Tips to Leadership Success

By: Theresa Ito

Frustrated. Burnt Out. Shattered.

These are just a few of the things that leaders are feeling acutely in the hospitality industry.

The other day I was speaking with a manager who said, “Oh I love my job, but I would love it more if I had a strong team.” After a laugh, I felt the weariness behind her words. This leader was truly exhausted.

It got me thinking—how can we provide support for our hospitality leaders so they can attract and retain vibrant, enthusiastic, inspired humans to work hard and still come back the next day?

Leadership in the hospitality industry is not for the faint of heart. But we also know that it can be exceptionally rewarding. It is a fast-paced, constantly evolving environment that requires investing in effective leadership to ensure success. It is time to go back to leadership fundamentals.

Traits of Effective Leaders

Whether you are a manager of a restaurant, hotel, or other hospitality establishment, the ability to lead effectively is essential to achieving both the goals of the organization and personal fulfilment.

But where do we start?

Believe it or not, effective leadership starts with YOU! Though you may be responsible for a team, it all starts here. You are the foundation upon which all other leadership skills are built. It is imperative for leaders to take care of themselves first, so they can effectively lead others.

Lead by Example: Be the kind of leader that others want to follow. So, lead by example and model the behaviours and values that you expect from a healthy, functional team.
Own Your Stuff: Take responsibility for your actions and decisions. This will earn you the respect of your team and show them that you are committed—both to the organization and to the team.
Set Clear Goals and Expectations: Clear and measurable goals for yourself and your team will help you all stay focused on what is most important and ensure that everyone feels valued and can go forth with purpose.
Create a Culture of Curiosity: The hospitality industry is constantly evolving, and while it is important for leaders to stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices, sometimes it’s as easy as asking more questions than providing answers.

Improving Interpersonal Interactions

After we get our own personal ducks in order, we turn our attention to our team. Interacting with people is a critical part of leadership. Whether with guests or your team, effective interpersonal interaction is essential to success (and it’s way more satisfying).

Build Personal Connections: Take the time to get to know people on a personal level to build trust and respect. Building strong relationships with your team enables you to know what makes them tick and what lights them up, which allows you to really play to their strengths.
Listen More Than You Speak: Take the time to listen to your team with the intention of understanding their concerns and providing support when needed. People want to feel seen, heard, and understood, and active listening is a fundamental leadership skill.
Show Empathy: Hospitality is a people-centric industry, and in 2023, leaders who do not show empathy will not retain loyal colleagues. Demonstrating empathy will result in them paying it forward to your guests.
Provide Feedback: Regular (and actionable) feedback is critical for growth and development. Whether constructive or complimentary, specific and timely feedback provides a foundation of trust, and lets your team know what they are doing right and what needs to be done differently. Weekly leader one-on-ones are a great way to check priorities and ensure successful alignment.

Leading by Example

Leadership is not just about what you say or do, but also about “how to be.” People will follow leaders who set a positive example for the team, and engaged colleagues are the backbone of any vibrant organization.

Be Positive: As a leader, you get to set the tone for your organization. It’s important to maintain a positive outlook even during (especially during) difficult times. Being intentional about the words that you use will greatly impact both your attitude and your team, so choose wisely.
Be Approachable: People need to feel comfortable coming to you with questions, concerns, or ideas. Create an open and approachable environment where everyone feels valued and heard.
Be Adaptable: The hospitality industry is full of surprises; the last three years have shown us how leaders need to be adaptable and flexible to change. Be willing and agile enough to adjust your approach to achieve the best results today, even if the goal posts change tomorrow.
Be Transparent: These days people have the luxury of choosing where they work. Statistics show that people want to be involved, they want to work with purpose, and they get to pick and choose their own adventure. Share the vision with them so they see the big picture. Inviting them to be part of the solution will encourage them to become loyal, engaged team members.

Helping People Succeed

Lastly, one of the most important (and satisfying) aspects of effective leadership is helping others succeed. Your success as a leader is closely tied to the success of your team, and when your guests are delighted, and your team is engaged, everyone wins.

The most rewarding results I have had in 39 years in hospitality is to see those I have led rise to their full potential, stepping into the best versions of themselves through mentoring, coaching, delegating, and empowering.

Recognizing and celebrating success, and providing opportunities for training and development, are two efforts that will come back to you in spades. Catch your team members doing things right and share the love. And invest in them! They’re worth it. Trust me.

Find the Diamonds

They are not always obvious—in fact, often we must mine for the diamonds within our team—but they are there! Once polished they can shine so brightly that they in turn light us up.

Hospitality leaders are the most talented, well-rounded leaders I know. Hoteliers are masters of creating memorable guest experiences, balancing the books while inspiring teams and maximizing revenue. (Seriously impressive, right?)

So, what did I say to my exhausted client?

“Take care of yourself. Invest in your people. Find your diamonds and share the load. Leadership is a journey, not a destination. You don’t have to travel alone.”

Theresa Ito is the Principal of Blue Mountain Solutions. They provide leadership development, customer service essentials, and operational support to the hospitality and tourism industries. With years of leadership and culinary expertise Theresa, her husband Chef Takashi Ito and their merry team of Associates assist leaders in delighting guests, improving profitability, and building a strong engaged team.