30 Dec Work in Progress

If it wasn’t for one of my mentors, I don’t know when I would come to know the Socratic virtue of self-control; and that self-sufficiency alone doesn’t equate to a good life.

Aristotle taught us we achieve true happiness when we fulfill the design of our nature (i.e., we stay true to our core values, and leverage our strengths).  I believe that self-reliant leadership means knowing what tough questions to ask yourself, and then have the courage to answer those tough questions and act!  Self-reliant leadership also means knowing when you need help with the questions, and it can be useful to have someone hold you accountable to the commitments you make.

WorkinProgressA great mentor helps the pupil do the right things at the right time… in real life.  The mentor provides the pupil with insights and tools on how to lead themselves, build their character, and define a good life.  It take practice, reflection, and a commitment to change habits that keep you from your highest aspirations.  Aristotle described the “Golden Mean” as the perfect balance of excesses with virtues like courage, humility, temperance and patience.  As an example, the “Golden Mean” for courage would be neither rash nor cowardly behavior.  But how do we know if we’re making progress with regard to character building and leadership development?

A journal is the ultimate self-coaching tool.

I attended a lecture once where the speaker told us, “All great men have kept journals.”  That short sentence has had a profound impact on the way I have recorded my own history, growth, setbacks, and how I’ve handled adversity.  The journal can contain the lessons needed for success if you have the discipline to openly and honestly capture your thoughts, ideas, experiences, feelings, frustrations, plans, and adaptations to those plans.

I have often referred back to major decisions and stressful situations to see how I approached situations. I looked at what I would have done differently and what I learned that altered my response to future similar and unique situations. Without those journals, I would have been relying on a fairly faulty memory.

Do you keep track of your thoughts, moods, how you spent the day, what was done well, what vices did you fight, and what could have been done better?  If you can track your progress in a visible and quantifiable way, it will encourage you to strengthen your resolve.  Using writing as a mental workout, you’re able to retreat from the crisis of the day, and see situations from a variety of perspectives to consider more effective attitudes and habits.

As we roll into another New Year, I am thankful for the mentors I have had in my life, but I am most thankful for the people who have chosen me as their mentor.  The picture in this post is of Theresa Letman and me.  She is a wonderfully giving person, with sharp intellect, precision-guided insights, and is a truly compassionate person.  She asked me to be her mentor a number of years ago, and the discussions we regularly have never cease to amaze me.  It’s the ideal, collegial, professional, and reciprocal relationship that blurs the lines of coaching and mentoring.  I think this is what Socrates envisioned as his divine mission to teach the habit of questioning oneself.

As for leadership, I am more effective more often than I used to be, but not nearly what I hope to be.  A work in progress…

  • Russ McKelvey
    Posted at 13:49h, 30 December Reply


    The timing of this article was perfect for me. I too have observed that all the great people that I have read about who changed the world for the better have kept journals. When I talked to you about having trouble keeping my journals going, I remember leaving our conversation knowing that it was okay to just write a little or as much as you can. Being free from feeling like I have to complete every entry in one sitting has made the process much more rewarding. Thank you for you teach all of us.


  • Jan Rutherford
    Posted at 14:18h, 30 December Reply

    Russ – thank you for your comments. It definitely takes a certain discipline, but the hardest part is being truly honest with yourself. Hope to connect often in the New Year! -Jan

  • Theresa Letman
    Posted at 11:36h, 31 December Reply

    Jan – I’m grateful about the reminder on the importance of my journal. I look forward to 2014 including more writing and introspection!

    I am flattered by your kind words. “Wisdom begins in wonder,” according to Socrates. Thank you for asking questions that evoke wonder and inspire me. Thank you for being a such a willing mentor. Happy New Year, dear friend.

  • Jan Rutherford
    Posted at 12:28h, 31 December Reply

    With a note like that, how can it not be the start of a great year? Thanks, Theresa! -Jan

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