About 15 years ago as the manager of a big Hawaiian resort I was asked by one of my team in an all manager meeting what I thought the most important trait of a great leader was. I took a moment before I answered, not because I had to decide on my answer, but I wanted to be sure I delivered the message in the most powerful way that would truly stick with my managers.
I believe that the most important trait of a great leader is the power of positivity. Our job as leaders is to inspire our teams on a daily basis and to ensure that they believe anything possible, especially our big hairy audacious goals. It is our role to tell them that the difficult tasks we face are surmountable. It is our role to give some indication of how that will be the case without spoon-feeding them the complete solutions. It is to start their day on a high note that will be reflected throughout their day and it is to constantly give them hope. Gosh, if we don’t have hope then they will be wondering what chance they have!
Imagine the scenario at a hotel one day. Everyone knows the hotel is oversold (i.e. we have more reservations that we have rooms), that a large group has been granted a guaranteed late check out, while another group has been guaranteed an early arrival when rooms will be ready. That is all before all the other check-ins arrive throughout the day!
For those that haven’t worked in the hotel industry, yes, this is a true story and yes, I’m afraid to tell you it is not a one off scenario either! Now imagine that this scene is compounded by more sick calls than usual in housekeeping and we were short staffed at the Front Office as well. I think you get the picture. It’s the perfect storm of a day.
If I, as the General Manager, spoke to my management team in the morning at our regular morning meeting with my shoulders hanging to the floor and my head down and bags under my eyes, shaking my head repeating over and over “how on earth will we get through the day?” – how do you think the team would tackle the day?
The reality is more like this.
After perhaps one extra coffee in the morning, I would bound into the morning meeting with a big smile and ask with gusto if everyone was ready to tackle a really exciting day? A day that we would be immensely proud of by the time we headed home? I would start by clarifying the situation we were in and guide the conversation through a series of solutions and then rather than provide them, have the team start the conversation and build on the solutions. It is amazing to watch the group then build out these ideas quickly and improve on them. It is a treat to see managers from other unrelated areas coming up with some of the best ideas or volunteering to help in housekeeping for half the day and by the end of our short 10 minute meeting we had a game plan and we had a team ready to crush it, cheering as we head back to our departments. They left with hope. They left with more positivity than they thought they could muster. And, of course, we had a terrific day with a few bumps in the road but a full and happy hotel by the end of the day.
The power of positivity is essential in the best of times. Here we all are as citizens of the world facing some of the hardest of times during the Coronavirus pandemic. A situation that is affecting us all in different ways and, in many cases, some very extreme ways bringing hardships and affecting health. We are all affected in some way. There is never a more important time to share realities but with a powerful dose of positivity and hope.
I believe that we all have some sort of leadership role to play in life, maybe as a boss, or maybe as an influencer over a group of friends, or as a big brother or sister. Regardless of the role, I think we must all seek to share positivity during this time of adversity.
Take time to sift through the ‘black hole of news’ that is come at us all fast and find the elements of good news or stories of great humanity. Focus on the wonderful outcomes from being on lock down, such as spending better quality time with family or speaking with loved ones on a video call for longer than you ever have before. Share with everyone how much you have been able to clear out your email inbox! Perhaps you have found more time to read or exercise than usual. Share the stories of the gin distilleries that are now making sanitizer and that people are volunteering to buy groceries for those that are self-isolating.
In the workplace consider what an opportunity this is to build your team together even more strongly than ever as you unite behind a common cause. Consider what your business can do for the community and get your team involved. Make sure they hear you say “we will get through this” and allow them all to become part of the solutions. Make them proud to be a member of the team and allow them to enjoy a positive experience despite the circumstances.
Whatever it is you decide to do differently to give people hope from here on in, do it remembering the power of positivity and it is the single most important thing you can provide for your team in these tough times and in the best of times.
How will you be more positive for the people around you tomorrow?
I first met the team at Provident Trust Group five years ago, and while they were proud of the service they offered their clients in the financial services industry, they knew it could be better. They had grown from a team of six to sixty, and the passion and intensity that had radiated from the owner was not as well known and practiced in the growing organization.
Together we embarked on building a service culture program called Designing Business Cultures. The team took on every suggestion and phase of work with zealous passion and were hungry to learn. I worked with the leadership team to create big goals and a powerful service Culture Statement that has driven the service culture to ever growing heights. We could also say with great conviction that the commitment to service had dramatically improved throughout the organization.
I recently had the chance to spend the afternoon with the team as their keynote speaker for their 2020 Kick Off event. Years ago, we had discussed the importance of treating the team like VIPs — in the same manner they should treat their clients. In true form they selected a brilliantly creative offsite event with senior management involved, some learning (from me!), some great fun with a scavenger hunt, and social time together at the end of the day.
The topic they asked me to talk about was the theme of Quality, Accuracy and Detail — their focus for the year. My biggest takeaway from the experience was the power of the work done five years ago. The Service Culture Statement that we created together was alive and kicking. They were able to talk about examples of each of the elements and how it still drives them today. I was proud of their commitment to service and keeping that momentum going, even having gone through a change of ownership two years ago.
It was clear that the investment made in building a strong culture for service was not just ‘another one of those programs’, or a ‘flavor of the month”. When done right with a plan and commitment, it can last for years.
I have always said that I think a key part of a successful service culture is to create an environment that has a tangible sense of belonging. What does that mean? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it sound like?
It means that the leaders of the organization have been thoughtful about the type of person they want to hire. They have been deliberate in bringing like minded people into the business. That means that they don’t just hire for skill, but in fact sometimes they may hire without the skill required to do the job because they know they can train that. It means that they hire for attitude and because they have found someone that is like the others in the organization.
It feels like a place where everyone gets along. Now, like a family, everyone might not get along all the time, but they are a group of people that can respectfully work out their differences and continue to prosper together. It feels like a place where everyone is working towards a common goal together and they are willing to help each other at any time.
It looks like a place where everyone smiles at each other, everyone is shaking hands or “high fiveing” as they walk down the hallway. It looks like a place where everyone takes pride in how they present themselves. There are open gestures, people sit together but not always with people from their own department.
It sounds like a place where everyone has a kind word to say when they see each other. An employee restaurant or break room is always buzzing with chatter and laughter . . . not stony silence or just the sound of the TV. In one of my hotels, it was amazing to ride the service elevator where everyone talked to everyone else, no matter their department, uniform, nationality, background or position.
Have you taken time to think about the description of the people you want in your organization as much as you have about the job description of the positions you want to fill? If not this is as good a time as any other to start doing so.