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Chris Hite: “Find ways to share your work”

Clients will continue to return when they see that you are a relevant, knowledgeable and passionate authority on their business. Understanding the ins and outs of a particular industry is part of what begins to qualify you as an authority in the field. In my experience at Dix.Hite, I have found that clients appreciate and […]

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Clients will continue to return when they see that you are a relevant, knowledgeable and passionate authority on their business. Understanding the ins and outs of a particular industry is part of what begins to qualify you as an authority in the field. In my experience at Dix.Hite, I have found that clients appreciate and respect the time we take to become authorities in our industry as well as theirs and continue to bring their business to us as a result. I’ve also found that having a design process that is fun and engaging plays a big role in creating repeat business opportunities.


I had the pleasure to interview Chris Hite, CEO of Dix.Hite + Partners. Co-founder of the firm Dix.Hite + Partners in 1996, Chris has helped define the 35-person firm with offices in Florida, Georgia and Alabama as a landscape architecture and land planning firm with a national reputation for excellence in environmental design. Since taking the helm at Dix.Hite, Chris has led double-digit growth for the firm while also managing an ownership transition, as her co-founder Jeff Dix, prepared to move into retirement. Chris received a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia in 1987 and a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Florida. Chris has led and designed a wide range of projects, ranging from multi-model transportation projects to resorts and the design of residential gardens, with an emphasis on placemaking for residential communities. In addition to being an active practitioner, she has taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Planning at the University of Florida and continues to support the mission of the program there while also serving on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Environment + Design at the University of Georgia.


Thank you so much for joining us Chris! Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

Throughout my 31-year career, I have operated through the lens of becoming and acting as a thought leader through observing other thought leaders in action, studio involvement on the university level and ultimately teaching critical thinking and thought leadership at my firm, Dix.Hite + Partners. At Dix.Hite, we implement something we call the “6 D’s” to all of our problem solving, resulting in a design process that leads to thoughtful solutions and garners buy-in from all stakeholders. The “D’s” stand for Dream, Discover, Design, Discuss, Document and Deliver. When you can test each step back to the original “Dream” step, you know that you’ve hit on a great solution. The consistent application and refinement of this process not only leads to creative problem solving in the landscape architecture field, but also positions those who use it to become thought leaders themselves.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I learned very quickly that when you focus your inspiration and energy on a particular area of practice and become an expert in it, people will reach out to include you in larger conversations as a subject-matter expert. This happened early in my career as I focused on bicycle and pedestrian master planning for a period of time. Soon after, I found myself being invited to speak at conferences as an authority on the subject.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Jeez, are mistakes ever funny? Unfortunately, mistakes can oftentimes mean a loss of value to someone! How about the time I knocked over a glass of water on a large format drawing someone else was working on? As I was gesturing about something, I knocked over the glass and the water literally seemed to catapult out of the glass across the entire table… I certainly learned not to keep beverages around the drawing table, and also how to apologize profusely when I make a mistake!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

The biggest differences between a thought leader and a typical leader are the thought leader’s ability to apply critical thinking and creativity to problem solving and his/her willingness to share that skill with others. An influencer typically focuses on using their power (influence) to affect purchase decisions of their audience.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

