with, the developers I worked for, and other local heros of mine (Segal and Russell), and blaze an immediate trail of success, is quite comical. I mean, I went from working with the San Diego Chargers on a new stadium, a high-rise mixed-use high-end hotel concept downtown, San Diego’s first transit-oriented, mixed-use, multifamily $52-million project to absolute crickets, and an occasional neighborhood bathroom addition or kitchen remodel. I was running wild on passion, chock full of ego and naivety. It was several very difficult and often embarrassing years at least in my mind. I couldn’t yet see that this process was necessary to rebuild the core of who I am and what I was truly capable of.
The most important takeaway is that you need to be humble, and have humility and empathy to thrive in today’s world. Our business culture has stripped this out of every facet of daily work. It’s very unfortunate because it’s those guys just starting out who have more fire inside of them, more passion and more energy. If I can identify that in our team members, and nurture that, being of service to them, we build a stronger team, employee by employee. I look back to those tough and lean times now and remind myself how to lead, and why that is so crucial to running successful companies.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Clearly, Mark Steele. We have had familiarity since we went to the same architecture school and actually had some of the same professors, though he is some 30 years older than me. He was from Cincinnati, and I was from Kentucky. He would always call me by classic backwoods Kentucky names, ‘Clem’ was the most common. We would just laugh all the time together. We shared a lot in common, and humor was always more important than anything else.
Almost all of our time together were teachable moments. I recall one night we were heading out of the office after a long day of work, but our day was not yet over. It was in many ways just beginning. We were in the middle of the then, newly proposed San Diego Chargers stadium. We had the daunting task of leading what was called the Chargers Listening Tour, where we traveled around San Diego, to all of the major council districts to present the massive undertaking of a project. All I remember is pitchforks and torches at almost all of the meetings. Mark and I took on the bulk of the project presentation with the Chargers’ representation alongside us. He had to carry quite a load on that project at each district meeting. This particular night, as we were loading up all of the visual aids, easels, projectors, and marketing collateral, I remember asking Mark how he did it, all the time. He worked the crowd with such grace, elegance and sophistication, and he never rattled. He said it was easy and simple. When you walk into any situation that is emotionally or politically charged there are only two requirements. Before you walk through the door, first take off your hat of logic, you won’t be needing that — at all. Then, get ready to meet people exactly where they are. Listen, try to understand what they are scared of, what is their fear, and where is it coming from. Once you do that, you’ll know what to say, or not say, what to do or not do. Brilliant, really!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Our business isn’t architecture. It isn’t development. It isn’t construction. It is creating buildings and spaces for people, for programs, and for the betterment of our world. So our vision, our purpose from day one is two-fold. Serve others first. If we as business leaders can serve those working with us, then those working with us will be fully equipped to do what they do best. And second, be grateful. Be grateful for all we have been entrusted with, be grateful that we actually get to do this. If we can serve others and be grateful, we automatically are set apart from not only our competition, but also the grit of our business culture today.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Across the country, education facilities have faced the challenge of reopening safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. My sons attend the Linden Waldorf School in Nashville, and the school’s administration wanted to relocate the educational facilities outdoors to ensure a safe, physically distant environment. While many institutions have focused on short-term solutions, we developed and designed a long-term initiative to move classes outdoors — not only providing a safe space for students but also improving their learning of the surrounding environment.
We oversaw the design, development and construction of eight outdoor learning pavilions on their 12-acre campus. Within just four weeks, our team completed the design, obtained the permits and completed the outdoor learning environment, just in time for the fall 2020 semester.
In leading this initiative, I wanted to make sure that we provided a permanent solution for a temporary problem. We focused on the fact that COVID isn’t going to be around forever. And so, what happens when COVID’s gone? Let’s make sure that we’re doing some smart space planning and master planning for the functions of the school and its entirety. For example, the school can now use the pavilions for their annual fall festival, The Elves Faire. The school usually sets up pop-up tents on the campus with games and activities like archery and candle-dipping but now the school has permanent outdoor spaces for these activities.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I don’t think I ever considered giving up. I recall having thoughts about a T-shirt stand on the beach and surfing most of the day but that was short lived. I get almost all of my motivation to continue through challenges from my faith. At the risk of sounding morbid, life is short. And when you are about half-way through it, you realize that you are here for purpose. Clearly my wife, and three little boys are a huge part of that purpose, but my heart for God and the strength that He provides energizes me every day. And the days that seem heavy and impossible, I have to stop, recalibrate and turn my focus to Him for His clarity, wisdom and peace.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Maintaining a sense of serenity, calmness, confidence, resolve, and humor during challenging times is critical. The role of an effective leader needs to exemplify these characteristics. As leaders, we often forget what it is like to rely on a paycheck sometimes because we have become accustomed to the roller coaster ride that business provides for entrepreneurs and business leaders. We are just used to it, expect it. There are ups, there are downs. Count on it. But most people rely on a consistent stable paycheck. The last thing a strong team needs to worry about is instability. That is why remaining calm, confident, and resolved is so important along with a clear direction and firm path.
