How to Develop and Inspire the Next Generation of Hospitality Leaders

By Joshua Bergen, CHAE, CHTP, President at VENZA

How to Develop and Inspire the Next Generation of Hospitality Leaders
A saying reads, “The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.” In this way, 2020 proved to be a revelatory time for hospitality. Over the course of the pandemic, the industry at large faced, perhaps, its biggest challenge yet. And although we still have our work cut out for us, it’s essential to recognize that this year put hospitality leadership front and center.

Industry experts have worked tirelessly around the world to adapt and innovate while offering their respective teams support, inspiration, and a clear vision for the future. Now, as the hospitality industry looks ahead to an anticipated period of recovery and regrowth, we must also consider the future of industry leadership.

What makes a great hospitality leader? Moreover, how can we develop and inspire the next generation of hospitality leaders?

After all, it is a great idea or offer that attracts a team impassioned to bring it to market – but it’s a great leader who keeps that team intact. It is a great leader who inspires good people to do great things. It is leadership that cultivates a culture of continuous innovation and excellence, and it is leadership that separates a mediocre brand from one which becomes a household name.

A Commitment to Communication and Transparency

Now, perhaps more than ever before, brands across all industries are being held to a higher standard of visibility. Customers want to easily identify and understand the core values of the brands they frequent, and, as such, authenticity becomes a key success metric.

Hospitality is no exception, as hotels and travel providers work to regain prospective travelers’ trust in the coming year. Safety and service are paramount considerations, and brands are expected to operate with complete transparency. From a leadership perspective, this demands a top-down approach. Creating an authentic brand requires an internal team that prioritizes precisely that – communication, transparency, and authenticity. Are you leading by example?

Moreover, brand leaders should be within reach of their team, available to answer questions, offer feedback, and provide high-level support. In this sense, over-investing in company communication is a best practice of outstanding leadership, especially as teams navigate the work-from-home model’s associated challenges. Are you available to your team? Are you mitigating staff isolation with responsive communication streams and streamlined workflows? Do you have clear business protocols and expectations in place? Are you keeping brand values at the forefront of your operations both externally and internally?

Invest in the Millennial Workforce

Consider this: by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce (compared to 35% in 2020). Millennials are also noted as the most diverse generation, with over 44% of Millennials belonging to a minority group. In June of 2019, the leisure and hospitality industry hired 1,142,000 people nationwide. Although the pandemic has brought that hiring trend to a halt, the standstill is temporary in nature. The industry-wide growth that hospitality had become accustomed to will, once again, resume as the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed and global economies reopen. Hospitality will, presumably, tap into the pent-up consumer demand for travel, and forward-facing brands will benefit from investing in the young, up-and-coming millennial talent on their team.

However, it’s important to note that millennial expectations and career aspirations vary from their generational predecessors. Unlike Baby Boomers, millennials are considerably invested in the pursuit of passionate, value-driven work. They seek inspiration in work, crave feedback and collaboration, and prioritize roles and companies which promise continued career development and growth opportunities. Millennials demonstrate a preference for companies that offer a more balanced approach to work and life and lead with disruptive innovation. In this sense, millennial leaders in-the-making often look beyond the status quo and challenge the argument so often utilized by legacy staff, “this is how we’ve always done it.” Moreover, their penchant for a more radical and creative business approach is favorably positioned in a post-pandemic world, as hospitality brands seek out new ways to re-engage their customers and generate momentum.

Ultimately, millennials are intelligent, driven, and confident self-starters (in fact, one in four is self-employed). If current hospitality leaders can effectively tap into the intellectual and visionary potential of this demographic, the industry at large will surely benefit.

Exceptional Service is a Team-Wide Effort

Hospitality professionals are in the business of delighting guests. A guest-centric industry will always lead with a guest-centric approach to service, and hoteliers and hospitality providers shape their business according to guests’ needs and expectations. Of course, this cannot be achieved without exceptional brand agility and industry awareness. Things are, after all, changing at a rapid rate. To this effect, great hospitality leadership, both now and in the future, doesn’t simply require one executive or visionary input. Instead, it requires leaders to leverage their entire team’s talents and insight, engaging them in detailed plans (both long-term and short-term) and tactical task prioritization. It requires delegation, collaboration, and mutual respect. In fact, research shows that 44% of millennials would be more likely to increase their work engagement if their managers met with them regularly.

As a hospitality leader, if you isolate yourself at the helm of the ship, you not only cut yourself off from the power of team-wide collaboration, you also stifle the development of up-and-coming leaders. Exceptional service is not a one-person endeavor – it’s a team sport. Empower customer trust by building trust within your team, allow everyone to lead, and prioritize collaboration across all levels of the business to remain flexible and innovative.

Focus on the Employee Experience

In the realm of hospitality, we often adopt a hyper-focus on the guest experience. But what about the staff experience? If world-class service cannot be achieved without a great team, shouldn’t we prioritize company culture and employee development?

It’s often said that people leave their manager, not their company. An employee might love the idea of a brand and its service offering, but do they love their boss? Do they feel engaged by their higher-ups? Do they have room to learn, fail, and succeed? The hospitality industry grapples with a notoriously high staff turnover rate, which should bring this critical element of leadership to the forefront of the conversation. Research reveals that 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be tied back to the manager. The takeaway here? Great managers create the right environment for employee engagement, and a little empathy and emotional intelligence goes a long way, especially in a post-pandemic world.

Effective managers work to empower and encourage their team by being perceptive to their needs and pain points and placing inspiring and knowledgeable coaches throughout every level of the organization. Great managers breed a culture of success by fostering a culture that prioritizes their team’s continued well-being and development.

Hospitality is, after all, about people. We have to focus on the human experience – both when considering guests and considering our own teams and the next generation of leaders that exist within them. The future of hospitality is bright and, with the right support, the next generation of hospitality leaders will influence the industry in inspiring ways.