15 years, 4 months ago

Enterprise Solution Architects and Leadership

I strongly believe that Leadership is a critical competency for successful Enterprise Solution Architects. To some, that statement may seem bold. To others, its obvious. for those that this seems bold, I hope this blog post helps explain why Enterprise Solution Architects have strong Leadership competencies. For those that this statement seems obvious, I’m simply attempting to refine this concept to bring it to a more mature level.

A bit of my background leading to thoughts on strengthening Leadership competencies as an Enterprise Solution Architect

During my career as an IT guy, I’ve always been laser focused on my career mission “Improve IT’s business value proposition”. This is my passion and it is my guiding principle for making career choices. It’s worked well for me probably because there always seems to be new opportunities to explore and deliver more business value such as; exploring different software delivery models, exploring different software design processes and techniques, implementing new and exciting technologies, engineering business architecture, and scaling to enterprise-level constructs like enterprise architecture frameworks and organizational dynamics. In fact, I feel lucky to have been able to achieve so much and still be totally inspired to learn and grow more.

My career has taken me through many IT roles gaining experience as an IT software engineer, tester, business analyst, project/program manager, and solution architect.  I’ve carried pagers while in IT operations support roles. I’ve spent time in sales selling software solutions and I’ve spent time as a consultant delivering software solutions and coaching customers and partners how to deliver software solutions. Because I’ve always had a hankering to make bigger, broader, enterprise-wide business value from IT, my career has led me to where I sit today, an Enterprise Solution Architect.

Enterprise Solution Architects require Leadership skills the most

I think that all Architects require Leadership competencies to some degree but one Architect type that stands out as being the most dependent on Leadership is the Enterprise Solution Architect. Because I haven’t seen an attempt to articulate the Leadership abilities in the context of the Enterprise Solution Architect role, I thought I’d share my opinion of what they might be.

So, here’s how I think of Leadership. Leadership is a competency and it can be decomposed in a number of ways; leadership principles, habits, values, emotional intelligence abilities, leadership imperatives, frameworks, competencies, et al. All are valid and often share the same semantic meaning but conveyed in different terms and constructs giving us lots of choices to find the one that resonates with each of us individually.

Daniel Goleman’s Leadership model as the base construct

One such Leadership model that resonates with me is Daniel Goleman‘s Emotional Intelligence (EI) abilities organized by the domains Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. The complete list of Goleman’s EI abilities with definitions are located at the end of this blog.

This is an Architect’s blog post, so I created some views of the EI domain model as well as the actual model using UML notation for those who like to read models:

Leadership Domain Model

 Domain Model 

Leadership Object Model
Self-Awareness Self-Management Social AwarenessRelationship Management


Relating Goleman’s Leadership Competencies to the Enterprise Solution Architect

So, how does this all relate to the Enterprise Solution Architect role you say? Well, I think that this is where things get fascinating. Below is an attempt to describe how Goleman’s Leadership abilities relate to the Enterprise Solution Architect role. It is very rough but my hope is to mature the thinking to the point we can manage Leadership abilities like we can with other Architect skills like I described in this blog post regarding growing Solution Architects.

It should be noted that the Enterprise Solution Architect’s Leadership competencies are required or be the highest maturity achievable. The aim of this blog post is simply to describe the relationship between Leadership competencies and the Enterprise Solution Architect role.

Leadership CompetencyNarrative description how Enterprise Solution Architects use the Leadership Competency
    Emotional self-awarenessThis is one of the more critical competencies that Enterprise Solution Architects have. We are often engaged in discussions that are extremely complex with very senior leaders when suggestions are asserted which unintentionally break the integrity of the enterprise architecture we have so carefully nurtured. Enterprise Solution Architects must have self-awareness competency to inject architectural integrity back into the discussion without sacrificing relationships or, as Goleman might say, “emotional capital”.

Take for example the situation of enterprise planning. There are times when senior leaders suggest major platform consolidation decisions while,  unintentionally, grossly oversimplified the engineering rigor involved in defining shared software platforms. Instead of bursting aloud and delivering ‘an education’ to the group, Enterprise Solution Architects might choose another route. Perhaps s/he might respectfully acknowledge the leadership’s role and compliment the suggestion with the option of off-lining that decision to allow time to review impacts and return with their analysis results.

    Accurate self-assessment.

