When it comes to architecture, Jason Boyle has no lack of credentials. His work as a nuclear architect currently has him working on one of three nuclear mega projects for the UK government, leading and managing teams. He has lectured in Rome, Italy, lectured at Manchester School of Architecture and was a past member of the North West Regional Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
In 2017 Jason Boyle became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA) and in 2018 he was awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). It was this elevation to Fellowship in both organizations inspired him to start mentoring others. He subsequently set up a mentoring company which has successfully mentored many architects, including one recent Fellow of RIBA.
Jason joins me to share his philosophy on mentoring, his efforts to support others in their endeavors, and his experiences calling them forward to be their best. You’ll appreciate his commitment, his compassion, and his grasp on what’s possible when someone is in our corner!
You can learn more about Jason and his activities via his social media platforms at:
Welcome to the Architect’s Possibility Podcast with David Bradley of Blueprint For Living Coaching. Each week we connect with design professionals, just like you, who are using their creativity, leadership and passion to make the world a better place in ways both big and small, every day. Now here’s the host of the Architect’s Possibility Podcast, architect and executive coach, David Bradley.
Good day everyone welcome to the architect’s possibility podcast. This is David Bradley and I have a real treat today. I get to speak with Jason Boyle. Jason was introduced to me through former guest on this podcast Lira Luis. Jason is an architect, a nuclear architect, who works in the United Kingdom and he is based in Manchester. He became the youngest fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2017 and in 2018 was awarded the fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts in Great Britain. He is currently the Royal Institute of British Architects ambassador for civil infrastructure in the UK. So we’re gonna get to hear a little bit about that. And I’m also really curious to speak with Jason about his work in mentoring. In 2018 he set up a mentoring company which has successfully mentored many architects and also created one recent Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Jason has lectured in Rome, Italy, he’s lectured at the Manchester School of Architecture and was a past member of the RIBA Northwest Regional Council. He’s currently working on one of three UK nuclear mega projects for the UK government. So, Jason, welcome!
Hi David. Thank you. That was a great introduction. Thanks.
I am super curious it’s not often I get a chance to talk to a nuclear architect. What can you share with us about your work yeah.
Yeah I guess that’s the question I think that most people actually ask about, you know, what is a nuclear architect? And in very simple terms, you know, it’s first of all I’m an architect so that’s there. But I got into working with nuclear facilities probably eleven or twelve years ago now and there’s a very small number of number of us. And it’s essentially what we’re dealing with…One site in Cumbria in the north of…the northwest… well, north of England and it’s probably one of the most challenging, let’s say, sites in probably in the world because it’s so densely populated.
I mean people can kind of find out about Sellafield Ltd, the company I work for, but essentially I design buildings to reduce the high hazards for the UK and the world from radioactive material. That’s essentially what we do. So we’re building more buildings on our end and in order to make the waste that’s contained within the nuclear sites safe, and that’s our purpose. So you know any sort of building involved I think architects of really good at those challenging problems.
What led you in that direction. It’s not something somebody would study for. I don’t imagine.
No. And it’s definitely something I’ve never even thought about. It’s nothing I’ve thought about, but then again, I think that the timing’s always one of these things that happens in life. And I was approached by Sellafield many years ago through a person who’s no longer with us now. I called Paul Renfrew Miller. He was heading up the architecture team within Sellafield which is the company responsible for making the site safe. And he described to me, well… Sorry I should just step back…
We were coming into recession. And so I sort of probably considered it more than I would normally, let’s just say, because of things that were happening in the world. But Paul was a great person. He was a problem solver. A thinker. And so I met with him and went through this process of joining the company and I’ve…honestly…I’ve never looked back, you know, since I’ve joined, and nuclear because it is a challenge and so interesting for architects.
In your capacity working and… In the intro I also mentioned that you had formed a company to help mentor people. Is that something that you’re doing on the side? Or do the two work together?
Well, yeah, I think… I think the two worked together because I can use some of the elements that I gained from mentoring people in my job and probably because I work in a company with 12,000 people. You know, you have to have relationships between people that are extremely important but it is something I do on the side. It’s something I do in my evenings to try and help people succeed.