An important facet of becoming a thought leader is staying on the cutting edge of different aspects of your industry. This adds extra value to what you bring to the table, and in many cases can be the differentiating factor in winning new business or maintaining clients, and in our case, positively influencing placemaking. One aspect of landscape architecture that I work hard to stay ahead of the curve on is the role of urban landscape systems in the fabric of places. This is a holistic approach to the overall design and management of our urban neighborhoods and cities. It integrates a layer of green infrastructure that forms the basis for great parks, streets and plazas. It also provides opportunities for the integration of spaces that provide livability and wellness and is an aspect of urban design and community making that continues to be a core driver for our firm.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Clients will continue to return when they see that you are a relevant, knowledgeable and passionate authority on their business. Understanding the ins and outs of a particular industry is part of what begins to qualify you as an authority in the field. In my experience at Dix.Hite, I have found that clients appreciate and respect the time we take to become authorities in our industry as well as theirs and continue to bring their business to us as a result. I’ve also found that having a design process that is fun and engaging plays a big role in creating repeat business opportunities.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. When an opportunity to learn a key aspect of your profession comes your way, take it!
  2. An example of this from my career is when low-impact development was first being employed as a land development and urban landscape system strategy. Right away, our firm dove in headfirst, learned about it, and applied it in practice. As I talked about before, this positioned us on the cutting edge of our field and made us more attractive to clients as a result.
  3. Pay attention to technological advances and work to gain knowledge in the innovative aspects of your profession.
  4. As technological advances in sustainable landscape practices became more important to the field of landscape architecture, we learned and applied them in our own work, and shared the lessons learned. For example, we have focused on the integration of native landscape species into projects, from urban to natural edges, for many years. As a result, we have learned many lessons, from appropriate plant mixes for a particular ecological community, to maintenance practices for long-term survivability. We share what we’ve learned with our clients, peers, and the academic community through speaking engagements, award submissions and teaching.
  5. Go to conferences to stay current and inspired.
  6. Continuing education is a requirement of our professional license, so we encourage all of our employees to take advantage of opportunities to learn and stay current in our industry. Additionally, we attend conferences in areas of interest and work beyond our profession to stay current and well rounded.
  7. Find ways to share your work.
  8. Submit papers to conferences to share your work. Be inspired and be inspirational. Recently I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with 4 other female leaders in the landscape architecture field at the Florida American Society of Landscape Architecture conference. Each of us shared our work, what inspired us, and lessons learned from our careers. It ended up being a dynamic and fun session that was inspirational and engaging for the audience.
  9. Be inspirational, passionate and fun to work with. Clients and coworkers love a passionate professional who has chops! Also, be true to your work — stay true to your core values.

At Dix.Hite, we work diligently to create an atmosphere that inspires us to push each other to new heights every day. A competitive environment where we all want to see each other improve is an invaluable intangible for our company.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Olafur Eliasson. I recently had the opportunity to experience his recently opened exhibition at London’s Tate Modern. Through his art, he is asking questions and inspiring those who experience his studio’s work to evaluate significant questions of our time through a unique lens. His current work looks at human’s impact on and relationship to nature, and the level at which nature may be humanized. He uses participatory methods with his art to engage the participant, where they are the producers of content. Eliasson’s artistic practice also engages in social and environment issues, including the development of a solar-powered mini lamp that provides a reliable energy source. His work is a great example of how we as thought leaders can channel our work to solve broader issues of our time.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

It doesn’t bother me.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Continue to be curious and look for the next opportunity to learn and apply what you’ve learned, and then be happy to share what you’ve learned! This mindset helps to keep me enthusiastic and excited about our firm’s contribution to place making. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being in the position to influence and determine how people will interact with a place, and then to see our efforts applied successfully. That is what keeps me excited about the work we are doing at Dix.Hite every day.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A couple of ideas that are interrelated:

A globally applicable approach to sustainable landscape practices in establishment and maintenance, minimizing pesticides and herbicides, thereby aiding in cleaner runoff into our lakes and water bodies. A lot of work is being done in this area in research and practice and establishing agreement and consistency amongst jurisdictions and practice would go a long way.

A globally applicable approach to retrofitting existing urban environments in the establishment of healthy tree canopy that will have a direct correlation with lowering the heat island effect and providing for better overall human mental and physical health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi. Live it, do it. Don’t wait for others to do it for you.

Also, don’t be afraid to lead, inspire and encourage others working to foster change. This has been relevant for me in so many aspects of life, from not being afraid to try things that pushed my comfort zone, to remaining inspired in my profession as a landscape architect. I’ve found that applying best practices in the built environment and implementing great work will go a long way towards building communities that we are proud of.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Olafur Eliasson!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram:

@christina_hite

@dixhite

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