ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo

Jeremy McCarthy

Learning to lead

The most important thing mentees need to learn is the hardest thing to teach – and that’s leadership, says Jeremy McCarthy


One of the most rewarding parts of being older and a bit more established in my career is the opportunity to mentor others. In the past few years, I've taken on a number of mentees, some of whom I’ve coached from afar and others whom I’ve taken under my wing, working closely with them for an extended period.

Mentoring is not easy. It’s one thing to become successful in your own career, but to package and convey a lifetime of learning, experiences and wisdom into some usable nugget that can actually make a meaningful impact on someone’s life and career is its own art form and not one that I’ve mastered.

I often think the most important thing my mentees need to learn is the hardest thing for me to teach: leadership. People who are juniors in their careers today have access to incredible resources that I never had. They can easily learn about the industry by taking courses, reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, etc. They can learn how to read a P&L, how to write an SOP or how to give good customer service. But leadership is one of the most essential skills for a successful career and it’s hard to learn, hard to teach and not easily replaced by technology.

Trial and error
When I think about how I learned leadership, the top answer that comes to mind is trial and error. I made lots of mistakes. They didn’t feel good. I made adjustments. Often, I overcorrected and made more mistakes. And gradually, over time, I established my own leadership style. But I never finished learning how to be a leader. I’m still learning from my mistakes to this day.

Role models
The second way I learned is by working with people I admired. Inspiring leaders were role models, who pushed me to be the best I could and also gave me a template for what being a good leader looks like. I’ve worked with some amazing people and my approach to leadership is shaped by those who went before.

Learning by dislike
The third way I learned is by working with people I didn’t like. The micromanagers, the tyrants and the soulless number crunchers. They were role models too, teaching me what didn’t work and what I didn’t want to become.

The leadership wisdom from these channels is hard-won. They take time and effort and more than a few lumps along the way. Sure, as a mentor I can try to help my mentees bypass some of the pain and duration necessary to learn these skills. I can try to bottle up the lessons I’ve learned into an easily digestible format, but they’ll sound like meaningless platitudes.

It’s not until the mentee tries them out in a real situation that they can see whether it fits them or not. The techniques that work are the ones that come from the heart of the leader. Authenticity is more important than the actions themselves.

So my advice to those who are early in their careers is simple: step up, take control and make decisions. Make decisions and mistakes. You won’t make good decisions at first. Making good decisions requires wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience. And experience comes from making bad decisions. So make bad decisions. Own your mistakes and learn from them. And maybe ... just maybe ... become a leader along the way.

Jeremy McCarthy has worked in the spa industry for 34 years. As group director of spa and wellness for Mandarin Oriental, he oversees spa, wellness and leisure operations at 35 luxury hotels globally. Contact him with your views on Twitter @jeremymcc

company profile
Company profile: Alliance Leisure
The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, educational establishments and leisure trusts that want to improve or expand the leisure products and services they offer.
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ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo