A Time to Lead and Stay Positive
By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotel Company | June 14, 2020
Extremely challenging, never seen in our lifetime scenarios like those now faced by the hospitality industry test our resolve as individuals, our sense of servant leadership and our overall corporate culture.
Realistically, no one has a perfected playbook that we can pull off an asset or property management shelf to guide our every step through this hyper-formidable situation. Clearly, we will need to combine our accumulated knowledge, experience and hospitality fundamentals with realistic assessment combined with newfound inspiration and ideas. Regardless, even if we had such a magic document to guide us, we must not rush into putting the cart before the horse. First comes solidarity.
As Jon Gordon and Daniel Decker say in their book, Stay Positive: "Through adversity, we have a choice. We can run away from each other or we can run towards each other. Remember: Connection breeds commitment." They further declare that "As a leader, your job is to SERVE, not be served. Your team needs to know you care. Serve their heart! Your team needs to improve. Serve their talent! Your team struggles with doubt. Serve their mind and spirit!"
Moreover, negativity never wins the day. As Gordon and Decker also admonish: "Don't let negativity win today! Remember it starts with YOU! If you are complaining, you are not leading. If you are leading, you are not complaining. One person can't make a team, but one person can BREAK a team. Stay positive."
Undeniably, we have it within ourselves to stay positive in these trying days and lead our way through this current crisis. Our goal is to manage our properties according to market-specific conditions and maintain well-functioning organizations, right now and for the longer term. All of our oars must pull in the same direction.
But what makes for a good leader? As Gordon and Decker suggest, being a good leader is more about positive attitudes than evoking rigid rules; more about making emotional connection with others over shouting out impersonal commands.
Moreover, while many have debated the issue over the years, we'll side with the view that individuals can grow into the traits of leadership as they progress through their careers with an organization. A strong group encourages the development and expression of leadership qualities at all levels in the service of its core mission and purpose, including caring for guests.
Elizabeth Powitzky, a member of the Forbes Finance Council, listed some of these traits in an article on "Great Leaders Are Made, not Borne: Six Strategies For Becoming A Better Leader." For Powitsky, to become a truly effective leader, individuals should be able to identify gaps and strengths in their knowledge; surround themselves with different viewpoints; thoroughly question and test decisions; observe others to keep growing; solicit feedback and act on it; and, as we will discuss further, understand that words matter.
Embracing Our Leadership Role
As a result, what do we look for in our leaders at a time like this? Three keys are deep knowledge of how our industry functions and the status of the marketplace, as well as our individual properties; the ability to make understandable decisions in a clear, reasoned manner; and the ability through one's conduct to instill confidence in others. Genuine leaders are able to give others the responsibility and authority to make their own decisions, always confident that they have the skills to "fix things" should they go off track a bit. Empowerment 101.
This is the time for leadership to percolate through an organization. Not through ultimatums, but by providing a pathway that achieves consensus and motivates us to realize shared goals. At sensitive and uncertain times like these, the foundation of this effort, as Powitsky indicated, is understanding that words matter. All of us in leadership positions must communicate frequently with those for whom we are responsible. This further requires clarity, honesty, transparency and working at the personal level.
As Powitsky says, "People often dissect a leader's words, looking for nuance and hidden meaning. Think carefully about what you're saying and how it's being perceived. Big ideas are important, but don't overlook the little things. For example, recognize people who have contributed to a project to upper/senior leadership. I also own up to my mistakes and shortcomings. People want to work with leaders who recognize their contributions but are also humble and self-aware."
Astute organizations are going full bore in this realm, taking advantage of daily emails and e-letters, video "Happy Hours" and good old-fashioned one on one conversations. The human voice can be soothing. At the organizational big picture level, it is also important to stay on point. Continue to celebrate personal and group successes, while being honest about the challenges being faced. Strong leaders understand how to communicate less cheerful news, such as team member furloughs or property closings, in a professional and positive way, retaining a sense of trust, dignity and meaningful direction for all parties concerned.
Yes, the hospitality industry is changing in many ways, with clear longer term implications in areas that include staffing, guest and vendor relations, even how we handle operations like housekeeping, preventive maintenance or food and beverage services. Our training, asset and property management systems, organizational culture and sense of personal integrity have prepared us for this challenge, however unwelcome. If we keep our wits about us; our values and passion for caring about others, we will prevail through this unprecedented time in the best ways possible.
Furthermore, this is also the time to sow the seeds of future success and strive to be one of those groups that doesn't simply prevail, but, rather, prospers in the coming years, even as our industry surely evolves. Above all else, our team members, our strategic partners, our guests and our communities will remember how we conducted ourselves in stressful, even unprecedented times. How we perform now will have profound influence on these relationships going forward.
Author Marianne Williamson originally penned, "As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Great leaders stay positive and make this happen.
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