This is a time of change and instability. We all have the potential and the responsibility to help shape its direction, says Sadie Morgan


With British Summer Time almost over and autumn underway, a palpable feeling of change rests in the air – not just in temperature, but in a series of significant leadership shifts that have taken centre stage on our news feeds.

We have a new prime minister and, of course, a new King. As these new faces stand at the helm of our country’s future – in Liz Truss’s case somewhat precariously – it is important to take a good, hard look at what leadership itself means today and, more importantly, what it should represent at this moment in time for all of us.

To begin closer to home, we also have a newly elected RIBA president.  Muyiwa Oki has been voted in as the youngest and the first Black president of the institute. His success categorically signals change – or at least change in what and who people want to represent them.

In his own words, the presidential election outcome signifies a moment “where people of colour, at different stages of their careers, of all identities, can be heard and seen bidding to represent the profession”.

The freshness of youth is usually a good companion to innovation, boldness and even experimentation

I have always believed in the energy, dexterity, and optimism of young professionals. And, while we should certainly not classify Oki purely by his age – which only just clears his 20s – it does feel like a significant message to our profession.

The message says: we are ready for new ideas. Oki seems determined to trigger serious transformation – chiefly to prioritise those in the profession who have felt “disenfranchised and under-represented”.

The freshness of youth is usually a good companion to innovation, boldness and even experimentation. Time will tell if this rings true to Oki’s leadership but, if so, the prospect of change feels ever more realistic.

But although figureheads have always been important ambassadors for representation and values, leadership is not just about the sole individuals that sit at the proverbial head of the table. The definition of “good leadership” is evolving.

Today, the idea of “coalition” as opposed to sole figureheads has become more relatable, realistic and powerful in its bid to incite change. A good example of coalition exists in the environmental activism space of the past five or so years, where grassroots movements and NGOs have significantly altered the course of high-stakes, big-consequence decision making. It is a formula that we need to see repeating elsewhere and in a more rapid manner.

Arguably, the definition of leadership can stretch even further, encompassing moments where industry-wide campaigning, research and practical work come together over time to turn the tide on significant and lasting urban issues.

It has recently been announced that the government is set to consider setting a maximum embodied carbon level for new buildings. Although this will rely on more analysis being carried out, there is a commitment to consult on what it might take to see embodied carbon reductions in construction in 2023.

If the definition of leadership is becoming more and more inclusive, are we being good enough leaders ourselves?

This comes after resolute effort by NGOs and professionals in architecture and construction who have together championed change in the industry for years, even decades. Good leadership is sometimes about sticking it out, being a voice in a crowd, and working hard for action to catch up with ideas.

So, the question is this: if the definition of leadership is becoming more and more inclusive, are we being good enough leaders ourselves? How active are we in forging new coalitions in places where support is needed, both within and beyond our industries?

Personally, I would like to see even more support collectively built for women in our industry. I have always been a champion for female professionals in construction and architecture, but I am keen to explore how we can better build strength in numbers to cover more intersectional, invisible and as yet unfought-for inequalities in this space.

The summer of 2022 will forever be etched into our memories as a moment in history when this country bade farewell to its longest-serving leader. The death of Queen Elizabeth II has given us all time to reflect on an extraordinary individual whose calm, steadfast leadership has and will remain an inspiration to the nation.

It is fitting that we consider those qualities as we look to the future. And as we do, we should remember that, whether we are at the front of the crowd, or one of the many people wedged together in the thick of it, we conceivably have equal potential to steer change.

Sadie Morgan is a co-founding director of dRMM, chair of the Quality of Life Foundation and a design advocate for the GLA