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Adapting Leadership Lessons from the 20th Century's
Greatest Team Winner - Bill Russell

by John Hogan, June 4, 2010

The title of this column also represents a new 2010 workshop as well, and it addresses a fundamental approach to achieving success. 

This is not a message on sports, but on how the individual can move the entire hospitality organization to long-term success with innovation, leadership and strategic goals.  Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics defined the passion for winning through teamwork and focus.   In 2001, Russell and co-author David Faulkner united to produce an interesting series of insights of the fundamentals that molded Russell's competitive aptitude and zeal into a series of consistent winning seasons.

The book, Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership From the Twentieth Century's Greatest Winner  is a collection of basketball and personal examples from Russell's career. The balance between sports, business and personal integrity is clear, easy to follow and is genuinely interesting, whether one likes sports or not.   The lessons address commitment, team decision processes, accountability, change, discipline, the need for the desire to win and a number of “how-to business examples.” 

This column identifies three of those lessons and how they apply to hospitality.

The hospitality industry has tremendous potential for success, as well as incredible pressure.  A hotel that is open 365 days per year for 24 hours a day requires dedicated staff that is committed to providing courteous service and comfortable accommodations.

The need for that staff introduces Key Learning Result #1:  The Value of the “Sixth Man” in Hospitality and any Business.  Every business has a range of personalities, with varying competencies, skill sets and unique value that they bring to the workplace.   If trained properly and empowered to meet the needs of their guests, most hospitality professionals will step up to the demands and work to exceed the expectations of their guests.  The concept of the “sixth man” of the Celtics was introduced as the equivalent of another starter in the game.   This person could likely play several positions and was regularly used to help his team battle the opposition.   In our business, cross-training people provides them the opportunity to learn additional skills and to be able to contribute to the needs of the hotel, fellow associates, guests and ownership. It allows them to become more valuable individually, while at the same time strengthening the team of the whole. Providing service for   365 days per year and 24 hours a day requires as much focus and assistance as possible.

Key Learning Result #2: Discipline, Delegation, and Decision Making in Hospitality 
Russell’s book offers the message that decision-making is centered on gathering information, assessing it and deciding what is pertinent for your specific situation.  Decisions involve choices and choices on teams are often made by the leadership.

Most hospitality businesses have organizational charts that outline a “chain of command”.  Russell’s stories and examples focus on the need for organizational structure, but he stresses the discipline as everyone believing in the choices being made as helping to move towards the agreed-upon common goals.  As in Key Learning Result #1, it requires trust and confidence in individuals who may not have a certain title or degree or experience.  If the common goal is to operate a profitable and successful hospitality business by serving guests in special ways they appreciate, the entire team needs to know the goals, understand the protocols and business practices and be part of the effective delivery of the service.

Key Learning Result #3:   The Celtic Mystique or Making Celtic Pride Work for You 
While this is not meant to dwell on one team, reality tells us that many people are inspired and perhaps cheered by their favorite team.  When you think of your favorite sports team, you probably recognize that you and your family have probably always been a fan of that particular team.  Every championship team in soccer, baseball, football, basketball or hockey has developed a sense of culture.  The team may have off -seasons or lose some matches; their fans tend to stick with them year after year.  Nelson Mandella managed to overcome a number of political and cultural crises after he assumed the Presidency of South Africa by appealing to the unifying culture of the national Rugby Team, the Springboks.

In our business, turnover is usually rather high, yet I know of certain hospitality companies who have built  traditions of success and loyalty of both staff and guests through their sense of culture. That culture is about developing meaningful relationships, supporting the community and collaboration among the team members.

Fundamental Keys to Success in Hospitality

I have found that there are four fundamentals in successfully operating hotels. They are intertwined and dependent on each other.  Specifically, the first three properly delivered result in the fourth:

1. Hotel Marketing
2. Hotel Operations
3. Hotel Service and 
4. Hotel Profitability

Delivering effective marketing, efficient operations and exceptional service will lead to extraordinary profitability over an extended period.

Bill Russell became a sports icon with reason. He is an original, with more championships than any other team player, as evidenced by his recognition in being named the 20th century's greatest team player by Sports Illustrated and HBO called him the greatest winner in the 20th century. He was the first African American to coach a professional sports team and won two championships as a player/coach without even an assistant coach. He won championships in the NCAA, the Olympics and an NBA championship - all in the same year (1956).

In the 1960s, the sports world marveled at Bill Russell's ability to intimidate the opposing team.

"Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory."
Bill Russell

What Leadership Lessons are you Sharing with Your Team today?
Using various ways to encourage hotel staff professional development will lead to implementing habits to improve both financial results and delivery of quality service.

Keys to Success 
Hospitality Tip of the Week

Focus on Hotel Profitability
Begin the process this week for next year’s marketing plan, with firm time lines to be submitted in 30 and 60 days.  This is essential for realistic budget planning.

KEYS TO SUCCESS is the umbrella title for my new 2010 programs, hospitality services and columns. This year’s writings will focus on a wide variety of topics for hotel owners, managers and professionals including both my "HOW TO" articles and HOSPITALITY CONVERSATIONS. My segments Lessons from the Field, Hotel Common Sense and Principles for Success will be featured at appropriate times in the year as well.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. 

And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES are available from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE,  and other industry sources. 

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.   The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication 

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events.


Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE

Also See: How to Find the Right Manager to Effectively Lead Your Hotel / Dr John Hogan / May 2010

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