What type of disruptive leaders will the hotel industry need?

 width=By Frank Gueuning & Annick Darioly Carroz

In an industry of rapid change and uncertainty, we asked what current hospitality leaders believe will be needed from our future leaders on a time scale of 8 to 10 years from now. Within this, we predict disruptive thinking to be particularly important and therefore we have placed a particular focus on the importance of disruptiveness and how this could impact future leadership style.

Starting position: A landscape of change

One thing is clear, new leaders will need to address future uncertainties and complexities in an increasingly dynamic hospitality industry witnessing many changes.

On the one hand, the changes are powered by the current and future needs of the millennials and generation ÔZ’ and on the other hand the rise of the sharing economy and indirect distribution channel dynamics. These aspects are forcing businesses to look for new opportunities, to realign their strategies whilst remaining credible to their stakeholders.

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ÒThe egocentric style will be out and will make room for a humbler leadership styleÓ

With such a landscape of change, the ability to anticipate and respond will also call upon the ability to collaborate with specialists. This in turn will require future leaders to be increasingly cooperative and versatile. Coupled with this, it is understood that at the most senior level in the business, there is a link between a new leader’s personality, entrepreneurial orientation and strategic changes thereof.

Another uncertainty: A shortage of talent

Globally the hospitality industry is growing and there is a growing shortage of qualified managers. As a result, the industry has applied itself in finding solutions and HRM brought to us Ôtalent management’ and Ôsuccession planning’, thus focussing on retention, engagement and career progression to management level. These solutions were favoured especially as it is understood that to consolidate on strategy, internal candidates are preferred. However, the practice has its pitfalls in identifying the right future leader and this is because it focusses on nurturing talent to Ôfit’ with exisiting corporate culture, thus potentially curbing the entrepreneurial orientation needed from future leaders. So, to allow for increased disruptiveness and entrepreneurial orientation, new senior executives could be recruited from external sources.

Such an assertion can imply that recruiting from unrelated industries could also prove to be a game changer in the pursuit of real innovation, perhaps even revolution! Could this be the reason why non-hospitality industries recruit from top rated hotel schools around the world to fulfil their needs in domains such as luxury retail, financial services and airlines and all simply because hospitality graduates provide an innovative and entrepreneurial orientation that can add the Ôservice’ and Ôexperience’ dimensions of their respective core activities? It is therefore not surprising that Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, for instance, has for some years embedded this philosophy into its programs.

The leader’s innovative mind-set

Bill Gates is famously quoted for saying: ÒInnovate or dieÓ!

The hotel industry has gently evolved over many centuries and in recent times at an incrementally faster pace. However, one could argue that the hospitality industry has been tinkering with innovation without being revolutionary. Yes, we have new products, new designs, new concepts and, we are living the digital disruption by integrating artificial intelligence, augmented reality and so on, but is that genuine innovation or is it simply delivering better solutions for changing needs as a natural reaction?

The research question

What type of disruptive leaders will the industry need? Our research was aimed at assessing this question and coupled with this, understanding what skills and qualities the industry believes our future leaders will need on a wider scale, on a time frame of 8-10 years from now.

For this research, we teamed with PSD, a leading international professional executive recruitment organization, and surveyed hospitality managers and executives during Fall 2017.

Our methodological approach is based on the competency framework for hotel general managers developed by Bharwani and Talib (2017, p.408)[1]. This framework is the most appropriate to assess the future leaders’ qualities and consists of 43 items categorized into four broad dimensions:

  • Meta competencies: traits and motives – know how to be, adapt and apply existing competencies or acquire new competencies.
  • Social competencies: interpersonal attitudes and behaviours – know how to interact.
  • Functional competencies: job-specific technical skills – know how.
  • Cognitive competencies: conceptual knowledge – know what.

Our respondents

This survey was completed by 135 (103 male, 32 female) senior hotel executives, (e.g., CEO, COO, General managers, SVP Operations and group HR directors) at property and corporate level. Respondents were mostly between 46 to 55 years old and came predominantly from Europe, and then Asia, North America, and Middle East, and worked principally in UK and Asia. The majority of the executives have a Bachelor degree, followed by a Master’s degree or a diploma. They work for a hotel chain or brand and most have more than 300 employees.

Since research[2] has shown that leadership qualities might be influenced by the geographical region in which leaders operate, most of our analyses compare responses from the geographical areas in which people reside and presumably work.

The results: Disruption – good cop or bad cop?

In order to answer this question, we surveyed the perception of the level of disruptiveness.

Our respondents clearly and globally shared the views that disruptiveness and innovation are set to become increasingly important to drive the business to become revolutionary. The hospitality sector definitely needs disruptive thinking (Figures 1 to 4).

