Even when you’re down, people still look up to you!

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Although I typically write about design-related topics, I was recently reminded about the importance of mentoring & I wanted to share my thoughts on this ever important yet largely ignored topic.  Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of counting on a handful of persons which I call my “guardian angels” or otherwise known as my mentors, and a few weeks ago I was inadvertently thrust from being a mentee, and became a mentor to a young colleague in my industry.

Mentoring is defined as “a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.” (Wikipedia).  This definition can be extracted from ancient mythology, specifically Homer’s “Odyssey”, where Odysseus left his son,Telemachus in the care of an older man named Mentor. As it turns out, Mentor is actually Athena, goddess of wisdom disguised as the old man, who helps guide the young prince during the absence of his father.

As most people can relate, my career started off in a very rocky and uncertain way. The economy was not good, and the design jobs in the mid-90′s were few and far between. After stumbling around for a little over a year working in a very small firm, I was given the opportunity to work at Gensler.  It was a company I had dreamed about working for since my college years, and to finally have the chance to work there seemed almost impossible, but there I was!  Well, once I walked in the door, my initial elation was immediately replaced by terrorizing fear that maybe I wasn’t good enough to be there, surrounded by people who were much more talented than I was. I was sure that at the stroke of noon I would turn back into a pumpkin and be kicked out of there!  After a few days of stumbling around getting my bearings, I was standing in the corner of our weekly staff meeting when I was approached by a fellow co-worker who had the biggest smile I had ever seen, Brian G. Thornton.

He took it upon himself to be my office mentor, giving me tips on how to maneuver my way through the work day and slowly gain confidence in myself as I worked on the various projects. Although we were not in the same studio, I felt that I had someone that I could always go to with my questions, concerns, and self-doubts. He also helped create the mentorship program for the summer interns and encouraged me to join as a mentor, a task I thoroughly enjoyed!  I left Gensler after almost 3 years to pursue a different career path into Hospitality design as well as a new adventure in New York City. Although I was in a different city and a different firm, I still stayed in touch with my mentor and now friend, Brian. We followed each others’ careers over the years with support, encouragement and connections, & I was so happy when I was presented with the opportunity to help him in return. He now runs his own very successful design firm in Las Vegas working for all the major Hospitality brands.

After 13 years going at full speed and reaching incredible heights, I was faced with yet another major change in my career this past year, & felt a bit lost.  I didn’t know what to do, but the one thing I did know was that I could talk to my mentor, so once again I reached out for guidance and help, & Brian, as always, was there to offer it.

In the midst struggling with the ups and downs of figuring out life’s next steps, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference last month in San Francisco.  While I was there to get some guidance myself, I was assigned to sit at a table where a young woman was seated, looking lost herself.  We struck up a conversation & throughout the day I offered her some advice on questions she asked me. At the end of the day I told her that if she needed more advice, that she could contact me at any time & I would try to give her guidance as best I could. To my surprise, she did contact me shortly after I got home and thanked me for my words, saying that I had no idea how much they had helped her. That’s when it hit me, a realization that has affected me so profoundly:

Even when you’re down, at your lowest point, people still look up to you.

The magnitude of that responsibility hit me like a ton of bricks. It made me realize the importance of relationships and human interaction in life, but especially in your career. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, & I’m still stumbling trying to figure things out myself, I have the knowledge and the experience to help someone else out on their journey. It was a humbling experience to know that my words & guidance helped someone who is just starting their journey & made me realize how important mentors truly are.

The thing I love about mentoring is that it is truly done from a place of selflessness.  The mentor gets no gain out of doing this other than the satisfaction of watching their protogé achieve their successes one by one. It’s the “pay it forward” mentality of leaving an unwritten or unspoken legacy in the world but knowing what the feeling of true satisfaction actually feels like. It also creates an overwhelming sense of responsibility not only to yourself, but to the industry or the community you belong to.  My alma mater, Virginia Tech has a school motto: “Ut Prosim” which means “That I may serve“. By helping others achieve their dreams, you get to fulfill your own, without even knowing you’re doing it!

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”~ Winston Churchill

Inspirations from Leaders in Hospitality

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San FranciscoLast month I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference in San Francisco where the movers and shakers of the Hospitality Industry joined forces to inspire and be inspired.  There were many great thoughts, ideas, philosophies, & good advice exchanged over the course of the 2 days, and I wanted to share some of the ones that resonated the loudest with me.

One of the keynote speakers we had was Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels.

Chip ConleyChip has a unique approach when it comes to defining success by separating a company into 3 interesting identities: The “Farmer”, the “Anthropologist”, & the “Pioneer”.

“To start and grow a business, you have to get down and dirty.”~Paul Hawkins

Chip believes that one of the biggest mistakes most companies make is not paying attention to their own culture, meaning the people who work for them.  Your employees are truly the soil that feeds everything else.  You have to be the Farmer of your business and know what you want the culture of your company to be, guide & cultivate your employees and this will be the foundation for everything, including success.

The next role is the Anthropologist.  In a nutshell, it simply means that you need to understand your customer better than they understand themselves.  By creating innovative needs that the customer doesn’t even know they have, you put yourself at one step ahead of the game.  But first you have to fundamentally know what the core idea of your business is. Once you have a firm idea of what your business truly is about, and you understand your market audience, then your business becomes a mirror of the customer.

The third and final role is that of the Pioneer. It’s not enough to rest on your laurels once you’ve reached a certain level of success, it’s just as important to determine what your company legacy will be.  Ask yourself “Why does it matter to the world that I exist?”. Make sure that you leave the world a better place than how you found it, & that will be the true measure of success.

As Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  The final thought we were left with by this inspirational speaker was this:

“Leaders should help transform their employees, their customers, and the industry; But most importantly as a leader, you must transform yourself.”~ Chip Conley

Our next Keynote speaker was Roger Thomas, acclaimed designer best known for his innovative design solutions in Las Vegas working for Steve Wynn.

Roger ThomasRoger talked about “Evochatecture”, a term he coined which means the creation of luxury experiences by combining the familiar with the unfamiliar.  He believes in creating “cinematic” spaces with lots of drama, or as he puts it “memorable spaces for memorable moments.”  He encourages the industry to avoid providing everyone with “Replitecture” or the cookie-cutter approach to design.

By having worked alongside the Wynn family for over 30 years, Roger has learned many great lessons which he has masterfully applied to his incredible designs.  One of those lessons came directly from Steve Wynn himself: “The first rule of Hotel design is don’t think like a designer, think like a guest.”

Roger challenged the conference attendees to not focus on trends, which is so very easy to do and get caught up in.  By the time you finish implementing the latest trends, they’re already irrelevant!  Instead, create from your own inspiration, use your own imagination and life influences, then your design will always be unique and new.

Two charismatic and inspirational speakers gave all of us words to not only think about in the Hospitality industry, but words to live by as well.  Hope you find your inspiration too!