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Leadership In the Hospitality Industry
By Alan Campbell
Over the past months I have talked about customer service, training, blue collar versus white collar issues, as well as a host of other issues that beset the hospitality/hotel industry, and it got me to thinking about leaders and managers.
Leaders and managers! Are they not one and the same? Are not manager’s leaders and leaders managers? My answer is absolutely, unequivocally, and emphatically, NO! However, my no comes with reservations. To be a leader does not necessarily require that one be a good manager, and to be a good manager may require no leadership skills at all—they are not synonymous, for as much as many people use these terms interchangeably. Let me explain.
I would like to think that most managers earned their position either internally—promotions within the hotel or hospitality organization, or through hiring an outsider to do the job that the owner or board felt no in-house person could do presently.
If you have a successful hotel and it needs a new general manager, then the position may well fit the in-house person that's best suited to continue that success. However, if you have a hotel that is on a downward spiral, then an outsider would probably be better, as the decisions that he or she makes will be based solely on business decisions and not personal(ity) decisions—dynamic new blood, sometimes, is all it may take to improve an organization. In either case, the general manager, if he or she is to succeed, must take charge of the hotel and exercise leadership to carry his or her vision forward.
It has been my observation that most managers are just that, managers. They have spent a considerable amount of time learning their craft—most of which has to do with the efficient running of the plant, but primarily or only from a financial point of view. They can spit out facts, figures, and illustrations on any aspect of the business down to a fraction of a penny. They can provide you with the cost breakdown for each department, area, service, contract, etc., and compare it to national and local standards, as well as a multitude of other comparisons and statistics. That's what most managers are hired for and, by and large, they do a fantastic job.
However, not to demean or insult any one of them, in essence they are little more than well-educated glorified bookkeepers, with bookkeeper mentalities. Their minds are disciplined to crunch numbers, figures, ciphers, accounts, inventory, costs, outlays, etc. Don't get me wrong. all these things are very important and necessary to the running of any business, but their minds are not always geared to deal with hotel guests and all their foibles on a daily basis. Managers, for the most part, insure that the people under their purview are doing their job via their respective job descriptions—nothing more, nothing less. In other words, they are not trained to deal with the customer, the guests—conflicts with strangers. Guests are irrational and mangers are trained to deal with the rational. Many, if not most managers, I would argue, fit this mold, especially those that worked their way up in the industry.
For a manager to be successful, he or she must also be a leader and, if push comes to shove, I would argue that for any business to be successful, really successful, being a leader is more important than being a manager. The analysis of all successful business show this repeatedly. I doubt if there is a single business person that became successful because he was an outstanding manager, but lacked leadership skills; whereas there are many very successful leaders that lack or dislike "management" skills and or tasks.
Leaders have vision. The light at the end of the tunnel is always visible to them and, as the light gets brighter and larger, their vision expands in a geometric progression. Leaders see the future and act accordingly. Leaders take risks; manager either do not or cannot.
Leaders have a holistic vision. They have the ability to build and complete the jigsaw-like puzzle called success. They realize the importance of each part or piece and act on each piece, individually or collectively, in order to meld the respective parts into a workable whole.
Leaders don't do this alone. They realize the importance of each department, each section, each person within the organization and the part each one plays in that organization's success. They do not have to know the nuts and bolts of each part, but they must be able to inspire each part, each person, to do what they were hired to do, and do it well. Leaders inspire people to have pride in their individual accomplishments as well as in organizational accomplishments.
Most individual or corporate hotel owners hire general managers because they have shown they can keep a hotel's balance sheet in the black. And though there is nothing wrong with this, it should not be the main reason for hiring or promoting a person to run a hotel/hospitality venue. I would argue that any person with proven leadership capabilities can run any organization, regardless of the leader's background, whereas the same, I would argue, is not, would not be true for the manager. Therefore, leadership should be the primary qualification for assuming the title of General Manger.
Listed are some steps—criteria, if you will—but by no means all inclusive to use in becoming a successful leader:
Most, if not the vast majority of us that have come in contact with a service organization, whether part of the hospitality/hotel industry or some other service industry, have seen or experienced poor service at one time or other. And no matter whether that disservice happened to you, your friends, or a stranger, it grates on your sensibilities and angers you. Make each disservice experienced a learning/teaching moment.
We can all supply our own examples of disservice, both within our own organizations as well as with other organizations. If it or they happen within your organization, correct them immediately; if possible, on the spot, following the dictum: praise in public, correct in private.
Managers deal with the hear and now, usually from the safety of their office. Leaders work, on the other hand, in the open among the people they lead, on their vision of the future.
Be a a leader.
About the Author
Alan Campbell has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. He has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. Alan considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world - it is the only place that both king's and Paupers will visit you.
The Hotel Guy
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