What makes a great hospitality leader? While the answer to this question can vary widely based on the industry, the results from a number of studies by Michigan State University of the private club industry show that good leaders share five essential skills: innovation, vision, inner values, inspiration and communication, according to the former director of The School of Hospitality Business, Dr. Ronald F. Cichy.
In the hospitality industry, innovation typically means always seeking ways to improve the organization. Strong leaders emphasize quality over quantity in their own work and take initiative. Each day, they look for ways to improve in all areas, from human resources to front-line food and beverage service, Dr. Cichy said during a lecture on hospitality leadership.
In addition to seeking innovative solutions, great leaders in hospitality are open to others’ ideas. They recognize that a great idea can come from anyone from the top level of an organization to the support staff on the front lines. Front-line associates are closely connected to guests. As they create and deliver products and services directly to guests each day, their input and ideas for quality improvement are particularly valuable for innovation.
Innovation also requires perpetual learning. According to Dr. Cichy, “readers are leaders,” and innovative leaders are constantly pushing themselves to learn, either by reading, observing others or asking questions. If you’re working on improving your leadership skills, ask yourself which method of learning you respond to best. Perhaps it’s by being with a mentor or reading books about the hospitality industry. Or, perhaps you learn most effectively by jumping right in and doing something new. Whichever ways work best for you, focus on learning something each day to improve your skills.
Another facet of innovation is encouraging risk-taking. Great leaders take risks, stepping out of their comfort zones to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses. They surround themselves with people who complement their strengths and fill any gaps in ability. Certainly, risk-taking can lead to mistakes, but can also be a fast track to improvement. Strong leaders empower others to feel confident, while providing the tools they need to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them.
Finally, innovative hospitality leadership requires the willingness to be flexible. It asks that you be willing to look at situations differently, expand possibilities and change your mind when necessary. But first, you must be mindful and aware of your environment and the changes that are occurring. Then, you need to be flexible enough to adapt to those changes.
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If you want to go somewhere you’ve never been, you need a map. When an organization wants to achieve its goals, it needs a vision. Dr. Cichy said it is up to hospitality leaders to set and clearly communicate that vision, and to invite others to share and implement it.
Good leaders provide the spark that inspires others to work toward the same goals. They also provide the tools to help them get there. They paint a picture of how their vision will affect the organization as a whole, as well as each individual. In this way, leaders make it possible for everyone involved to see the vision as clearly as they do. It is also imperative for leaders to trust their teams with this vision, as trusting can be a sign of strength.
Many MSU hospitality studies showed leaders in the hospitality industry emphasize strong family values. They recognize the values they were given by their families, and that work-life balance is essential to success. The ability to focus on the organization when at work, and spending quality time with family when at home, is essential to effective leadership.
Another important value is a good sense of humor. Strong leaders can see the humor in a tense situation. They avoid taking themselves too seriously and laugh about their own mistakes. In other words, they are human, with the strengths and weaknesses every human has.
Knowing and nurturing your strengths is another essential aspect of honoring your inner values. While in the past we have often heard that we must improve upon our weaknesses, the emphasis now is on building on and playing to our strengths. Once you’ve identified your strengths, it’s possible to nurture and use them to their fullest potential. This is essential to developing your leadership style and building a strong organization.
Great leaders inspire their associates in many ways. They make an effort to know them, and ask them for their input and ideas. They share their vision and goals, and then give associates the tools they need to succeed in reaching those goals. And finally, they allow them to make mistakes and learn. Inspiring leaders expound the notion that there are no failures, only opportunities for learning and growth.
When associates are inspired by their leaders, they are more confident, they know what’s expected, and they feel empowered to make decisions and work toward their goals. They don’t feel a need to ask what to do, and can be more successful at achieving outcomes.
Leaders are strong communicators. In the hospitality study, they found that leaders are adept at articulating goals and speaking in public, and that listening is just as important as speaking. Great leaders are inquisitive and curious. They ask questions of their peers, and of associates at every level of the organization – particularly those delivering services. Asking questions can let leaders know what is working and what needs improvement.
Becoming a good listener is essential to becoming a good communicator. Listening is an active exercise. It involves using not only your ears, but your eyes and heart as well. Be empathetic and consider the message from the perspective of the person who is delivering it.
It takes time and commitment to improve leadership skills, but it can certainly be done. Practicing these five essentials for becoming a great hospitality leader can help you work better with associates, no matter what your position. If you try something new and it doesn’t work, try it in a different way. Keep reading, learning and listening, and you can be on your way to experience a rewarding and successful leadership journey.