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The responsibilities and expected skillsets of hospitality leaders is rapidly changing. The new leadership career path is commercial, not operational. The must-have mindset is entrepreneurial. And in an industry that’s never been more complex, a clear sense of purpose and awareness is now more important than ever.

‘A great need for innovation’

Hospitality has always had shake-ups, each generation of professionals has faced the challenge of adapting to a changing industry. Online travel agents (OTAs) and revenue management were innovations at one point, now it’s tech-driven platforms and operations. The major difference for modern professionals is that the pace of change is like never before, and hospitality leaders need an entrepreneurial approach in order to keep up.

Speaking at a Glion LinkedIn Live webinar, Jonathan Humphries, Head of Hotel Development & Asset Management Specialisations, commented: “In the hospitality sector we’re seeing an absolute need for greater innovation, even before COVID we’ve had new entrants such as Airbnb, Google and a shift to AI. What’s important is more of an entrepreneurial, innovative and creative mindset, which is different from what was previously needed, because new solutions are absolutely critical in order to move the industry forward.”

Be commercial and a curator

The typical GM has seen the expectations of their skillsets change from purely operational to commercial, and beyond. The modern leader needs a rounded knowledge base and the ability to create and deliver exceptional spaces and content.

Panel member on the LinkedIn webinar and Founder of Cervus Leadership Consulting, Chris Mumford, explains: “We’ve seen that in terms of how the General Manager profile has evolved over the last 10 to 15 years, where it was someone who worked their way up through rooms division and F&B, there’s now much more emphasis on the commercial skillset, so understanding the diversity and complexity of investor needs and real estate value.”

Joining Chris, Stephen Alden, CEO The Dedica Anthology, added: “The role of a general manager today is evolving towards a spirit of collaboration. A leader today needs to know how to decide which product and experiences at what moment, and how to enable teams to deliver at the highest levels. You have to have the empathy to be able to personalise experiences and personal stays for guests.”

The key to leadership in a complex industry

The diversity of concepts, stakeholders and roles in the modern hospitality industry make it one of the most complex industries in which to chart your leadership career. The traditional hotel and F&B sectors now sit alongside co-working, retail, real estate and hotel development career paths, giving rise to programs such as our own Master’s in Real Estate, Finance and Hotel Development, designed to equip leaders with the knowledge and ability that hospitality now needs.

This industry complexity requires leaders to prioritise relevance, purpose and personnel in order to achieve success in today’s marketplace:

Be relevant to modern lives

“It’s about creating places where people want to be,” Stephen commented, “regardless of the complexity that sits behind it everybody wants to be associated with a successful business, both consumers and talent, so you need to get it right in terms of keeping the product that you create relevant to people’s contemporary lifestyles.”

Be relevant in your area

“You have to be aware of what’s around you, aware of the space and the local community and aware of people travelling, you have to stay focused on that in order to put together the right mix for your location, should I have an element of retail, residential or outdoor space? You have to understand how you can become relevant.”

Know your ‘why’

“You have to keep a very strong sense of purpose in terms of why you’re doing what you’re doing, why that project and why are you developing that particular offering.”

Get the right people around you

“In hospitality, it doesn’t matter if you’re running a restaurant or running a multi-unit hotel company,” said Chris, “you’ve got to get the right people around you and you’ve got to be able to align them with a strategy. They need to be pulling in the right direction, it’s that stakeholder management skillset.”

The importance of company culture

Whether starting out on your hospitality career or as a leader of a department or business, the importance of aligned cultures cannot be understated.

“Culture is indispensable and whether you’re looking for the ‘right’ role or hiring talent, you need to assess whether there is going to be a good fit. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error at first because sometimes you think you want something but then as you experience it you realise there’s a mismatch,” Chris said.

Remember a career is not static, you will evolve, maybe from corporate to entrepreneurial, aspirations can change and different situations can suit you at different points of your career,” Stephen commented.

7 key traits of a future hospitality leader

Through their experience in the industry and at the forefront of recruitment and hospitality innovation, Jonathan, Chris and Stephen pinpointed seven habits as being key to a successful leadership career:

  1. Always know what you are working towards
  2. Lead, even without a title: show empathy, authenticity and transparency
  3. You have to keep learning – “You never know how much you don’t know”
  4. Find your passion within the industry, the niche that drives you
  5. Discover and understand what kind of leader you want to be
  6. Develop your emotional intelligence and relational intelligence
  7. Bring a commercial skillset as well as operational

The ultimate foundation of leadership: Stay true to your values

The modern hospitality consumer, whether they’re booking a hotel, buying a luxury watch or researching co-working spaces, cares more about aligned values than any generation before. The important lesson for leaders is that brands that are consistently true to their values have a quantifiable competitive advantage, something Stephen firmly believes in.

You have to know what you believe in and you have to be true to your values regardless of whether things are going well or not, because your values shouldn’t change. If you stay true to those values, you’ll develop a following and you’ll succeed in the long-term.

To join future LinkedIn Live sessions and gain expert insight on leadership in the modern hospitality industry, follow us on LinkedIn.

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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