The Magic 11: Essential qualities of successful hotel owners


Certain leadership practices can build a stronger team and a better business.

by Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P.Eng.

There have been so many books written on leadership and management styles that you can fill a bookshelf. In fact, my personal library has half of its shelves devoted to this very topic. There is no question that, apart from financial acumen, leadership is what will most certainly make or break the success of your property investment.

In many cases, you have a general or hotel manager that deals with the day-to-day responsibilities of your property. This article is devoted to how you, as an owner, can demonstrate leadership to members of your team in order to build a better, more effective team.

In my 35 years of working with both individually and corporately owned properties, I have distilled the essence of leadership down to a few simple qualities, which I call the Magic 11. While I cannot guarantee immediate improvement to your P&L, you most certainly will be on the right track.


1. Be honest.
This is the most important of all. If you lie or cheat, chances are that sooner or later members of your team will discover this. You will lose their respect, and once that respect is gone, it can never be re-established. Being honest does not mean having to divulge every aspect of your business’ finances, nor plans that you have which are not for public consumption. Being honest means being consistent in your approach, not speaking ill of people, being professional and, when asked, responding in an open manner.As an example, say an employee asks you if your hotel is profitable (a somewhat naïve question, perhaps, but employees can be curious). Rather than saying that it is none of their business or muttering some fictitious data, respond with something like, “Financial results are confidential. However, we are always seeking ways to improve our hotel’s profitability. What ideas do you have in this regard?” In other words, use the question and your honest answer as a springboard.


2. Empower your team.
You cannot be everywhere all the time. Your role as an owner is to decentralize decision making so only those issues of significance cross your desk. Create a working environment that encourages members of your team to execute tasks without your approval. Of course, there are limits to this. As an example, does a server in your restaurant need to ask for manager’s approval to give complementary desserts to couples celebrating their anniversaries? Or, does the housekeeper need to ask to replace a worn vacuum hose? All these little decisions stack up, interrupting managers and hindering them from focusing on more important tasks.

One of the ways to build an environment that supports empowerment is to discuss this openly with your general manager. Set financial limits for each department or authorization protocols. Ensure that your controller or CFO is in agreement. If necessary, create a simplified tracking system that adds a degree of feedback to the approach being taken by each team member.


3. Share your thoughts.
This is a little different than just being honest. By sharing your thoughts, you are actually seeking the opinions of others and giving your team an opportunity to understand your rationale for decision making. This approach creates a sense of openness and enhances the team’s learning so much so that when members are empowered they will act more in line with your vision.

In one case, the owner of a small property I work with in California was considering a new theme for his property’s restaurant. He sought the opinion of his team, who not only embraced his idea, but also developed the naming, refined the concept and detailed several menu items. In doing so, he saved a consultant expense and has total buy-in from the team.


4. Respect.
A knee-jerk reaction is that giving your hourly workers an increase will solve all of your job satisfaction issues. Often, hourly rates are not the reason why individuals are dissatisfied. There are many other factors, one of the most important is respect. It does not take a lot of effort for you to congratulate your team members on their efforts and their commitment to the job.

As another example, a property I’ve worked with in Boston has many long-term employees. Each year they hold a dinner and congratulate all of them by years of service. Using a print-on-demand facility, they publish a relatively inexpensive hardcover book with photos of the 10, 15, 20 and 25+ year veteran members. On a simple basis, many establishments use an Employee of the Month plaque on the wall. These methods help reaffirm to team members that their contributions are invaluable to your success and that their jobs have purpose.


5. Listen.
Don’t simply discard employee ideas; give everything a chance. When received, explain why they may or may not work. This will encourage them to think more about your property and, in doing so, keep your best interests in mind.

Often there are situations where team members have nuggets of information that you not aware of. In one particular case that I know of, a property owner discovered that the neighboring property was going to be available for sale through a contract groundskeeper. That knowledge led to the acquisition in advance of a real estate agent becoming involved. On another note, an owner and acquaintance was planning to use flowers he had seen in a magazine as decoration for the lobby, but was then told by a part-time housekeeper that the blooms being considered would permanently stain the carpeting.