Essentially how was it set up as a company?
It was set up initially as like a not for profit so I think the reason probably… It’s probably a good thing to say actually why I set up the company because then I got my fellowship with the RIBA. And at that time I was the youngest to get the fellowship and they asked me…they said well what do you want to do with…What do you want to do now that you’re a Fellow because you know, I don’t…It’s not about the title for me it’s really about what we’ve recognized what you do. But how are you gonna stop…develop this because you’ve still got 20 years left in your career. So I had a long hard think about what I really wanted to do with using the status of fellowship and I really like the idea of helping other people attain… helping many young architects, but not just exclusively architects, you know, developing their career. Architecture is a really tough profession. It’s seven years in the UK, probably in America it’s a similar length of time. We don’t get paid great sums of money. It’s mentally very challenging and when I set out on my career I just could see this seven year thing and getting a degree and masters, you know, it’s just daunting. So I really reflected on myself and I thought well the best way I think I can help people is to is to mentor and coach people. And that’s why I said the company,…you know, essentially that’s the reason and that’s my response back to the RIBA…set up the company to help other people, which I do.
I’m curious if you think people step into mentorship intentionally, like you have, or if it’s something that sort of organically arises.
Yeah. That is a very, very good question. I think that… I take it that within my family my mother is actually a counsellor, so she’s counseled for a good parts of her career. So she was always helping people, and she’s…Oh she’s helped people a lot. But also I was. Without me even knowing these things I was helping other people informally, you know, through mentoring people. It was probably started with, obviously, in practice when you’re actually doing things to try to help people. Yes, you get paid, but you also want other people to succeed. And I think you get more from seeing people grow other than yourself. For me that’s a thrill to see someone you’ve helped grow in a company or grow in their personal life. For example, it just brings me so much pleasure and I think we do…professionally…we do these things for pleasure. We do. We like that. It’s a good feeling, you know?
Right. How does mentorship differ from the leadership that you employ in your role working as a nuclear architect? You mentioned working at a large organization and obviously with that many people… you said 12,000 people, I believe…
…in the organization. So there’s a call for leadership, obviously, and building teams and managing people. What distinguishes mentorship from that level of leadership or managerial skill?
I think for me it’s the mentoring, the mentorship. And what I do outside of work is very much focused on the individual. But it’s very much a holistic approach within a job context and where you yourself providing leadership. You’re acting in it. And this is…I think this is kind of the problem within a work environment and mentoring within work. It’s very much focused on your work. In the office or in the company you’re not taking into account the personal side of things. So what mentoring allows me to do is to take a holistic approach to someone. Where I can’t really do that when I’m in the office or when you’re sort of building teams. A lot of the same principles apply but I don’t think you can get to these…the necessary…the root of why someone is not performing or why someone is…there’s all sorts of things that happen outside of work that you can’t sometimes ask about or people won’t share. But when you’re outside of the professional context of the office and the same company you work in, you know, that’s a very different story.
I see. So it’s bringing in the personal as well as the professional.
Yeah. And I believe the two are absolutely interconnected.
Yes, so it’s a very intimate relationship, actually, and very mutual one, and perhaps maybe that’s part of the difference with leading people within a firm is that there is a hierarchy and it’s not necessarily a selected relationship. You’re sort of thrown into the relationship. One of the things I was impressed with when we spoke earlier was, you…the intentionality with which you stepped into mentorship. What can you tell us about your process? How do you choose to mentor someone or find a person? What qualities do you look for in someone to mentor?
Yeah that’s again a really good question. Because I recognized when I started…so I started mentoring people and I took – ambitiously – I took on about seven people at once. And that was seven people to mentor within a month. So seven hours of time but it’s all the prep time, it’s all…they are holding people to account as you move forward through that month. And that taught me a lot. And I think what it taught me is the fact that, you know, you can try and mentor people but the personality sometimes just doesn’t fit. You know, it doesn’t fit. And I personally believe the mentees should really seek out the mentor…that’s the way it should work successfully. And I always say that it’s a very open and honest relationship. So there were people who, yes, had to go because it just…there was nothing personal, but it just doesn’t work.
