By Joseph M.
Gravish (March, 2010)
Every once in awhile an author’s think-piece hits the bulls-eye.
A recent article by Elizabeth Green titled “Building a Better Teacher”
(New York Times, March 7, 2010) does just that. But what does this have
to do with hospitality? Actually, it’s a no-brainer.
Ms. Green describes how a veteran educator now working as a turn-around
consultant came to the realization that despite all his knowledge and skills,
he had no clue how to advise poor-performing schools to accomplish their
main purpose: how to teach. So he set about researching what makes a great
teacher, how can new teachers be trained to be more effective from their
first day in the classroom, and how can the quality of teachers already
in classroom be improved. The intended result is to produce a better
product – fully-educated students capable of achieving success both academically
This isn’t far off from what we expect of our supervisors in hospitality.
We expect them to educate employees to become fully capable contributors
and to create outstanding guest experiences thus contributing to an increase
in revenues and profits. We expect our supervisors to be accountable leaders.
In sum, teaching is all about leadership. And leadership is all about
teaching. The two are almost synonymous.
The problem? Teachers and hospitality leaders are often poorly selected,
minimally trained and inadequately incentivized to accomplish both tasks.
And while an effort has begun to fix this within the education community
by identifying the factors which make teachers effective (the Obama administration
intends to double the 2011 budget for teacher training programs and the
Bill Gates Foundation has pledged millions to improve teacher quality)
some school districts have already resorted to mass firings of supposedly
poor performing teachers. Perhaps the hospitality community should follow
So let me propose how we can go about producing better hospitality leaders
and improve our product and services.
Acknowledge that all leaders in our industry are obligated to teach but
not all are innately qualified to teach (employees). Promoting someone
into a leadership position simply on the basis of years of service, as
we hoteliers are prone to do, can be counter-productive. As the article
points out, “…successful teaching depends in part on a certain inimitable
‘voodoo’. Either you have it or you don’t” (Jane Hannaway, Director, Education
Policy Institute). What research has discovered is that the traditional
factors one might use to predict teacher success – a graduate degree, high
student test scores, etc.) are not necessarily valid. It takes more than
someone with a gregarious, extroverted personality, who alleges to have
self-confidence and boundless enthusiasm. And so it is with hospitality
leaders. Those who do not have “it” should be considered for careers elsewhere.
Hospitality leaders have to be skilled in more than the basics of profit
and loss statements. They need to be more than bean-counters. Deliberate
and frequent motivating abilities are essential – using creative individual
employee and team-building techniques designed to obtain willing, enthusiastic
compliance (in “freakonomics” terms, utilizing social and moral motivations).
Hospitality “professionals” must understand that change is constant. So
is the need to continued education. Diverging generational differences
makes this especially important. For example, a CareerBuilder survey found
that 43 percent of workers ages 35 and older said they currently work for
someone younger than them. Similarly, veteran hospitality leaders must
understand what teaching techniques best motivate younger employees. Both
need to understand the others points of view, adapt communications styles
to better connect, and keep an open mind when making judgments.
Knowing hospitality theory is important – but being adept at the mechanics
of teaching an employee how to meet and exceed the job standards is even
more important. A 2006 report found that 12 percent of education-school
faculty professors had never set foot in a classroom or have not done so
recently. Hiring leaders with proven practical experience and establishing
mentorship programs for younger leaders could overcome this.
According to Dan Cockrell, Clinical Associate Professor Emeritus of Educational
Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri’s College
of Education, a leader’s ability to accomplish all tasks successfully is
all about providing him/her with the optimal combination of meaningful
education and meaningful practice. To quote Dr. Cockrell “…teaching and
leadership can and should be synonymous. (But) in our imperfect world I
fear that too few teachers have a context for and/or a concept of leadership
behaviors (they do not understand that they are leading their students
and colleagues)… (and)…too few leaders have either the context for and/or
concept of teaching behaviors (they do not understand that they are teaching
their employees and colleagues).” Thus, hospitality executives should provide,
and demand especially that mid- and lower-level subordinate leaders
participate in, continuing education programs and fully-resource their
opportunities to practice and refine the art of leadership without micro-managing
So where can we find the best hospitality leaders? Perhaps we should look
to those who have been successful in the classroom. Here’s why. They generally
Comfortable dealing with change – a constant in the hospitality industry.
Have great “classroom management” (department organizational) skills.
Effective motivators of diverse groups of people (employees).
Accustomed to setting norms and performing to set standards.
Skilled at properly assessing individual and group performance.
Adept at communicating, counseling and discipline.
Passionate about what they do.
Intuitive, caring and improvisational
Familiar with operating within reduced budget constrains
Here’s my challenge to industry executives. Find out what makes great hospitality
leaders great, from the first-line supervisor in the housekeeping department
to the hotel general manager to the corporate executive.
Hire those who have those skills. Teach those skills to current staff
Why not hire successful teachers?
Mr. Gravish is a human resources professional with over 25 years
leadership experience in numerous public and private-industry people-service
environments. He is an advocate of building profitability and success through,
and by people – first.