And most importantly, a good sense of humor is paramount. Everyone needs to laugh! It is the great equalizer and shows everyone we are all the same, we are all alike. We are all human. We all need each other. We all need to feel loved. We all need to feel a part of something bigger. Laughter sews us all together and unifies us.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I firmly believe that when things seem dark and uncertain, the best way to boost morale, raise spirits, and shift the narrative is to dig in and find someone to help. We look for others who are less fortunate, or who are in need, and look for ways to help. We have found that taking the focus off of our own issues for a change brings a refreshing and uplifting perspective that naturally brings renewal to our own circumstances. From the tornado that devastated our community in Nashville last March, to local retailers crushed by the pandemic a few weeks later, to a couple of local groups that feed the homeless and care for the poor, there are never shortages of places to lend a hand, donate, or raise awareness.
I also believe we can lighten the load of those around us, inspire and motivate by simply taking the time to find someone everyday to point out to them exactly and specifically what they are doing well and how much I appreciate it. It is so easy, unfortunately almost natural, to let someone know of their shortcomings. Although that is necessary for growth and success, I find that lifting your team up is far more critical and appropriate. I’ll always remember the way Mark Steele did that for me early on, and it just stuck with me.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Straightforward and as soon as possible. The longer you wait, and the more you cloud the waters, the worse it is. Transparency has a way of building trust and confidence. No one likes difficult news, but one thing that drives me insane is a long, dramatic, pomp, and circumstance slow burn to difficult news. When someone comes to me with that approach, it is so predictable and usually means someone is trying to smooth something over that just cannot be smoothed over. Get it out, identify the issue, and let’s get onto the possible solutions.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Stay the course but narrow your horizon. I believe you have to stay grounded to your core values, not flailing around looking for other things to quickly grab onto. But at the same time, narrow your horizon in the sense that you may lessen how far out you can project. By doing so, you can then allow some flexibility. For example, this year we have several large projects in the pipeline. Once the pandemic settled in, a few of those projects fell through. We didn’t panic; we dug into the projects that we had close to moving forward and started working those with more intensity. That is what we do well, getting projects to green light. We narrowed our horizon in terms of how far into 2022 we were projecting which has allowed us to pick up a few smaller, and unexpected project opportunities. Being present, focused and a little more in the now is a great remedy for getting deep into rabbit holes so far into the future.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stick to what you do best, and hone that. Too many people jump ship and grab anything that resembles a life preserver in the middle of turbulent times, looking for a quick fix. Turbulent times should be a time to hyper focus on your strengths, where you can improve, and how you may retool what you do to be more effective.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Predatory shopping: Looking for a deal solely with the motive of knowing it will be at someone else’s expense. I’ve seen people investing in huge quantities of PPE from China to price gouge back to hospitals and first responders, to others buying failing businesses at bottom-rate prices. Both of the groups behind those examples I know have also disappeared from the active business scene, and not surprisingly so. It’s important to remember what you do best and not attempt to jump markets over a ‘too good to be true’ scenario.
Cutting good people: I know several groups that immediately cut very talented people at the first hint of turbulent times. You have to focus on the fact that your business is only as good as the team you build. Clearly, there are times that this needs to occur, but it shouldn’t be the first reaction, like I’ve seen so much recently. The time it takes, and the investment you make into just one person, is huge. And if you have taken the time to really quantify that, then I suppose that is when blind cuts like that occur. But if you take the time and run a scenario of what you have invested into each team member, you’d think twice.
