Beware mediocrity: Creating the new leadership

Beware mediocrity: Creating the new leadership

I had a passionate and forward-thinking hotel owner call me the other day to talk about the best way to recruit the ideal general manager for his property.

He had interviewed a couple of candidates that had done well in their past. But he wasn’t interested in just “doing well” anymore. He also recognizes the impact language has when it comes to influencing performance.  

I recommended that if leadership is what he is after, he should ask the candidate what he/she perceives is the difference between leading and managing. Strange as it may seem, many who run hotels and are involved in the day-to-day operations have not dedicated thought to this very important distinction. While thousands of books have been written on leadership, I believe the sound-bite version to be this: Leaders have a “true north” at all times, and they embody the future of the business they want to see in every choice and action. They recognize the difference between short-term relief and long-term strategy. On the other hand, managers view their role a majority of the time putting out fires and dealing with what is immediately in front of them. This can cause them to lose sight of the true north and be spun around with whatever the current wind in their sails happens to be. Certainly balance is required for both areas of expertise, but leaders are aware of the impact the distinction has on business and move stealthily in the direction of the long-term vision at all times.

Yet, there is another step to consider in the interview process. Someone can claim past success by just hitting the metrics, and we don’t know if those metrics were low to begin with. Also, isn’t it possible someone is deemed successful because nothing detrimental occurred during their reign? But don’t you want to set a higher bar? Don’t you want better results?  

My number one fear (okay, besides spiders) is mediocrity. While recycling has its place in the world, beware of “recycling” when it comes to your leadership when you want to create new results. So, what to do?  

Some leaders may be born, but for the most part, they aren’t lying around in abundance. So how do you take really great people and great managers and turn them into leaders?  

“Know Thyself” is written above the oracle at Delphi. Without knowledge of who you really are, it is difficult to lead authentically. Think about it. If a manager is very strong in one area and has proven results, he/she can probably translate that into a new environment. The trap is that if the results are formulaic, they may not always apply to the new situation. Also, it is in the nature of being human to always flex your strong suit. t is also in the nature of being human not to want to fail or look foolish. The best way to avoid that is not to take on what you don’t already know. So the strong suit also becomes the trap. But to change that brings people to an unsafe place, and few among us wish to go there.

There is a solution that has worked for me in all my hotels and consulting practice: Work with your corporate and leadership teams to create a culture that embraces trust in themselves and each other so it is safe to take leaps together. If you don’t think there is room for new thinking, may I remind you of what H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers Studios said in 1927: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

Or, imagine if Steven Spielberg had one week at your corporate office or hotel. Would it look the same at the end of that week? (No ET jokes, please.)

One of my favorite quotes sums this up pretty well: 

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.

Thank you, unnamed owner, for willing to have the courage to seek a new paradigm of hospitality and lead change.