How to solve the hospitality leadership puzzle.
By Alan Cutler FHCIMA MCMI
Thursday, 4th October 2007
"There is no such thing as a perfect leader, either in the past or present, in China or elsewhere -  If there is one, he is only pretending, like a pig inverting spring onions into his nose in an effort to look like an elephant". Liu Shao-Chi

It may be true that there is no such thing as the perfect leader – leaders are human, after all.  However, that is not to say that people who hold leadership positions in the hospitality industry should not continually seek to improve their leadership skills.

How often have we worked for managers, senior to ourselves, and have asked ourselves "How did he get to that position?"?  Some appear not to have any clear idea where they are taking their organisation; others preside over people who are frustrated, demotivated and in constant conflict within teams and between teams. 

Comments such as "nobody tells us anything", "nobody listens to us" and "there is a rumour going round that …" are heard throughout the organisation.

These managers hardly set an example for others to follow.  They may have a badge on their suit or their office door that pronounces them ‘Chief Executive'; ‘Catering Manager'; or ‘Head Chef' but do these ‘badge holders' display all the necessary qualities to inspire others to follow them?   

In order to measure managers' leadership skills, we need to identify the essential qualities of an effective leader.  In my view they are six in number:

  • A Leader is a visionary
  • A Leader sets an example
  • A Leader understands what motivates each team member
  • A Leader builds supportive relationships
  • A Leader empowers others to reach their potential
  • A Leader understands the power of communications
These are the six components that each leader must work hard at continually and consistently applying and, most importantly, demonstrating in all he or she does.  Think of it as a jigsaw – The Leadership Jigsaw™.  Unless all six pieces are in place, the leader will not achieve his or her potential, nor will those looking to following their leader. 

No one aspiring to lead a high-performing team can do so if they are ‘one piece short of a jigsaw'!  Let's consider each piece in a little more detail.

Vision.  Leadership involves taking people on a journey but, if people are to follow, the journey must not be into the unknown.  Such destinations may work for Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise but they will not work for modern-day leaders with their feet placed firmly on terra-firma! 

A person holding a leadership position without a clear vision, or the ability to communicate one effectively, will be heading into darkness (probably alone!).

Creating a vision must, by its very nature, be one of the foremost roles of a leader – as it sets a positive theme for the future.  A vision is, however, more than a mere mission statement, which can be merely be a set of fine words designed more for the benefit of shareholders reading the company prospectus than its employees. 

For the average caterer, working for a company that's mission is to be ‘world class' offers little relevance and even less inspiration.  A leader's vision – which he or she personally associates themselves with – should appeal to people at an emotional level, as well as a practical one. 

It should be meaningful, relevant and inspirational: encouraging people to buy into it willingly.  When leaders express their vision in a way that touches their followers, they invite strong commitment: a common purpose that focuses people on a shared, mutually beneficial objective.

"A leader shapes and shares a vision which gives point to the work of others"
                                                                                                                    Charles Handy

Example.  One of the most important and effective qualities leaders can display is consistently and visibly to link the values they stand for with their everyday actions.  Indeed, consistency and visibility are the keys. 

People respect and follow leaders whose behaviour mirrors their words; they have no respect for leaders who say one thing and do another.   "Do as I say, not as I do" is simply not good enough in today's workplace.

Managers should, therefore, look hard into the mirror and consider what they see.  Example is a reflection of the beliefs and values of the individual and it is important to clarify these in oneself.  A good starting point would be to ask "Do I lead in such a way that I would willingly follow myself? 

Do I consistently demonstrate leadership qualities that I would recognise in leaders that I, myself, respect?"  You can be sure of one thing: you may not be continually assessing your performance as a leader, but your team will be!  They will be watching your every move and taking a lead from you.

 "The leaders acts as though everyone is watching, even when no-one is watching"
                                                                                                                        Brian Tracy

Motivation.  Having a vision is one thing: selling it in a way that others want to realise it is quite another.  The leader's role is to focus the energies of followers on shared goals and to motivate them to achieve those goals. 

Of course, there have been leaders who gained and manipulated their power through force and fear.  Yet it is leaders who inspire and encourage their followers who have long-term success and are remembered well into the future.

Yet everybody is different and responds to different stimuli.  Truly great leaders understand their followers: they understand their needs, their dreams, their fears, their emotions – what ‘makes them tick'.  It is an understanding of the impact of differing needs on different people that is vital for effective leadership. 

The great leader inspires others to achieve the vision by focusing on each individual's motivations.  Moreover, understanding individual drivers will improve the performance of the whole group as it is the interactions between individuals that determines team effort.

One of the greatest motivators is to believe that you are contributing to your team's success and, hence, to the success of the overall vision.  People need to believe that they are playing their part, hence successful leaders ensure that team members receive the recognition their efforts deserve. 