Figure 1: Disruptive thinking
Figure 2: Innovative hospitality
Figure 3: Revolutionary mind-set

Our survey also revealed that there is a significant requirement to change hospitality tradition as those traditions are no longer seen as key to effectiveness. What remains unanswered is understanding if external input from non-hospitality professionals could be a gamechanger. When asked if a non-traditional hospitality industry background would enhance success, the respondents seem to be undecided; perhaps, and only as speculative comments, because the good cop in us wants to protect the industry from within or displays the lack of confidence in challenging the norms and on the other hand, the bad cop would suggest bringing non-hospitality expertise as driver of real change and potentially leading the the next revolution.

Figure 4: Non-traditional hospitality industry background

Competencies of potential drivers to disruptiveness?

Our survey aimed at finding indicators that could shed light in identifying the right future leader and our analysis revealed that none of the competencies needed today to succeed will become less prevalent in the future.

This means that the future leaders will have to become more effective in applying existing competences, while adopting new competencies to react to the increased level of change.The respondents seem to overwhelmingly agree that future leaders will have mostly acquired the right skills and knowledge to succeed.

Of the 43 items assessed, we have established that 18 of them (Table 1) are set become pivotal in identifying the potentially successful future leader and driver of disruptiveness.

Table 1: Competencies needed for future leaders Ð Globally approved, adapted from Bharwani and Talib (2017, p.408)

All respondents foresaw that future leaders will have to become increasingly flexible, adaptable, be able to manage cultural diversity, be even more adept at change management and be disruptive enough to be innovative and creative in product and services development and excel in driving quality to the point of becoming revolutionary. The belief in innovation, creative thinking, certainly do link up with the disruptiveness expected in the future.

In more detail and focussing at the personal skills namely the meta and social competencies, the survey reveals that future leaders are more likely to shine if they display qualities more closely relating to traits and attributes such as: remaining calm and confident in face of provocation and adversity; seeking out and accepting additional responsibilities and; acting in an honest and trustworthy mannerÊ whilst being adaptive, flexible, open and willing to learn (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Meta competencies divided by geographical areas

Coupled with that, we have also found that for the social competencies, the future leaders will have to become even better prepared in communicating and engaging in cross-cultural encounters while displaying cultural sensitivity and mindfulness, whilst having the willingness to develop others (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Social competencies divided by geographical areas

Although we are moving away from tradition and we are working in an environment where soft skills are required more and more, we should not forget that future leaders will need to be technically competent (Figure 7) and have specific knowledge (Figure 8).

Without surprise, in a such digitalized and interrelated world, basic computer literacy skills and knowledge of operations management systems such as hotel property management systems, as well as the ability to engage with internal and external stakeholders and to understand customers’ perceptions of value are seen as more and more needed.

Figure 7: Functional competencies divided by geographical areas

The 4 cognitive competencies shown in Figure 8 are seen as overall game changers. Future leaders will need to deal with change, energise the change process by removing barriers and reach solutions on the basis of observation, analysis and evaluation. On top of this, the ability to anticipate emerging opportunities and being challenging is crucial.

Figure 8: Cognitive competencies divided by geographical areas

Towards sharing leadership with humbler leaders

To conclude, these findings point towards validating the cause of Ôsharing leadership’; a theory developed in the early part of the millennium, where leadership is shared among, and stems from team members to ensure that individual complexities are addressed and overcome by experts. This shared leadership gives more access to disruptive ideas, which is what the industry needs.

So, tomorrow’s leaders seem to be drivers of disruptiveness, with a humbler leadership style. They are confident enough to share their power with others.

[1] Bharwani, S., & Talib, P. (2017). Competencies of hotel general managers: A conceptual framework.ÊInternational Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management29(1), 393-418.

[2] Gelfand, M. J., Erez, M., & Aycan, Z. (2007). Cross-cultural organizational behavior.ÊAnnual Review of Psychology, 58, 479-514.

About the authors

 width=Mr Frank Gueuning is a former hotelier with over 20 years international experience in the hotel and restaurant industry as general manager.

Today, in academia, Frank is professor of accounting and revenue management at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education. He teaches post graduate students and is involved with executive education. Reach him at frank.gueuning@lesroches.edu




Dr Annick Darioly Carroz isÊ professor in leadership at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education. She holds a PhD in Industrial Psychology from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, with a post-doctoral specialization in leadership from the Kravis Leadership Institute, USA. Her work has been widely published in several scientific publications. Reach her at annick.darioly@lesroches.edu.

Les Roches is a top-ranking hospitality & tourism management school offering hospitality management degrees, post graduate diploma, MBA with campuses inÊSwitzerland, Spain, USA, China. Know more at www.lesroches.edu.

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