Because Enterprise Solution Architects interact at all organization levels in the business and IT organizations, they become acutely aware where they must grow and improve in order to be more effective. The best Enterprise Solutions Architects, therefore, seek mentors and coaches, join networking clubs with a passion for self-improvement. This is one of the reasons why find themselves at networking events and sharing experiences at enterprise architecture conferences.


Enterprise Solution Architects are some of the most psychologically mature Architects an organization has. They are often “the rocks” within the most complex, high-profile IT projects a company has. They are masters of self-control for the project team and in planning teams. Their decisions carry weight both in the eyes of the business and IT and any wavering can cause ripple effects strong enough to cause doubt and ultimately shake the foundational confidence of a project.

    TransparencyTransparency is a major part for gaining a Trusted Advisor relationship with senior business stakeholders and engineering teams. Often, the Enterprise Solution Architect must deliver messages that are not what stakeholders want to hear so setting expectations early and being transparent to the decision-making stakeholders is critical.

Take for example the situation where Enterprise Solution Architects coordinate the support for a shared enterprise-wide software platform. Enterprise Solution Architects must be able to gain support from several Lines of Business and engineering organizations to commit to the software platform. This is a tremendously complicated task that can be thwarted from several angles. Enterprise Solution Architects provide a Leadership role through this process and the great ones build Trusted Advisor relationships through transparency.


Adaptability is a core competence of the Enterprise Solution Architect because of the diverse situations and audiences they are faced with on a daily basis.

As an example, I once led a highly complex software design discussion with highly-talented and, should I dare, ‘critical’ engineers involving system integration modeling of our Microsoft Online Order Management systems in the morning, sat with business leads to brainstorm licensing business logic for our to-be-released Online Products over lunch, and delivered an architectural brief to a group of Business and IT Vice Presidents on the impacts to our enterprise for our S+S company strategy all in the same day.

    AchievementEnterprise Solution Architects are measured by adoption. Everything they are set out to accomplish is carefully prioritized and burned into the forefront of their consciousness. Think of Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people “Begin with the End In Mind”. The ‘end’ for an Enterprise Solution Architect is the delivery of change whether it be decisions on which software platforms are to be built and how they are designed, delivery of enterprise-class software solutions, optimization of the application portfolio, enabling IT with the right architect to deliver faster, efficiently and cost-effectively.
    InitiativeEnterprise Solution Architects have the opportunity to view broadly across the company and often are quick to see opportunities for progressing the advancement of the enterprise architecture. They look for ways to gain adoption quickly and often are able to provide feedback to IT process owners or organization designers on observations made that potentially can improve the organizational effectiveness in terms of improved delivery to the business.
    Optimism Enterprise Solution Architects know that no one want’s to work with pessimistic wet blanket. Gaining momentum is critical to the success of delivering large-scale initiatives and, therefore, optimistic leaders help carry the momentum. Not all Architects can perform the Enterprise Solution Architect role. It is mostly a thankless job and often highly criticized. I’m sorry if this sounds like a bleak picture for the Enterprise Architect but to be honest, we must be optimistic to try, try again.  
Social Awareness  

I just love this Leadership ability because it is often so sorely lacking in the IT industry, thus representing a great opportunity to apply focus and get huge improvements. Engineers often don’t have the training or basic social skills to have a positive dialogue. All the more reason why the Enterprise Solution Architect has very mature empathy abilities so as to resonate and get decisions made to rapidly enable change. I can’t put it better than Jack Welch’s “Three S” approach to Leadership; Self-Confidence, Simple, Speed. I’ve created a conceptual model of the “Three Ss” concepts and added a couple of new one’s taken from anecdotal mentions from Goleman for another View to help describe the concepts.

3 S's

Here’s how to relate Empathy to the Three Ss concept. Through Empathy, an Enterprise Solution Architect can identify a Simple message that resonates with others allowing them to act on the message with speed.

    Organizational awareness

Enterprise Solution Architects often find themselves in organizations that lack fluid understanding for involving enterprise-wide concerns. This is common and natural. For example, large companies often have several business strategies that are not in-sync eventuating in siloed supporting IT systems. Enterprise Solution Architects must be able to understand who to influence in order to contribute due diligence efforts for deliver solutions to enterprise concerns such as application rationalization, delivery of shared enterprise software platforms, software platform designs built for flexibility, reusability and availability.

Now, I would like to make a distinction between Organizational awareness from a Machiavellian politician who studies organizational dynamics and manipulates and drives their self-interests. Like Goleman, Stephen Covey and Jack Welch note often, “those individuals are a bore and bring down organizations.” I’m in complete agreement.

