The role of the aspirational leader

The role of the aspirational leader

I am fascinated by great leadership. One of the areas I’d like to explore with you is the leader who aspires to something more than what has existed in the past.

Personally, I have not been the type of leader to sit on any charity boards, although I recently adopted an elephant in Kenya. I can’t bear the thought of raising a service animal then parting with it, and I have never fostered children. I worked for a company once that had us do community service like shining manhole covers during annual meetings and, truth be told, I would have preferred my old company, where we played golf and got massages.

But there is something that has called me continually ever since I walked into my first hotel as an employee, sat at my first desk and wrote out my goals, talked over lunch with my first colleague in the break room and offered service to my first guest. Lest you think I am delusional, the voice doesn’t have a name. What it does have is persistence. It persists in telling me that the potential of individual businesses is yet untapped.

Wealth and prosperity are wonderful exclamation points on any game — that’s a given. My passion and voice tell me what businesses could be if the leaders were aspirational.

Look, no one tells us how to be human. Each generation fumbles along trying to figure things out. Sometimes we stumble on a philosophy or faith or course that allows us to become more awake to the nature of being. And some of us keep questioning the status quo. In this case, I am questioning leadership’s role in business today. I daresay (hold the tomatoes) it is not just about the money. It is a holistic system in which we bring out the best in people, which impacts families and communities locally and globally, and we just happen to get a healthy balance sheet out of it too.

An aspirational leader might consider the following in crafting an overall strategy:

What culture would I create in order to bring out the best in my people?

Just look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once the basics are met (in a hotel that might be having the tools you need, accurate paychecks, medical coverage for your family), what might be next on the program? Respect? Self expression? Ability to be heard and make a difference? A respectable way of entering and exiting the building? Hearing “please” and “thank you,” and really feeling thanked and recognized and going home each day knowing I made a difference? Managers creating opportunities for excellence rather than daily shift duties?

How do I bring the best out in my guests?

Guests also don’t get away without bowing to Maslow. Once you have provided them with fair value (again, the basics are met for the price and expectation set), what might be the next way to grab their attention and their heartstrings? Remember, no emotion or relatedness, no brand. What can you do to trump the kiosk arrival?

How do I contribute to the local community?

Certainly, not only painting schools but high occupancy and rate keeps people employed, and this is great for communities. An aspirational leader owes it to all stakeholders to be the best in their community.

What could you teach / coach / elucidate?

Some time ago, I was the general manager in this really cool hotel, and I thought that when people left, they wanted to take away an experience — perhaps it was the experience of a new grape varietal, fab decor, the cookie butler or completely effervescent staff. The president of this company told me we weren’t in the business of teaching people. I disagreed then. I disagree now.

To teach is to enlighten. To teach is to enhance. To teach is to uplift. I submit this as a mighty goal for an aspirational leader — to aspire to see the hotel as a place to create a new philosophy of service, raise the level of excellence and offer staff and guests alike the opportunity to flourish.

Consider this quote from Steve Jobs, the leader of Apple:

“Leaders are fascinated by the future. You are a leader if, and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. As a leader you are never satisfied with the present, because in your head you can see a better future, and the friction between what is and what could be burns you, stirs you, propels you forward.”

Aspire to CREATE something extraordinary:

Cultivate an inspiring culture benefitting all stakeholders.
Reposition your business with clear distinction from the rest.
Expect to reinvent what hospitality looks like and feels like.
Act from new ways of thinking, fostering new opportunities.
Transform ordinary processes into extraordinary experiences.
Earn more money and maintain stability during market fluctuation.

Aspire, reap and enjoy.