At the start of my career, I felt the need to prove myself. I believed that asking for help meant admitting that I didn’t have it all together or I was showing weakness. It took some time and maturing, but through great mentors pouring into me, I realized that reaching out for help was actually an important strength.
We were not designed to be flawless, know everything, or walk through life alone. There is great freedom in this realization that has led me to shape JAI into a small but mighty boutique business that rests on the foundation of mentorship.
This subject is very close to my heart, as several people have made a distinct mark on my life, both professionally and personally. They taught me invaluable lessons that I have incorporated into my business model, spiritual walk, marriage, and day-to-day life.
Three people stand out most amongst those who have been my guiding forces over the past twenty-two years. Each has influenced me uniquely and taught me different lessons that have helped me evolve as a leader.
Pam Wolf, Business Coach
Nearly six years ago, I met Pam Wolf, a powerhouse in the business world who is the most nurturing and kindest woman I know. At the time of our meeting, I had managed JAI alone for fifteen years. Through her one-on-one coachings, I gained maturity and wisdom that changed my life. Pam and I set monthly personal and professional goals that she held me accountable for reaching. She always provided recognition over personal challenges as those victories spill into professional life, and has been my biggest cheerleader! Although she retired last year, I know she is only a phone call away.
Upon meeting, Pam also invited me into her Christian Women of Influence mastermind group with eleven others, which remains my tribe of business owners. Our monthly meetings offer a time of problem-solving, discussion, encouragement, and inspiration. They have become a network of support, as well as my Board of Directors, and I have Pam to thank for that. She has truly made a significant impact on my life and business.
Corry Oakes, Former CEO of OTO Development
The one and only Corry Oakes was my first employer when starting as the In-House Designer for Extended Stay America’s corporate office. Corry sadly passed away in August, but he was always an encouraging and supportive leader who served those around him. Corry had the ability to give undivided attention, letting you know that you mattered to him. He challenged me to DO better and to BE better. Corry was not about status or ego, and taught me how to lead kindly and with integrity. That leadership model stuck with me as I started leading others at JAI.
Tim Osiecki, President of Development of AWH Partners
For 22 years, Tim O. has been a faithful teacher and mentor. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. Many of JAI’s milestones came from Tim challenging me to step out of my comfort zone and push forward.
When I first launched JAI, Tim gave me my first hotel project. Later he opened the door for JAI to design our first boutique hotel, which recently won ‘Boutique Hotel of the Year,’ and for JAI to develop its first brand prototype for Cambria Hotels.
Tim greatly influenced my desire for JAI to be a people-first design firm. We share a mutual respect that influenced how I wanted to conduct business moving forward. I still call him with questions and ideas. He is a trusted influence in my life, and I know he always has my best interest at heart.
The Lessons Learned
Trusted mentors are invaluable. Through others’ experience and wisdom, I have learned countless lessons, four in particular, that have influenced my business and how I lead my team.
I do not have to become someone else in order to lead well.
Leading with kindness and heart does not make me appear weak; it makes me appear real. Over the last 16 years of growth at JAI, I have worked to create a healthy culture that functions more like family. We listen, support, teach, encourage, inspire, and challenge each other. I am free to be myself and have given my team the same stability.
Be open to listening to a team member or client’s concerns.
It’s not always easy to actively listen and then take action. Change often brings frustration. But I have learned that the best result is created when you welcome concerns and criticism with an open mind.
Leave your ego at the door.
Plain and simple, the JAI team is about “we,” not “I.” No one person owns a decision, idea, or design. It is all about the team as a whole. We are better together than we are individually. Even though I founded this company, I do not know it all. I still have much to learn, leading me to the next lesson.
Hire people that know more than me.
Michael Murphy shared his wisdom with me when he was the VP of Development for Cambria Hotels. This lesson took some maturity on my part because I used to think I had to know the most. But now, it just makes sense to hire, or re-hire, people who are way more talented than I am!
Putting this lesson into practice has allowed me to create a well-rounded team of individuals who each bring something special to the table. In turn, our clients get the best results.
Applying Lessons Learned
Mentoring will always be a key component of the way I do business and life. None of us can pour from an empty cup. I cannot expect my team to design spaces that impact the lives of those who experience them if we are not healthy within – that investment starts with me pouring into my team in different ways.
Every team member is an individual. I cannot expect each person to work the same way. Some work better at 7:00 am, while others prefer later hours. This model takes immense trust but giving my team that flexibility has ultimately led to higher productivity and greater creativity.
Complete Project Ownership
Learning comes from doing. Because JAI is a small firm, every designer gets to see their projects through every phase. From site visits to installations and grand openings, a project is theirs to follow from start to finish, and they will receive the credit they deserve. As the leader, I am ultimately responsible for any issues, but I view mistakes as teachable moments of learning and growth. That is the beauty of mentorship.
Early in 2020, even before the pandemic, I decided to make JAI a fully remote company. This decision came after months of mentorship coaching and required me to step out of my comfort zone. With this new work model, I was able to re-hire past designers, producing a higher quality of design for our clients. But the remote structure doesn’t just benefit our clients. My team now gets even more flexibility by working from home. They can create a healthy work/life balance that fits their lives.
I deeply value each team member and want them to have a personal and professional life that positively impacts them and their families. Many would say that allowing time for our team to grow closer on a personal level is not profitable for JAI, but to me, it is invaluable, and so are my team members.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, which is why I surround myself with industry professionals and spiritual leaders who can guide me. We are forever a work in progress. There is always more to learn, more to grow, and more we can change. Having a mentor and being a mentor is all about the growth journey. You don’t need to know everything or rule with an iron fist. It is possible to find great success by leading with great integrity, learning from those who have walked before you. That is the principle of JAI and how I strive to live my life every day.