It wasn’t the right fit.
Yeah. And how I went about doing this…So I did…So I’m a big fan of LinkedIn…so, I put an advert out essentially saying look I’m looking to mentor people. I’ve just recently got my fellowship, I’d like to help. And I got over 300 people asking to be mentored. So I recognized straightaway that there’s a lot of people out there who want to be mentored.
So you put…I think you pointed out…basically a general call out on the Internet.
You’ve got hit up by 300 people who…They want to work with you.
Yeah. So I kind of…So I kind of sat through and…looking at people’s CV. And I did some phone calls with people and I kind of I chose, I think, it was seven. I’m pretty sure it was seven people at that time. And I selected them through looking at their…the challenges that they have. How best I think I could help them the way I mentioned – a very specific way of, like, Stephen Covey principles and the general 12 pillars of success. So it’s very American it’s very American. I believe that works. And so I selected people that way, I think, and everyone kind of stuck with it and I decided to do a 12-month program. So I kind of set this out. What I was going to do with each person every month.
But wow! It changes. It changes from person to person. So it was a big learning curve, I think, for the first 12 months and then we all met in Manchester and had a mentoring day. And this is the thing I do every year, probably.
What’s the mentoring they cover? What’s it include?
Yeah. So, the mentoring day or weekends, it was the first time where we kind of…we all knew of each other because I have like a mentoring group on WhatsApp. So we all…we don’t know each other but it was a day essentially where we can get together face-to-face because this mentoring was using Skype or it was using…just simply phone calls to mentor because these people were all over the country, you know. And then it’s essentially where I can stand up in front of people and maybe explore some of the ideas, do some exercises, and then get some of the mentoring people I’m mentoring to mentor other people. And we do that sort of thing. Then I can bring in guests – so over the years I’ve brought in guests. Even Lira (Luis), she…this year she kind of, you know, Skype’d in and talked to people. I have people from Manchester University. So I have different people who can share their thoughts. And it’s really good. It’s always a really fun exciting day where… and it’s growing. I think now I think I’ve got 17 people still active in the group.
So the original seven has grown into…do you continue working with people longer than the 12 months?
Yes some people are, Dave, and some people just stay in. No one’s ever left the group. Nothing we’ve seen so far…it is still getting value. I think what I like about the group is people randomly every now and then they see something that they think is worth sharing and they will share it within the group. And and then this then sometimes is a heated debate over what’s that about something. And I kind of take a step back most of the time and let it play out. So yes. So some people. So most people are active. We are bringing new people all the time you know. And I think it’s I think I wanted to grow and I wanted to grow by through through LinkedIn I see LinkedIn it’s a way of helping things grow. I’m doing shows like this.
Do you have a goal of membership or impact? How do you measure the success of mentoring?
Yes it has changed, and that’s changed this year. So, I think with the coronavirus, what I do now I’ve started to do now… So, people within the mentoring group and people actually have experience in this and I’m sure it’s the same in the US and all over the world…people have lost their jobs. So people have lost their livelihoods, their career, and they might be training to be architects, some are architects. So I decided this year when I saw this happening to try and take some form of real action. So, stepping…I guess…stepping outside of just giving advice and coaching into a kind of, well how can I really help this person, because they’re in pretty…you know…there’s talent there. But through no fault of their own, you know, this has happened. So that’s how it’s changed and now I do take action and I actively help people. So if people want to set up a business I will actively really do a lot of stuff with them and I’m doing that with a number of people.
That actually brings up something that came to me before we started speaking – I went online and looked up the definition of mentorship. And the relationship is one where one person is bringing a certain level of expertise to someone who is less experienced. I’m curious what is the specific expertise that you bring…that you’ve experienced with the people you’ve mentored.
