Although many people use the terms interchangeably, management and leadership are not the same thing – and the nation’s employers know the difference. This is why a majority of hiring managers seek applicants with a demonstrable ability to shift fluidly from one role to the other as the work environment may necessitate.
Employers in the hospitality industry, in particular, are hiring candidates with the training, experience and education necessary to master leadership challenges specific to the dynamic industry, which is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance as the economy stabilizes and the U.S. population rediscovers its appetite for fine foods, beverages, lodging and gaming.
Seasoned hospitality leaders know better, though, than to rely on upward economic trends to bring in business. The recent economic challenges the country has faced have instilled high expectations in the spending population, as middle- and working-class Americans appreciate the value of their hard-earned wages more than ever. Hospitality managers must be fully prepared to apply strong leadership skills to the various challenges of their industry in order to help keep their associates and their guests happy.
Economic recovery has a downside for many industries: the emergence of high turnover rates. Hospitality managers must therefore be able to motivate and engage associates who may be just “passing through” on their way to other careers. Furthermore, as rates of turnover increase, so does the incidence of younger, less experienced hires, who often require more training and oversight than experienced workers.
Another leadership challenge hospitality managers may face is industry corporatization; company structures are growing larger and more complex, making the enforcement of consistency in customer service and employee policy even more difficult. Leadership of a team of three is challenging; leadership of a team of 300 or 3,000, across oftentimes vast geographic spreads and disparate professional positions, can be challenging.
Compounding these challenges are those endemic to management across industries and employment sectors: creation and maintenance of team unity; establishment of open communication policies and protocol; information management; insufficient support from owners or executives; and integration and oversight of new technology and guest-services platforms.
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The challenges discussed above are by no means unconquerable. Hospitality managers and executives with strong leadership skills master them on a regular basis and it is important to remember that leadership skills are not the exclusive domain of those born with the ability.
Strong leaders share many qualities – patience, empathy, courage – but none is more important to those who work in hospitality than excellent communication skills. At the core, exceptional customer service consists of “listening” to or studying the target market, identifying its needs and anticipating the fulfillment of those needs, sometimes before the customers themselves. Hospitality leaders must exercise the same ability with their associates, meeting their expectations regularly and listening carefully to their ideas, questions and concerns.
Another critical point that leaders readily grasp is the importance of accepting responsibility for their actions. Leaders never shift blame from themselves onto another person, and they are as quick to apologize for their mistakes as they are to fix them. Likewise, leaders in hospitality are able to exercise self-control and a positive outlook, even in the face of irate clientele, disappointing profits or poor employee attitudes.
Finally, leaders in hospitality are masters of consistency. They are fair in their treatment of their team members and they expect fairness in how associates treat each other in turn. Leading by example has always been a key means of inspiring loyalty and commitment, so hospitality managers with leadership skills never shy away from bussing a table, carrying luggage or mixing a cocktail.
If anything, the Great Recession taught employers the value of agile, profit-minded managers and other high-level professionals who had to adapt if they wanted to survive massive, nationwide layoffs and frigid hiring conditions. Hospitality employers are now looking for inspired leaders with their fingers on the pulse of new customer service markets. They’re seeking out leaders who can build consensus, motivate staff and associates, secure record profits and otherwise serve their employers’ best interests in the coming era. Hospitality managers with training and education in leadership should find themselves in high demand, as the industry continues to grow and evolve in pace with the resurgent U.S. economy.