    ServiceService is one of the most important competencies Enterprise Solution Architects have. We are humble and serve our business partners and teammates to achieve our goal, adoption. I described tips for gaining adoption in a previous blog – see here. Enterprise Solution Architects fill the gaps and complement the team’s plan directly or indirectly through encouraging the appropriate role owner to pick it up.
Relationship Management 
    InspirationWhen Enterprise Solution Architects discover business problems that cross several Lines of Business and engineering teams, they have a tough challenge ahead of them. Often, Enterprise Solution Architects make all groups aware of the problem and inspire them to collaborate on solving the problem together, thus bringing synergy to the organization.
    InfluenceIn the software industry, if you are not directly writing source code you are in an influencer role. I cannot stress the importance Enterprise Solution Architects place on this leadership competency. It is critical to the success of gaining momentum for software initiatives and truly delivering in a Trusted Advisor capacity.
    Developing othersGoleman often cites statistics that the IT Business sorely lacks this competency. Goleman believes that this is likely due to the fact that engineers focus on improving one’s technical skills rather than focusing on improving other people’s skills. He’s got a great point.

Enterprise Solution Architect’s understand that no single role will be responsible for improving IT’s value proposition to their business stakeholders. We spend a lot of time growing an organization’s competence. The best Enterprise Solution Architects I know, dedicate time to mentor others, contribute to skills discussions and often express their ideas in broad audiences all with the intention of helping grow the discipline in the direction of improving IT’s value proposition to the business.

In fact, Developing others is why I blog (and I wish I blogged more often), mentor aspiring Architects in and outside of Microsoft and one of the sole reasons I choose to be an Enterprise Solution Architect within Microsoft.

With this blog, my hope is that I catch the attention of another Architect to investigate and learn more about leadership competencies and contribute to their growth and success.

    Change catalystMany esteemed thinkers in the space of Enterprise Architecture often evangelize the role of Enterprise Solution Architects as ‘change agents’. This is true. Like I discussed in the Initiative item above, Enterprise Solution Architects do have an unusual position of seeing an impartial view of the ‘big picture’ and when opportunities for gaining efficiencies regarding re-prioritization of our business needs, tweaking our delivery process, restructuring governance models, identifying skill gaps, to drive change for improving the IT organization’s effectiveness to deliver more value to the business, we do it.
    Conflict managementI love this competency! In the IT industry there is so much social insecurity that it impairs even the most trivial discussions resulting in relationship destruction. These outcomes are unacceptable to Enterprise Solution Architects and we mitigate these outcomes by leaning heavily on our Conflict Management skills.

For example, Enterprise Solution Architects often find themselves facilitating an initiative via a virtual team of multi-discipline resources from all over the organization. Inevitably, there are pitfalls to avoid from insecurities that exist with each of the team members. Normally, insecurities manifest themselves from team members that were part of a failed project they wish to not be reminded of, or senior resources wanting to be recognized for their position by subordinates, or from highly educated individuals who want to be publicly recognized for their educational credentials, or for cultural sensitivities typical in the western and eastern cultures and the list goes on.

At the surface, one might say “why do they behave so childish?” and they’d be right if it weren’t for the fact that people are very emotionally complex beings – we are not beings from the planet Vulcan where logic prevails over all social conflict. 🙂

Enterprise Solution Architects identify and respect other’s underlying personal insecurities, which are often unsaid, and empathize with them in a very non-threatening manner, and usually in private. Then, suggest a simple resolution to the group that a) can progress the group’s initiative, and b) does not seem threatening to any one person or the group they represent.

    Teamwork and collaborationEnterprise Solution Architects, by necessity, have experience managing project teams, virtual teams, relationships “owners” with other organizations on behalf of their organization to deliver planning and delivery functions. We often exude the ability to create an environment with strong collaboration and do this by leveraging our Teamwork and Collaboration competency.

Just some closing notes

There is nothing new described in this blog other than an attempt to articulate a relationship between two concepts. It is my interpretation of the fantastic work already delivered by Leadership thought-leaders in the context of the Enterprise Solution Architect role.

Acknowledgements: One of the great pleasures from working at Microsoft is the opportunity to work with unbelievably talented people. One such person is Harry Tucker and a few others whom I’m not sure I have the right to publicly identify…Jeremy, Mike, Chad and Gray. 😉 Anyway, much of what I’ve written below was directly triggered by their coaching and I’m very grateful to have crossed paths with these individuals.

