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90 in 90: Don Mell, JPMorgan Chase

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From the office to the playing field to the battlefield, we all learn leadership skills in different places. I developed my toolkit of strategies early in my career when I was a journalist covering the Middle East. I was in my 20s, new to journalism, new to Lebanon where I began my career, and new to workplace politics. The following tips helped me learn, succeed – and survive.


As I traveled the region covering everything from wars to bombings to kidnappings, I did my best to maintain a good and positive attitude regardless of the situation. Not only did this help me build strong and lasting professional and personal relationships, but it also helped cushion the emotional impact of the events I was covering.  As I progressed in my career, I found that positivity is contagious and makes people want to follow your lead.

 Learning to trust your instincts is crucial whether you’re navigating conflict in the conference room or combat in a war zone. Decisions aren’t always easy; nor are they meant to be. Don’t waste time second guessing yourself. Listening to my gut kept me alive countless times.

Treating everyone with the same respect, regardless of their station or perceived station in life is critical. It’s also the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to navigate check points in the Middle East, through a TSA security line at the PHL airport, or through the corporate suite at work, respect, humility and a dash of humor will help ease your path.

Building on this, take pains to broaden your perspective and look beyond yourself. When you are having a bad day, take a deep breath and remember that someone is having a worse one. Each instance where I witnessed someone’s life destroyed by war, death, or famine, reinforced this.

The smartest person in the room isn’t the one with the highest title or the most advanced degree. It’s the person who understands that everybody has something to offer and learns from them. Listen to the people around you – and their ideas. 

Compromise and consensus are not sins; they’re negotiation skills. Whether navigating the Middle East, Legislative Hall or my workplace, I’ve learned that the best outcome is when everyone at the table walks away feeling like a winner. I follow the 80-10-10 rule, 80% we can agree on, 10% we can work out and the other 10% is ok to disagree on. There’s no shame in convincing people to accept your point of view by letting them think that it was their idea.

Loyalty is the best attribute you can have; hypocrisy is the worst. I’m not talking about blind loyalty. Loyalty also means being straight with someone even if you know they won’t take it well and sticking around to help them manage the fallout. Hypocrisy damages your reputation, your relationships and your humanity.  

Always remember to give credit where credit is due – it’s often not with you! People remember thank you’ s. They inspire loyalty and dedication.

Finally, there is a big world out there…explore it and let it challenge you. Going outside your comfort zone will make you a better and more successful person. I did, and it was the best thing (except marrying my wife and adopting our cats) that I have ever done.

Don Mell is the executive director and site lead of Delaware Market, JPMorgan Chase. 


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