Five tips to be an exceptional leader



There are many benefits of being an exceptional hospitality leader. Employee relations improve. It creates a safer workplace. Employees feel they are appreciated and dealt with fairly, which all improves performance. Read on for a few tools to become an exceptional leader.

Many times leadership articles feature famous leaders the average person will never deal with, the Steve Jobs and Theodore Roosevelts of the world. The following examples include real-life everyday leaders, and highlight lessons on what to do and what not to do. And there may be a surprise at the end.

  1. Exceptional Leaders Clearly Display Who is in Charge: They Are

    One client works for a company that has a CEO who does not possess strong executive power. It’s not a lack of skill, it is a lack of will to make the hard decisions and accept the consequences of them. The company is at a virtual standstill. Tactically, everyone is moving their piece of the puzzle. Strategically, no one knows what the puzzle should eventually look like because it hasn’t been decided or communicated. Morale is sluggish, and employees may be making exits plans.

    Take away: It’s classic Spider Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” With the title, also comes the responsibility to make hard decisions and set strategy. You must make decisions, and some of them will be wrong. Accept that. Also understand taking no action due to being cautious is still a decision. It will have consequences.

  2. Exceptional Leaders Understand Change Happens, and They Change With it

    Another client had many legacy employees and leaders at the top. The legacy employees had at least 10 years tenure with the organization; most started in entry-level roles and were promoted over the years. The vice president had 25 years with the organization, although he had recently been moved to this division.

    A team for an internally developed communication skills class was training new employees using the same techniques used when many of them previously performed the role, years earlier. Although notified that this may not be the best current method, legacy was a critical value to this organization. In this instance, it was to its determent.

    Take away: Exceptional leaders realize that making decisions solely on their individual past experience from years ago is not always fruitful. This has played out time and time again. Exceptional leaders adapt to changes in their world to maximize guest and employee satisfaction.

  3. Exceptional Leaders are Visible in the Operation
    I have heard some stinging indictments from hospitality employees regarding where their leaders spend most of their days. While facilitating several training classes that required role play, the scenario involved the hospitality employee calling a manager for assistance, who was played by another employee. In almost every class, the employee playing the leader added an unscripted element of either not being available, avoiding the conflict or hiding in their office. The kicker? The entire class would laugh. Yikes!

    Take away: Could this unintentionally be you? As a leader, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes administration that has to occur. But if you are not out in the active area for at least part of your day engaging with guests and employees, employees will make assumptions about what you are doing. None of those assumptions will paint you in a positive light. This applies to all leaders, general managers to supervisors.

  4. Exceptional Leaders are Available Immediately When There is Trouble

    Early in my career, I had the pleasure of serving as a concierge at a beautiful world-renowned resort. The concierge building was separate from the main front desk, less than a 5-minute walk. Typically, our manager left around 6 p.m., unless it was her late-night shift. The front office manager on duty would then become our leader, as needed.

    One night around 8 p.m., we had an angry guest come to us. The guest’s situation had flowed through several days, and he had dealt with the concierge manager, plus other front desk managers, and possibly the general manager. This evening he was belligerent, and asking us for things that were beyond our approval levels.

    The concierge had three separate desks, one for each concierge. As he is yelling at two colleagues, I was the furthest away and discreetly called the front desk to ask for assistance from the manager on duty. She kept asking me questions to stall, finishing with she could not come to concierge. My overall impression was she did not want to, or could not, deal with this challenging guest. And she didn’t. At that instance, I lost complete respect for this leader.

    Take away: Leaders need to excel at conflict resolution with guests, so they are prepared to have these difficult conversations. As a concierge, we were skilled at a higher level to handle 85 percent of the challenges that came to our desks. But the one night we needed back-up, it wasn’t there. That is how trust is broken, and it is why good employees leave.

  5. Exceptional Leaders Know and Respect Every Job in the Organization

    I will end with a positive example of leadership. When I was growing up in Central Florida, I remember our governor being featured on the news for his work days. Research showed it started as a campaign stunt. Bob Graham was a non-recognizable candidate as he ran for Florida’s governor. The stunt worked because he began being featured in the media, and he won, becoming governor for two terms.

    Once he became governor, he continued the work days. He was doing the jobs of the average Floridian. He was a bell man, a tomato picker, waiter, construction worker (pictured on page 80) and so many more.

    Take away: To develop compassion for your teams, and to help you make smart decisions, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” Every leader should implement some type of work day program, especially leaders in the corporate office. Spend a day in an area foreign to your training, education or comfort level. Don’t do it as a stunt. Do it to fully appreciate what your employees do for your guests. Frankly, it will also show how sometimes decisions may make your job more difficult.

The End Game

These examples are lessons for your own leadership journey. These leaders had opportunities to make a positive impact. But due to their own misgivings, lack of skill or will, they chose not to be an exceptional leader.

After training leaders for many years, I know exceptional leaders can be developed. But it takes organizational support and individual commitment to go from average to the exception. Make the right choice.

To learn more about Governor Bob Graham’s work days, visit

Stacey Oliver-Knappe began her 20-year career in hospitality in Orlando, Florida. Since then, she built on that experience to train thousands to improve performance. As owner of The Customer Service Gurus, she has had the joy and success of developing innovative programs for hospitality leaders and employees. To learn more, visit


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