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Becoming Great: Simple Lessons of Self-Mentorship

"Everyone wants to be great, until it’s time to do what greatness requires."

Joshua Medcalf, Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall In Love With the Process of Becoming Great

In every stage of our career, we look for ways to become better leaders. Continuous development is what leadership is all about – getting better. When we’re able to mentor ourselves, we’re better able to pay it forward and help others grow.

While there are many great leadership resources, I often recommend Chop Wood Carry Water to early-career professionals because it’s full of life and leadership lessons. In Joshua Medcalf’s parable of a boy’s journey to become a samurai archer, the boy discovers what it takes to “become great” including the importance of discipline, patience and perseverance, and the power of monotonous tasks in achieving one’s aspirations. Medcalf effectively demonstrates how our biggest challenges can be our training grounds for greatness and how a growth mindset drives our continuous development.

While leadership can be a complex endeavor, especially in recent years as businesses are navigating a wide range of challenging issues in an ever-changing environment, I try to keep things simple with three keys to self-mentoring:

Own your journey.  We’re all responsible for ourselves, we don’t need to wait for formal mentoring relationships to learn. Take advantage of the vast array of books, articles, podcasts, and webinars out there. In our hybrid work world, these can be invaluable ways to stay connected to the best thinking and the newest ideas. And then apply the knowledge you acquire by owning and incorporating the lessons learned.

Do the work.  Early in my career as a consultant, I disliked the messy, ugly projects that were hard to complete and bill to our clients. But this challenging time was a training ground for greatness. I learned to quickly make sense of complex problems and developed the ability to set a vision and a path to get there. I wouldn’t trade those experiences because they contributed to my leadership growth. Always be willing to do the hard work - it will pay off, if not right away, in time. 

Embrace community - as both a learner and a teacher.  I am motivated and fulfilled by seeing others succeed; I believe that’s why I became a CEO. Whether it’s growing the talent on the AIA team or helping our Owners grow their businesses, I find my best moments as a leader come from being a part of others’ growth and progress.Invest in groups and relationships that cater to your unique industry and development needs, but don’t neglect connections in the broader community. By investing in opportunities that are out of my comfort zone – and observing leaders in action with a sense of curiosity, I have grown as a leader and taken ownership for the kind of leader I want to be. 

Self-mentorship makes us more self-aware. And when we’re self-aware, we are able to  talk about our strengths and opportunities, opening the door to others who want to learn from us – or from whom we can learn.