By David Lund
Leadership can be a confusing application. Just google leadership and you will get so much information it can make your head spin. I am going to try and simplify the definition of leadership in this article. I am writing this because I believe the idea of leadership and how it’s applied is very straightforward and quite practical when it’s used effectively. I also know that when a person has a clear vision of what’s required to move ahead, the trip speeds up.
I have learned, over the past 35 years in the hospitality industry, that leadership is about two things. These two things are communication and development. We don’t need a longer list because these two nouns encompass everything we need when it comes to “being” the person who leads in their world. This “being” is an important distinction from the typical “doing” part. I learned much of this from the people I have worked with, some great examples and some rather poor ones too.
Let’s start at the beginning with communication. Being an effective communicator means you are faultless with your words. This ideal is one that will separate you from the field. Every word you say, in every conversation, with the entire universe, forms your personal DNA. If you say disparaging things about another person or situation, that’s how you will come across. Make promises or commitments you don’t honor, and you instantly and forever lose credibility with your network. As a leader, being able to communicate effectively boils down to being a positive influence in any situation, making a positive environment even better by adding to the situation in a positive way. Even more importantly, don’t jump on the negative wavelength and perpetuate the gossip or the complaining. Find the good in everything. My mother would always say, “If you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all.” This is what she meant: when you repeat something negative, everyone in your world sees you as part of the problem, not part of the solution. To be a good leader, be the one who has a solution or an idea that can move situations/problems in the right direction. Don’t follow the sinking, smelly ship of complainers and criticizers. Try this the next time you are in a business conversation. Replay what you said and ask yourself, “Did I contribute anything positive to this situation or was I also negative?” Either way, it’s just a habit and being aware is the first step to correcting it.
The other side of communication is what you are talking about. It’s critical that the people you lead get the essential information they need to make the best decisions. Talking about the core values – mission, strategy, competition, innovation, and numbers – is important. But speaking to the individual’s wants and desires is essential! Again, don’t blame the home office when you get some tough assignments. Find a way to make it a positive challenge. Just thinking “how can we pull this off and still make our numbers this quarter” is so much more empowering than “the office” version. They would have you marking your spot with a diatribe of superlatives directed at those clueless people from head office. They have the nerve to say “they’re here to help.” Going down the path of being a victim is not what will motivate people. Having the can-do attitude is the formula that is required. It does not mean you’re not realistic with your team, but it does mean you are the one they can count on for a positive direction toward the situation, ALWAYS!.
As a leader, developing your staff/team is a way to move forward. The more you work on bringing others up onto the stage, the greater the impact you will have. People want to work and be involved with organizations that are going to help develop them, especially in hospitality where the competition for talent is so narrow. What you do to help people succeed in their own careers is the difference a good leader has on their radar every day. The key to your leadership success is your team continuously growing with personal prosperity! It’s that simple. There is a saying that I use often at my speaking engagements: “If serving is beneath you then leadership is beyond you.” Serving your team is a tough pill for many to swallow because we think it’s the other way around. We typically come out of the box in our leadership positions and think that I’m the boss and people need to listen to me, they need to serve me. This is the wrong approach, and it will not work effectively. Sure, having your expectations and layering in some fear with your team sounds like the classic recipe for leadership, but it’s the coward’s way and it’s not effective.
Developing your people means serving them. Service in this medium means helping people succeed. Don’t get all squirmy at the idea of service. It does not mean you are laying down and abdicating your role or responsibilities. Your service delivery is, first and foremost, accomplished by your communication. Someone comes to you with a problem and you don’t tell them what to do. What you do is help them find their own solution. The result is so much more powerful if it comes from them. It’s just your communication delivery that accomplishes this. Ask great questions and don’t give orders and directions. Another powerful way to communicate is to become good at making agreements. The flip side of the agreement is the ugly cousin from out of state: the expectation.
Leadership is about helping others succeed. You accomplish this by being impeccable with what you say and always putting the team’s needs and development above your own.