Again, yeah it’s…I think the expertise is that most of the people are architects and I think what I’m sharing with them is the ability to stand…take a look back and the information that I’ve gathered and the experience I’ve gained through working in nuclear, working with 12,000 people and the constant conversations I’ve had with so many people and then reading a lot of books about how to actually be successful, has kind of really given me, I don’t know, maybe an insight into how I believe people can be successful. I give you some examples, you know, I really believe in and these are small adjustments you can make in your life but I believe no one should be making these huge changes. I don’t think it works. So I instill these little habits.
So, it could be very simple, like someone starting the day – they wake up, they make their bed, you know, it could be something like writing what you’re going to do down on a piece of paper. I think there’s a lot of power in that. It could be changing something, you know. Maybe doubling up something. So, for example, you’re actually doing a task. Say we’re speaking now…or we’re in a meeting and we’re also looking at doing other things because we’re just listening – we’re not participating. So I always I’m always trying to speed up time and so… there’s all these little habits that I think if you do regularly on a daily basis it just becomes part of who you are.
It can be really powerful. And it sounds like developing mindfulness.
That’s right. Absolutely.
What are the major themes or challenges that people come to you with as mentees?
Yeah. It again…it’s a very wide mix. I mean the office ones are probably…people say I don’t feel very confident. You get a lot of that side of things. Other people is they don’t understand why they’re not where they expect to be. And so I have to figure out, well ,where did you want to be. And then I say what was your plan, you know? And they say to me what do you mean. Well, I said, have you got a plan? If you get a five year plan, if you get a 10 year plan, a 15 year plan. Where is that? What if, you know…how can you measure if you’re making progress? And most people…I think every single person I’ve met have never written down a plan of where they want to be, which I find very surprising. So it’s…And some people will have issues in their personal life. So they might actually be with the wrong the wrong sort of partner in their life and that will just come out organically. And that’s holding them back, you know. And so they’re having to deal with a very different set of issues in order to grow in their professional life.
So what are the qualities in a person that has you enrolled in mentoring them, aside from their CV, aside from their background or the challenges – are there particular personality traits or qualities that spark your interest, that have you say, yes, I want to work with you?
Yeah, definitely people with passion. Definitely people with passion and I’ll give it…Give you an example. So for example, I’m helping someone at present with them setting up a business and the business set up…It’s succeeding. It’s great. And this particular person I said, look these are the sorts of people I want to work with. You should set up a business because you’re so talented. Like, why wouldn’t you? And some people will…yeah OK, they’ll procrastinate. They, you know, you’ll ask him, you know, a week later – where are you? Have you set it up? Fully formed your company? Have you set up your website? And then the people, like this particular person, is every day doing everything that she should be doing. I don’t… I shouldn’t feel I should at this level…I shouldn’t be pushing people and saying I haven’t done this, have you done this.
It’s like you want to light a spark and let the kindling take and have that grow into a flame rather than feeling like you have to drag somebody along to their vision of what they want.
So far as I can meet people like that, then that’s really exciting to me because then I can do a lot of stuff with introductions with people. I can work in the background and sort of help them without them knowing it. And then people contact them and I’m just…they’re the things I can really help them with. But I think the basics…you’ve got to have that basic drive and, you know, it’s so… people like that, I love working with. I do.
How do you identify it? I’m really curious because it’s, you know…one of the reasons I started this podcast was because of the number of architects I met who had a connection to something they were passionate about but were stuck or hadn’t taken action on it. They’d always kind of shelved it off to one side. And I really wanted to highlight people in the profession who are…who had a vision and are out there making it real and creating it. But how do you identify it? How do you see it?
It always starts with a conversation like we’re having. It always starts with a conversation. I ask a series of questions. And generally when I get to about the tenth question that I’m asking…because they’re very, very teasing questions. I also…I always get them to do the personality tests…the personality tests online which are a really good indicator of how their mind works, that personality type. It’s a great insight. Then I’ll have a look.
I’m sorry, I was going to say, can you tease us with some of the questions you ask? I’m curious what they are.
