Professional traits that define a leader

leadershipLeaders in a group, community, company or country have a huge responsibility to carry on their professional shoulders. Always in the public and camera eye, they seem to be working in a glass cubicle and hence must remain answerable, accountable, effective and exemplary.

Leadership is not usually a legacy that we are bestowed with. It is a role we aspire to, work towards and attain through experience, intelligence, astuteness and by proving our usefulness for the bigger responsibilities such a stature brings.

In the world of hospitality, there are several opportunities for us to exhibit leadership at both micro and magnum levels – as department heads, Team leaders, General Managers, Regional Heads, Brand Chiefs, COOs and CEOs.

Here are ten professional traits that define a true-blue leader:

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1. Leaders are knowledgeable

Leaders aim to be virtuosos. They train themselves to be an expert in their field; be it keeping a guest room spotlessly spic and span or managing a large hotel chain, ensuring that it stays highest ranked in any rating or recognition.

The bank of knowledge keeps them ahead of the game. In their constant striving for excellence, they endeavour to break the glass ceiling. A leader sets commendable standards with his or her working style, know-how and eagerness to present their best, always.

Leaders are clued on to the smallest to the biggest things that happen in their business world. PRS Oberoi, the formidable owner of India’s much acclaimed and awarded hotel chain named after his family, is known to let his keen eye miss absolutely nothing when on a hotel visit – from a crookedly placed rose bud in a vase to the temperature at which the finest bottle of champagne is served; from the misplaced crease on the Doorman’s epaulette to the worry line on the forehead of another team member.

2. Leaders are perpetual learners

Leaders know that the place they have reached has not come easy. They are also aware that the road ahead is going to be tough, arduous and competitive. Leaders refuse to rest on past laurels. They are mindful of the fact that their skills and the business must evolve in step with the dynamics of the world and the changing times.

Besides, their drive and zeal nudges them to push the envelope of learning, mental growth and physical limits of performance.

One of the finest examples of this is the life lesson left behind by Conrad Hilton. He began his hotel business with Mobley Hotel in Texas – a 40-room property that he bought in 1919. His first high-rise hotel was the Dallas Hilton that he opened in 1925 before expanding into New Mexico. However, as luck would have it, Hilton was gravely hit by the Great Depression and was forced to sell off some of his hotels to keep away from bankruptcy. But his exceptional hoteliering skills came in handy and he was retained as the Manager of the hotels, which he promptly bought back once the national economic state bettered and he began fairing better.

Hilton went on to build hotels and grow his business admirably, such that Hilton Hotels became the first international hotel chain – no mean feat even today.

Maslowian Leadership pyramid

3. Leaders are competitive

Not only with others but with themselves too – in fact it is more with themselves. They must meet their own high expectation and come up to the level they visualize themselves at. Leaders blossom in good, honest competition. There lies an inherent eagerness to outclass and the passion to chart new courses. The excitement of better, brighter goals keeps them motivated and stimulated.

Leaders admire other skilled workers and specialists and must compete with them to get to greater heights of brilliance. This sense of competitiveness gets the ball going of learning, improving, growing into the state of work awesomeness; to the satisfaction of both the doer and the recipients.

Steve Wynn, despite the hardships he steered his family out of, had the steely will and foresight to create a hotel empire that has brought him worldwide recognition and commercial success. Wynn is credited for resurrecting the internationally famous Las Vegas Strip by injecting renewed interest in the area and by creating such iconic properties as The Mirage and The Bellagio, truly among the biggest and the brightest hotels globally.

4. Leaders are bottom-line friendly

Leaders endeavour to perform such that the outcome of their actions is always profitable. They despise anything that brings loss; in terms of bad service, inability to close the service delivery loop, losing a client, profit deficit, business failure. They are conscious of the fact that for them and others to grow and flourish, the business must remain successful.

What’s more, they acknowledge the fact that it is often bad actions, bad planning and bad decisions that lead to bad business. And they wish to be associated with none of these.

Barry Sternlicht, often called the ‘King of hotels,’ put his fervent business acumen, background in real estate, fine judgement for prized properties and deep understanding for creating brands to found and grow Starwood Hotels and Resorts into one of the widest, biggest and financially successful hotel groups.

5. Leaders respond and resolve

This is one of the most common grounds on which somebody is called a leader. Leaders bring together their learning, experience and attitude to give sensible, effective and optimum resolution to your issues. Because they have the expertise, they need not skirt the issue and hide behind files and faux reasons to escape the matter.

More importantly, they hold in high esteem the tag they have earned on merit and they are not willing to lose that by being seen as laid back, inefficient, careless and non-committed. Hence, leaders always respond – to situations at hand, to people matters and to larger business issues.

One of the nicer aspects of dealing with such people is that even if it is to decline or regret; leaders leave such a great after taste that you wish to do business with them again.

Kemmons Wilson’s personal disappointment with the kind of roadside accommodation that was available for his holiday led him to envision and create the Holiday Inn model of hotels.

Stemming from his own experience, Wilson’s clear cut brief for his chain was that the properties should be standardised, clean, predictable, family-friendly and readily accessible to road travellers. From 50 hotels in 1958, 100 in 1959, 500 by 1964 and 100th Holiday Inn in 1968; today the company has grown to be one of the world’s largest hotel chains with 435,299 bedrooms in 3,463 hotels globally hosting over 100 million guest nights each year.