Denial: When tough times bear down on us, it’s easy to simply deny that it’s that bad. It’s human nature to shield perspective in a sense. But that prevents the process that leaders need to initiate to navigate the waters ahead. I have a development partner who has taught me the term “panic-early”. And while he doesn’t mean to literally panic, the discussions that ensue while charting a path can seem intense. Planning is key to the success in any business. Full blown navigation is the step that goes beyond planning and is crucial in turbulent times.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Never give up, lean on the strength of your reputation, work more diligently and urgently, and look to other areas as opportunities present themselves. In our business, giving up on a project sometimes feels like the obvious right approach. However, sometimes working harder on that project to get it to work, could be beneficial.
Our team has become well known as an honest, transparent and hardworking team that can find creative and unique ways to save projects that are not going in the right direction. Because this is our reputation, we have always had a wide variety of project types presented to us. We historically passed on many of them either do to work load, or our preference. We have been forging ahead by staying focused on what we do best and also by allowing ourselves to look into project types we would have maybe passed on in previous years.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Lean into your faith, lead with your heart and focus on taking care of your team’s morale. I find it helpful to wake up early around 5:00 am and spend the very first hour of my day in solitude, having quiet time focused on God. I do this before I even check my phone or even take it off the charger. This allows me to adjust my compass for the day, align my motives, and think about what really matters. Once I get all of that in check, I am in a much better space to start handling the barrage of shots fired all day long.
- Focus on what you do best. Don’t pivot and shift quickly out of panic or short-sightedness. Recently, we’ve had a handful of people approach us with project types that are not typically in our wheelhouse. On the one hand, I know we are fully capable of pulling these projects off. And in thinking about the instability we are all feeling in the current uncertain times, it has been very tempting. But we choose to focus on what we do best and turn our focus to honing on the projects directly in front of us and making sure they do not slip.
- Take the time to call someone out for what they are doing well, lift your team up, and laugh together. We have had to lay a couple of people off over the past few months for performance issues, not for any economic issues. Of course this is always unfortunate and never feels good. However, for the greater good of the organization, you have to make difficult decisions to protect the culture you are nurturing. That said, I have found the time to go to a few of our younger project managers to remind them how much I appreciate them, how well they are doing, and to keep it up. As the team sees a few team members asked to leave the organization, it is important that they understand what happened and where they stand within the team. It’s reassuring in turbulent times to know your leaders are noticing you for your contributions.
- Serve others in and around your community, chances are there are others nearby hurting worse than you — this takes focus off of yourself, you and your team will benefit by new perspectives and find your work refreshing and rewarding. Right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were made aware that Rocketown, one of our local inner city kids-based community support centers, was faced with a difficult challenge. Without summer programs, and kids not being in school, many kids were not getting the nourishment, and other support they needed. And of course, the pandemic was only making matters worse in reaching these kids. So we, along with many other great businesses, joined in a great fundraising effort where we sponsored a clay shooting tournament and auction. We grabbed our team, and took a day off to spend with the Rocketown team and many others. The joy and comradery that one event brought, not only blessed Rocketown, but renewed our team in ways you could visibly see. Giving back always brings a refreshed and healthy perspective.
- Do what you say you are going to do. Deliver every time and do not fall into the category of those feasting on the buffet of excuses we have at our fingertips these days. We have one project in particular that has been hit very hard with the COVID-19 pandemic. But for reasons we did not see coming. There are several local agencies, and one in particular, that have failed us over and over again. Not showing up, making careless mistakes, and not seeming to care too much has become the unfortunate new norm for some of these agencies. We could easily throw our hands up and sort of give up. Instead, we have chosen to dig in with our partners and develop ideas to keep the project moving forward as we deal with the hurdles and challenges being thrown our way. When we do this, instead of backing out, we see an increase in trust from our partners, team comradery in coming together and being in the trenches together and a project that, while hindered, will not be failing. We said from day one that we will deliver this project and that is exactly what we are going to do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Love God with all your heart, and love others as yourself.
I’ve never been able to fully understand this until I was in a place of leadership. By leaning into my faith and acknowledging all that God is, then I can relax in knowing that everything is under control and there is something much larger than me at work. That is not to be confused as some sort of cop-out, as if I have little control over our business. I work diligently and at the highest level I can possibly achieve every day. I can just operate with much more confidence, courage, and peace. Others take notice of that.
The second part of this is to love others as yourself. As a leader, I have come to realize that I am here to serve others, and I want our team serving others that work with us. If we all place importance on those around us, and realize that others matter as much as ourselves, the workplace, and our work as a whole, just looks different. And others also take notice of that.
How can our readers further follow your work?