Yeah. It could be…It could be very…like, a very simple question of, you know, describe your day to me. This is a very insightful question. So what you want to be hearing when someone is kind of describing their day is that they’re doing lots and lots of activities. That they’re, you know, that they’re kind of proactive. They, you know, they have gone, well, you know, I got out of bed… and I’m like going, you know, I tease him, you know, what time did you get up there? What are you…What do you do and how much are you doing? And I’m just trying to judge what sort of person they are. And usually the ones – and pretty much all of them are in the mentoring group – They’re very much the ones who are very proactive, very much trying to understand that they’re trying to push forward on why and how they can be a better person and how they can succeed. So, if I start getting this sort of question whereby they’re not doing too much they seem that they’re lazy. I know…I just know I can’t work with them.
It’s a gut feeling isn’t it? When you meet somebody who… I think about the people I’ve met in my life where I’ve walked away from the interaction and I felt inspired. I felt like, wow, that person is really up to something. And yet it’s the energy is infectious.
And I can see those questions sort of draw that out very quickly. You can get a sense for this person has that special something that is going to make it click.
One of the one of the things I found out with many people is some people have surrounded themselves with very negative people and I’m always the big… You know…It’s quite a tough process why…you’re going to have to cut people off out of your life. The people who are dragging you down. And that’s why I’m talking always about this holistic approach. I always believe in surrounding yourself with very successful people because it always rubs off on me. Like-minded people, maybe. I don’t mean just successful in terms of money. I mean professionally. If you can work hard and find the right sorts of people you will blossom. You really will.
Who is your mentor?
Yes, my mentor was a guy called Tony Wilson. So Tony Tony Wilson…I met him when I was a young architect in Manchester. And Tony, he was a music producer. He was a TV personality and he owned the best nightclub in the world at the time called The Hacienda. He managed bands like New Order. Happy Mondays. Joy Division. So he was a guy I met and he was wanting to do great things in Manchester. He wanted this green mile concept to turn the city into more of a green sort of city. He brought city living into Manchester. So people actually living in the city. And so he came to the office I was working in and he was asking if I could get involved in a competition, was asking the directors and they said, Oh Jason, do you want to do something with Tony? And then we just became friends. And Tony was very much someone if… I think if you like someone… He would give a lot of his time. And so we used to meet almost every week and talk, and I found out about how he lived his life, how he worked, his thinking and it kind of made me think, wow, you know, he can do it from Manchester then I can do it, you know? And yeah. So he was really the first guy who had a really big impact on me growing up.
What is your vision for your own mentoring…Can I call it a program.. Your mentoring program moving forward?
Yeah I think I need to…I’m quite hard on myself. I think I need to see results with the people I mentor. And I think that the idea of mentoring someone for three months is…it’s not going to…it’s not going to work. So that’s why I always generally say to people at least 12 months…
A longer term engagement…
Yeah, and you can see if you’re actually having an impact. I also believe in holding people to account. So to answer your question, I…like I said, I decided this year to try and actively help people more. So I would like, you know, the people I’m actually helping to set up new businesses to see their businesses grow. And I would hope they would keep me involved going forward as their company develops and then I think I can actually come back to people and say, yeah, I’ve mentored people and this is the result. You know, there’s an actual result there. It’s not just lip service. And that’s something I’ve recognized is…I think you do…as a good mentor you should be willing to – if you see talent and you see people who just need that little bit of help – you should actually get involved if you can.
Have you made any mistakes as a mentor. Yeah I think. I. Think.
I’ve made mistakes before by not listening enough. It’s better especially at first. You know I think if you spend the first sort of I don’t know Eve maybe even three sessions intensely listening and understanding that person and I think in the past I’ve maybe gone straight into well OK. If you do this and you do this and you do this without understanding the person that you can make some big mistakes. And I’ve definitely infused it’s probably my enthusiasm you know that I’ve not held back and my my ability not to listen. And I definitely have changed the fact that I do actually listen now to people a lot more.