6. Create a culture.
Have you ever heard of being called the glue that holds the team together? This is often called team spirit. It is your goal to nurture this environment. Yes, there is the annual Christmas party and a summer barbecue, but what about the other 363 days of the year? There will be tribalism whereby, for instance, housekeepers do not generally mix with reservationists or salespersons and vice versa. Your job is to bring together these disparate cliques and departments together.

It sounds easy, but it isn’t; especially given that many staff may be at minimum or near-minimum wage. You also have to deal with the fact that you have shift workers. In this case, rather than lead, act as support. Encourage programs that are initiated by your staff. Let them do the organization, with you merely lending a hand or offering financial support. Intramural sports teams are a great avenue to building this camaraderie.


7. Give constructive feedback.
It is often difficult to find something good to say about someone’s work, especially when it does not meet your expectations. The approach of constructive feedback recognizes the effort that the employee has applied to the task and encourages them to improve. Your goal is to reach for excellence and awareness of the flaw is only the first step.

Constructive feedback applies at all levels, not just line staff. For example, if your controller supplies you with just raw data, encourage him or her to do some of the preliminary analysis thereby enriching his or her job and saving you time. Do impromptu and incognito departmental audits, learning what you can and giving productive feedback wherever possible. Next, print out TripAdvisor commentary and openly share with the team to see where you can improve.


8. Be a public owner.
Think of the hotel not just as an investment but also as a living organism. You must live and breathe the hotel in order to know what needs additional help and where or how to make improvements. By being visible in the property, it instils a feeling among your staff that you are actually a part of the team and not just a figurehead.

Greet guests personally and make a particular point of writing welcome notes. This will create a more permanent bond and an added sense of loyalty. Get involved in local community efforts and charities. In creating this public profile, you will find it easier to attract better staffing and increase team loyalty as well. There’s more to a job than just the salary; everyone wants to work for a good boss and they may accept a little less in compensation in order to have that.


9. Never eat lunch alone.
Lunchtime is important as it provides you with an opportunity to meet with your staff and build camaraderie in a relaxed environment. Have small group meetings or eat with employees one-on-one to gauge their thoughts. Keep track of who you have seen at lunch and make sure you have not left anyone out. Given that you may have shift employees, you may want to meet them at their designated ‘lunch’ hour, which could be 8 p.m. (make the effort!).

In addition to employees, add lunches with your key suppliers. Quite often you will find that this small act leads to improved performance and potentially improved pricing given a better appreciation of your needs.


10. Read and learn.
You have to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, and not just those directly related to hotels. The world of hospitality is fast-paced and heavily influences by technology. Most digital resources are free. We are all busy, though. Start by devoting 15 minutes daily. Find a time during the day when there is a natural lull or when you feel your energy draining.

Trade show attendance can be expensive as it involves travel and days away from the business grind. In addition to the AAHOA annual conference, my experience is that the one annual convention that North Americans cannot miss is HiTec (coming up this month, June 20–23, in New Orleans). Here you will find emergent technologies that will drive your business for the next decade as well as give you a sense of where guest expectations will be in the near future. There are other trade shows in the investment and financial area which, depending upon your circumstances, may also be of merit.


11. Tour and stay at other properties.
I am sure you have stayed at hotels that are in direct local competition to yours (if not, this is a serious void that needs to be corrected). Additionally, stay at hotels at a similar price point in other cities around the country. Use your curious mind to identify what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Then adapt ideas to practices within your own property. Next, stay at luxury or ultra-luxury properties to not only gain inspiration, but also to see what ‘state of the art’ hospitality really means. You will often be amazed at some of the advances and some of the little additions that you can add with very little cost or effort.

If you have a hotel restaurant, eat out regularly and take photos of everything – menus, table settings, prepared dishes, drinks, décor, staff uniforms and entranceways. Ask questions and learn all you can.

Lastly, a bonus to round out this list to a perfect dozen:

BONUS: Live a healthy lifestyle.
If you aren’t feeling 100 percent, then you can’t give 100 percent to your property. Get lots of sleep, eat right and exercise regularly.      ■

Larry Mogelonsky ([email protected]) is the founder of LMA Communications Inc., an award-winning, full-service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991). As a recognized expert in marketing services, his experience encompasses Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Preferred Hotels and Resorts, as well as numerous independent properties throughout North America, Europe and Asia.


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