In his first post as a blogger for Club + Resort Chef, David Clark, Executive Sous Chef of Army Navy Country Club, shares some of the most valuable lessons he learned from his mentors.
Any success I have had in my career is because I am fortunate enough to have had several mentors who have invested in my development and pushed me to grow. As I have stepped into the role of Executive Sous Chef, I carry and reflect on the lessons they taught me every day. I do my best to pass them along to my team, too. Executive Sous Chefs are in a unique position in that they likely still have active mentoring relationships with trusted leaders, and at the same time, are starting to be looked at as mentors within their operation.
I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I have learned from my mentors. I hope this will prompt readers to also consider how they have benefitted from mentoring relationships, and how they can pay it forward.
The first and arguably most important lesson I learned from a mentor was from my time in the U.S. Army. Even so, the message is applicable to any personal or professional setting. One should always seek to understand.
My Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Rhodes, once said to me, “Clark, you might not understand why I am telling you to do something, but look at my decisions through my eyes and you will get it.” In the military, you cannot question leadership decisions. There is the potential that lives may be at risk. In such circumstances, it is helpful to look at decisions you may disagree with or be confused by and try to evaluate them from the decision makers’ perspective. This consideration can help you appreciate the complexity of a situation and the variety of perspectives involved. After leaving the Army, I have often navigated through difficult situations by seeking to understand my leaders’ or colleagues’ perspectives.
I have also learned that while incredibly valuable, having a mentor can be challenging. The individuals mentoring you can be like a parent. You might hate them and love them all in the same second. When someone sees potential in you and thinks you can develop into something better than you are, they may deliver guidance that feels like criticism.
I wish I had learned this lesson by the time I worked for one of my mentors, Joachim Buchner, CMC. Chef Buchner was tough, but, in retrospect, I now know he was teaching me to set high standards for myself and my team and to refuse to accept less than the best. I have tried to pass this lesson on to all my teams since working for him.
Under the leadership of Chef Richard Jallet at Baltimore CC, I learned that being a Chef is not always about cooking. He would say to me, “You are now a leader and you need to lead the department.” He taught me that my performance no longer depended on my own culinary skills, but rather, on the success of my team and the entire culinary operation. He reinforced the importance of investing in the team and providing targeted lessons and opportunities to help individuals improve. I try to help my staff find ways to build their knowledge and skills, and support them in seeking opportunities to move to the next level, even if it means taking a job at a different operation. As a leader, my job is to help my team members continually improve and advance.
What makes a great mentor, in my opinion, and the one common denominator between all of mine, is that they invest in the success of the individuals on their teams and run an effective operation. Success to them was not about how great they were as an individual. They would always speak about where their team members are now: I have one at the this platinum club, I have one running a top hotel, I have one being promoted to a new duty station. To me this a this is a definition of a great mentor. Remember: these mentors aren’t always your bosses. They are everywhere.