When I was mentioning before that mentorship is this relationship where someone brings expertise to the table, I know that it does work the other way as well. Where in the relationship the mentor learns something from the mentee, I’m sure. Are there any particular lessons that you’ve taken away from the work you’ve done with the people you’ve mentor?
Yeah. I think so. The big things are is…nothing…Well you just get some surprises. You know, you get surprises that you didn’t think would happen. You know, I mean, I’ve mentored quite a number of people now and I just think sometimes I expect them to achieve a certain level of success. And then you just see them just take off, you know. And that was surprising for me. With some people, you know, just the level of success that some of my mentees actually did. And, you know, I was…Some people have asked me to mentor them are already, I think, great and successful. And I was trying to understand like, why do you want me to help you? And I think it was just maybe…them…these sort of people who are still really successful just want that extra edge and they’ll go that extra distance just to even if it’s just one thing I can help them with. And these are the people I think that are really successful. They’re not arrogant. They’re willing to listen. They’re willing to learn from anyone they can. They’ve got that thirst for knowledge.
And an openness to partnership and learning and curious as well. What advice would you have for someone who is looking to create a mentor relationship, either as a mentor or as a mentee?
Yeah, as a mentor, again, it’s…the advice is…probably I don’t want to keep repeating myself but the advice is definitely to be someone who is open and can listen and what I mean by listening is really being present when someone is talking to you. Really focused on and listening to what they have to say. It’s very easy to just put your own ideas onto someone else without really listening. And I think you know when you ask me about a program. Yes, I do have a program. It’s very loose, but you have to make lots of adjustments depending on someone’s personality and what they’re saying to you. Because I think you can start on this journey with…as a mentor and you can find yourself understanding that the thing that’s holding them back is what is happening in their personal life. And then you have to kind of say, well, do I really want to go there, you know, because it could become a kind of a counseling thing. And that’s not really what mentoring is. Strictly speaking.
So…So if you don’t listen and you don’t sort of gently ask the right questions, you know, you could find yourself in a very difficult position. And I think the other thing, from a mentor point of view, is to make sure that you set people’s goals and agree the goals and also hold people to account. That’s…there are some great things you could do as a mentor. Now as a mentee, I think, for people out there who want to find a mentor, you should be seeking them out. And seeking out people and asking people to mentor you who, I guess, who you think you maybe look up to, you feel that you can learn something from them. And I think that quite often if someone was asking me and, you know, say look can you help me, I would feel very flattered. So I think it shows a lot of confidence for someone to actually come up to you and say, look, I really want…somehow can you give me some time? Can you help me? And I think…I don’t think enough people actually do that. So it’s really important to find the right one and it might take you 10 or 15 times to get the right person. But someone who wants to have someone who is a mentor…Go and find them. Do your research. Go and get the right person because it is really…it’s a really valuable experience.
It’s literally setting up on a lifetime relationship.
It is. Yeah.
I always end my sessions, Jason, with a question to my guests. What do you imagine your legacy to be?
Yeah. OK. So, I think my legacy…So there’s the legacy of my buildings…Of sort of making the UK and the world safer, which is a nice feeling I have when I finish building stuff. You know, these buildings take many years to finish, so I like the fact that the buildings have been designed and built and they function and they’re making things safe. That’s one side. Well I think the other side is much more rewarding, which is helping people succeed. And I think what…architecture is really about people…we design buildings for people. And if you can help people succeed and they’re doing great things and you’ve contributed in some small way to helping them achieve great things then your legacy is so much bigger and better than the actual one building you might have done that was great. You know, it’s paying it forward, essentially, paying your knowledge and your talents in order that they will help other people. And so that’s my legacy, really.
Jason Boyle, Fellow with the Royal Institute of British Architects, man about town and mentor. I really really appreciate you my friend. I really want to acknowledge you for paying it forward. Your commitment to the possibility of others and, honestly, your selflessness of caring for people reaching their highest potential. It’s brilliant the work that you’re doing and I want to wish you all the best.
Thank you David. Great questions by the way. I really enjoyed it.
Thanks so much. Thanks for joining me. Have a great day.