Leaders must work hard, on a day-to-day basis, to find ways of making people feel valued for their contribution.  In my experience of working with junior catering managers across the country, a belief that they are not valued for their efforts is one of the most commonly found demotivators.

 "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it"
                                                                                                                  Dwight D Eisenhower

Relationships.  It goes without saying that a leader needs followers – a team of people working together towards a common aim.  To be effective, team working across an organisation requires supportive relationships - not only between leader and the team, but within the team itself. 

A culture of trust must exist between all members, at all levels, with the leader providing the shining example for all to follow.

Notwithstanding the fundamental structural changes forced upon many hospitality organisations in recent years (down-sizing, flatter management structures, for example) some organisations and departments are still led by ‘badge-holders' who busy themselves interfering in the work of their subordinates; are unwilling to share information; and insist on sanctioning every decision. 

Yet, if the modern leader's challenge is to make optimum use of fewer resources, this will only happen if people are encouraged to participate in an open, positive environment based upon mutually-supportive relationships.

When people feel that they can trust the organisation, personified by its leader, they will support it by their attitude and efforts.  When they feel that they are being treated fairly they are more likely to ally themselves with the organisation and its members.

 "We treat employees as members of the family. If management take the risk of hiring them, we have to take the responsibility for them" Akio Morita, Sony Corporation

Empowerment.  Enlightened leaders understand that most people naturally want to better themselves and, given the appropriate support and encouragement, will grasp the opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge. 

They also realise that the key to getting the best out of people is to give them responsibility for their own actions, rather than creating an environment of control and mistrust. 

Obviously, training, either formal or on-the-job, plays an important part in developing others.  However, training without the opportunity to put it into practice is of little value and is potentially demotivating. Leaders who enable others to reach their potential give them every opportunity to take on responsibility above and beyond their current role. 

They are willing to delegate aspects of their role to their subordinates when the situation allows and, moreover, are prepared to empower them to take decisions themselves, within parameters, without recourse to higher authority.

It has been proved time and time again: front-line staff who are empowered to make decisions affecting their customers are one of the greatest influences on high levels of customer satisfaction.

Empowerment is based upon the belief that, given the opportunity, people are more than willing to think for themselves and will generate ideas that benefit their workplace and, thus, their organisation. 

Allowing people to take responsibility for their own actions does indeed involve an element of risk.  Yet, while the risks are greater, so are the potential rewards.  Following orders robotically produces robots; allowing invention and inspiration produces ideas and a pride in individual and team achievements.

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they are capable of being" Goethe                                                                                                                                                                            

Communications.  When hospitality organisations commit themselves to be an Investor in People they will invariably undertake a staff satisfaction survey.  Without fail, one of the major areas of concern voiced by employees will be poor internal communications. 

When communications break down, at any level, misunderstandings occur – with a resulting impact on an organisation's performance, and hence the leader's vision.  Yet, whilst all ‘badge holders', without exception, would preach the importance of effective communications, not all practice what they preach.  But, yet again, it is the leader who should lead the way by his or her example.

Productive communications are built upon understanding between all parties.  A leader who is prepared to get out of the office and ‘walk the talk' will be in a far better position to both reinforce the vision and hear how it is being received, than one who remains desk-bound. 

There are few more potent motivating actions a leader can take than to make the effort to speak to front-line workers and to ask "how are things going?", and mean it!

We live in the ‘communication age'.  Yet with the previously unimaginable powers now at our fingertips come inherent dangers.  Communications is not only about the ‘what' – just as important is the ‘how'.  Wise leaders balance the efficiency of technology with the impact of the human touch.  They are well aware that they cannot shake a hand, pat a back, or even smile via email.

"In order to solve problems, information has to be shared; and not only information, but doubts, fears and questions" Sir John Harvey-Jones


The message is that leaders in the hospitality industry need to be proficient in a wide range of essential skills that can be represented by the Leadership Jigsaw™.  Those holding leadership positions should measure themselves against this model of excellence to ensure that they are not ‘one piece short of a jigsaw'

Alan entered the hospitality industry nearly 40 years ago, when he began working in a hotel in the Lake District at the age of 15. He subsequently worked in a number of other establishments, including a season at Gleneagles and one as an assistant manager at a three star hotel in the Lakes, before joining the Royal Air Force as a catering officer, retiring after 16 years service as a Squadron Leader in 1989. He and his wife then bought a restaurant, which they ran through the recession in the early 1990s before Alan took up a post as Head of Residential Services at Aston University in Birmingham. He left the university after five years to start up two training and consultancy business within the hospitality industry. Advance Associates, www.advance-associates.co.uk , provides training and development within the education catering sector; and Leadership Talks www.leadershiptalks.com through which Alan speaks, trains and writes on the subject of leadership.
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