Two leaders in the hospitality industry discuss what goes into becoming an inspirational executive.
When looking to hit the right leadership note, it's worth taking a cue from Billy Joel. Toward the end of his famous, "You're Only Human (Second Wind)," Joel can be heard laughing after messing up the lyrics. The fact he kept the error and laughed is fitting because the song is about making mistakes.
ALHI President and CEO Michael Dominguez loves the song, laughter and all, because it is a teaching lesson. Heads of companies and organizations need to understand there will be bumps in the road. How a person reacts to missteps is how he or she will be judged.
Dominguez recently summoned the Joel in a conversation with Dr. Lalia Rach, a Las Vegas-based top-flight consultant and keynote speaker concentrating on leadership. A leader in her own right, Rach spent nearly two decades shaping future hospitality leaders as a dean first at the University of New Haven and then New York University before going out on her own.
Here are a few of the lessons that can be gleaned from these two leaders' talk, about, well, leadership.
1. Open Your Ears and Have an Open Mind
Rach thinks back to when she was a child and her parents would force the family to talk during dinner. Agreement wasn't mandatory but respect for other opinions was. Differing opinions were welcome-- danger was not.
When Dominguez and Rach chat, things are not so different from that dinner table. The friends often agree to disagree. To them, that is a sign of a strength often missing today, especially in corporate culture. Building a team of a yes-men may speed the process for approving projects but it comes at a heavy price. "If we want people who just agree, boy, is that going to be a bad business," warns Rach.
As Dominguez notes the culture has lost the "civil" in civil discourse, Rach adds we have forgotten to hear what others have to say. That's not a coincidence. "The hospitality industry always says, 'We're about people,'" says Rach. "I think it's just crap because we don't listen. We make assumptions. We let our biases decide."
While it's virtually impossible to erase all pre-existing beliefs, a strong leader will challenge others who disagree to explain their thought processes. Even if the end result is the same, a thought-provoking conversation will only make a company stronger.
"Don't make a determination until you've heard the entire conversation"-- Rach
2. Know What You Don't Know
Ever want to get into the head of a legendary executive? You'd probably discover they don't have all the answers. The thirst for knowledge is what separates good leaders to average ones, says Dominguez. "You need to know enough to ask an intelligent question," he says.
New challenges are going to arise at a moment's notice --hello 2020!-- and having all the facts can make the difference if your company succeeds or not. In Rach's case, she wasn't sure how to transform her consulting company into the virtual world. So, she and her business partner researched effective remote learning techniques and then hired a producer with some of the experience she was lacking.
This points to the ability to delegate. Micromanagement is rarely an effective technique. Allowing staff to bring its staff to the table is empowering and demonstrates trust in a way words cannot.
3. Be Adaptable
Speaking of 2020 and unusual circumstances, leaders whose companies survive and thrive know it can't be business as usual every day (or any day). Take the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. Dominguez had a daily call scheduled with his team. He kept the call, but ditched the agenda. The group talked through the issues boiling up in our society. "Discussing anything else would be hollow or tone-deaf," he says.
Rach describes that small change in a daily routine as a part of a bigger picture. "The best leaders are always reinventing themselves," she says. "In this pandemic, if you're not willing to reinvent your approach on a pretty regular basis, you are going to lose."
Change doesn't have to be grand, Rach notes, but it does have to be genuine. In the case of Black Lives Matter, she commends organizations for celebrating Juneteenth for probably the first time. But she warns businesses against making it a one-time event. At ALHI, Dominguez has built upon the moment to ask organization members to discuss and explain other international days of recognition.
Notice that listening, learning and adapting are intertwined.
"If I'm not moving and changing, then I am irrelevant" -- Rach
4. Don't Be Afraid to Fail
This piece of advice should be music to everyone's ears. After all, no one is perfect. But the fear of failure can be crippling. Confidence, in yourself and your team, is the cure. "One thing we both understand is that we're not always right," Rach says to Dominguez. "I've had more success from my failures than I ever imagined."
In particular, it is of upmost importance that leaders avoid second-guessing their feelings. "When you become tentative and don't do what your instinct tell you is when you fail more often," Dominguez says.
Of course, no one is eager to fail nor should they set out to miss the mark, says Rach. Her approach is to make the most of the trying times. "Instead of berating myself, I think about what I have learned," she says.
After all, to err is human. Finding your second wind is divine.
Listen to the full 'Beyond the Meeting Room' Podcast featuring Dominguez and Rach.