6. Leaders are SMART

Leaders espouse the principles of S.M.A.R.T working, both in their approach and the results they show. Their performance is, indeed, specific (leaders are focused), measurable (result-orientation is a key factor for them), attainable (leaders are practical and seldom have their heads in the clouds), relevant (their efforts must bear fruits of business, satisfaction, customer retention, problem solving for themselves, the company they represent and the guests) and time-bound (leaders apprehend the importance of time and are aware of the ills of non-deliverability or deliverability in an untimely fashion, which may be as good as task not done).

One of the best known pieces of hotel trivia revolves around the genesis of the word “ritzy.” It is an established fact that the usage of the term stemmed from the name of Cesar Ritz and his namesake legendary hotels he founded in Paris and London.

The celebrated hotelier’s life is noteworthy on so many levels. It is said that he started small and then scaled up to skyscraping heights of success with grit, determination and ingenuity that made him stand apart. Cesar Ritz began his career as a maître d’hôtel in a restaurant before stepping up the ladder to manage hotels in Lucerne and Monaco. He built a reputation for his impeccable taste and instant rapport with wealthy guests thereby developing a profound understanding of the guests’ needs and desires and pioneering the foundation of luxury as we know today – two tenets that he lent to his hotel brand.

7. Leaders take charge

Have you noticed how there is that one server who will outperform and over-deliver should things go wrong with your order at a restaurant? He will assume command over the situation, apologize sincerely, rectify the order, make certain that you are not made to wait any longer and cap it off with a comp side or dessert. He is a professional who knows his work, is in control, values you, is adept at saving the reputation of his company, ensuring that the business stays with them and does not walk over to the competition.

In a crisis condition, have you taken note of the Security guy or Guest Relations executive who will go beyond expectation to take stock of the situation, swiftly, and then strategize to provide safety while soothing your frayed nerves with a personal touch. He or she need not be a certified Fire Fighter; it is enough that they are the best in their role, are quick to assume responsibility of their actions and do not ever mind pulling the weight of others when they fail to match up.

Such professionals have a strong leadership quality even in their everyday work situations. And in times of crises, they are stars that shine with their rock-solid resolve and stellar skills.

Given this attribute, leaders impart lessons by setting an example, by being there and being available. The irresistible celebrity CEO and visionary and now the founder-owner of Virgin Hotels – Sir Richard Branson has committed to be present at the opening of every Virgin hotel; much like the other great hotelier – Ritz Carlton’s Herve Humler who, allegedly, never misses a hotel opening anywhere in the world, and Ritz-Carlton has so far opened about 90 hotels in 29 countries.

8. Leaders are experienced

Several years of hard work – first study, then practice – have gone into shaping the leader into what he is today. The professionals who lead, dip into their rich pool of experience to outshine and often go beyond the brief.

Willard Marriott, as the founder of the eponymous chain, has always been considered a doyen of the international hospitality industry. But it is his son, Bill Marriott Jr., who has grown the brand into what it has become today with his insight, inclination towards a franchise model business, innovative spirit, his attention to detail and ideal work ethics.

Having led the chain for more than 50 years, from a family restaurant business to a monolith with 3100 + properties spread across 67 countries, Bill’s imprint on the chain and the industry is so indelible that Marriott gets ranked as the “best place to work in” year after year.

9. Leaders are visionaries

Leaders are on a journey – their destination is ‘being the best in their field and roles;’ higher after higher scales of excellence are the milestones. To be such work wizards they strategize to develop new tactics, perfect their old good practices and draw a road map that is onward bound, both in terms of productivity and passion.

Conrad Hilton, one of the finest hoteliers the world has ever seen, was far-sighted and inclusive in his business approach even when his company had not grown to the mammoth size it is now. In 1944, he established The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with a mission to alleviate human suffering worldwide. Hilton Hotels International Company, followed in his footsteps, and furthered his goals by instituting the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1996 and The Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Business Ethics and The Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Award in subsequent years.

Leaders are far sighted and that is why they always manage to rise above the small issues and petty people with their sights aimed at bigger, more far reaching goals.

10. Leaders always see the Big Picture

Leaders usually do not sweat over the small stuff.

Their sights are set high; hence little everyday battles are simply stepping stones in their way; as it is the war of wisdom, wonderment and world class achievement that they must win.

Born into the extremely wealthy and influential Astor family, John Jacob Astor IV used his rich background and enviable educational and life experience to establish new standards of luxury in the world of hoteliering. Even today, when an analogy has to be drawn for the finest standards in luxury, it is John Jacob Astor IV’s two best known creations – Waldorf Astoria and St. Regis – that are cited as benchmarks. It is also known that the legendary hotelier, who the world lost in the tragic sinking of the Titanic, was multifaceted. Astor is the author of a science fiction novel ‘A Journey in Other Worlds’ (1894) about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. With a penchant for scientific innovation, Astor is known to have patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a “vibratory disintegrator” and a pneumatic road-improver. He also helped in the development of turbine engine.

It follows from the lives of these hotel legends that leadership stems from innate passion. It is shaped by the goals one sets for oneself. And it is polished through consistent, diligent and honest practice. There resides the potential to be a leader in all of us. The honed-over-time zeal, determination, conscientiousness and foresightedness arm us well in our aspiration to become an outstanding leader in our chosen field.

About the author
L. Aruna Dhir is a hospitality and feature writer and columnist. Her industry writings are used as references in case studies and hotel schools.

With over 16 years of experience with some of India and Asia’s top hotel brands, Aruna is a seasoned corporate communications specialist, PR strategist and writer who has taken a sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on book projects on Public Relations & Communications, Hotels, Food and India respectively.

As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization of business communication and written manuals. Aruna has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International and participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA and Friendicoes to name a few.

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