Here are Daniel Goleman’s Leadership Competencies:


  • Emotional self-awareness. Leaders high in emotional self-awareness are attuned to their inner signals, recognizing how their feelings affect them and their job performance. They are attuned to their guiding values and can often intuit the best course of action, seeing the big picture in a complex situation. Emotionally self-aware leaders can be candid and authentic, able to speak openly about their emotions or with conviction about their guiding vision.
  • Accurate self-assessment. Leaders with high self-awareness typically know their limitations and strengths, and exhibit a sense of humor about themselves. They exhibit a gracefulness in learning where they need to improve, and welcome constructive criticism and feedback. Accurate self-assessment lets a leader know when to ask for help and where to focus in cultivating new leadership strengths.


  • Self-control. Leaders with emotional self-control find ways to manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and even to channel them in useful ways. A hallmark of self-control is the leader who stays calm and clear-headed under high stress or during a crisis – or who remains unflappable even when confronted by a trying situation.
  • Transparency. Leaders who are transparent live their values. Transparency – an authentic openness to others about one’s feelings, beliefs, and actions – allows integrity. Such leaders openly admit mistakes or faults, and confront unethical behavior in others rather than turn a blind eye.
  • Adaptability. Leaders who are adaptable can juggle multiple demands without losing their focus or energy, and are comfortable with the inevitable ambiguities of organizational life. Such leaders can be flexible in adapting to new challenges, nimble in adjusting to fluid change, and limber in their thinking in the face of new data or realities.
  • Achievement. Leaders with strength in achievement have high personal standards that drive them to constantly seek performance improvements – both for themselves and those they lead. They are pragmatic, setting measurable but challenging goals, and are able to calculate risk so that their goals are worthy but attainable. A hallmark of achievement is in continually learning – and teaching – ways to do better.
  • Initiative. Leaders who have a sense of efficacy – that they have what it takes to control their own destiny – excel in initiative. They seize opportunities – or create them – rather than simply waiting. Such a leader does not hesitate to cut through red tape, or even bend the rules, when necessary to create better possibilities for the future.
  • Optimism. A leader who is optimistic can roll with the punches, seeing an opportunity rather than a threat in a setback. Such leaders see others positively, expecting the best of them. And their “glass half-full” outlook leads them to expect that changes in the future will be for the better.
Social Awareness

  • Empathy. Leaders with empathy are able to attune to a wide range of emotional signals, letting them sense the felt, but unspoken, emotions in a person or group. Such leaders listen attentively and can grasp the other person’s perspective. Empathy makes a leader able to get along well with people of diverse backgrounds or from other cultures.
  • Organizational awareness. A leader with a keen social awareness can be politically astute, able to detect crucial social networks and read key power relationships. Such leaders can understand the political forces at work in an organization, as well as the guiding values and unspoken rules that operate among people there.
  • Service. Leaders high in the service competence foster an emotional climate so that people directly in touch with the customer or client will keep the relationship on the right track. Such leaders monitor customer or client satisfaction carefully to ensure they are getting what they need. They also make themselves available as needed.

Relationship Management

  • Inspiration. Leaders who inspire both create resonance and move people with a compelling vision or shared mission. Such leaders embody what they ask of others, and are able to articulate a shared mission in a way that inspires others to follow. They offer a sense of common purpose beyond the date-to-day tasks, making work exciting.
  • Influence. Indicators of a leader’s powers of influence range from finding just the right appeal for a given listener to knowing how to build buy-in from key people and a network of support for an initiative. Leaders adept in influence are persuasive and engaging when they address a group.
  • Developing others. Leaders who are adept at cultivating people’s abilities show a genuine interest in those they are helping along, understanding their goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Such leaders can give timely and constructive feedback and are natural mentors or coaches.
  • Change catalyst. Leaders who can catalyze change are able to recognize the need for the change, challenge the status quo, and champion the new order. They can be strong advocates for the change even in the face of opposition, making the argument for it compellingly. They also find practical ways to overcome barriers to change.
  • Conflict management. Leaders who manage conflicts best are able to draw out all parties, understand the differing perspectives, and then find a common ideal that everyone can endorse. They surface the conflict, acknowledge the feelings and views of all sides, and then redirect the energy toward a shared ideal.
  • Teamwork and collaboration. Leaders who are able team players generate an atmosphere of friendly collegiality and are themselves models of respect, helpfulness, and cooperation. They draw others into active, enthusiastic commitment to the collective effort, and build spirit and identity. They spend time forging and cementing close relationships beyond mere work obligations.