In challenging times, leaders need to reach employees' inner hopes to push for peak performance

During a major labor dispute in 1980, Gary Hernbroth was a young pup at the Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square. One night, he had a mission: dump out the trash. The hotel's assistant general manager came up to the Hernbroth. In one hand was a set of keys to a truck to get through the picket line. In the other was a baseball bat just in case there was trouble.

The supervisor kept the keys and gave Hernbroth the bat. Happily, that bat remained on Hernbroth's lap for the memorable dump run.

"He could have made me go out by myself," remembers Hernbroth, now chief motivation officer at his own company, Training for Winners.

A popular keynote speaker and business coach specializing in leadership, Hernbroth looks back at the San Francisco tumult as a great learning experience. He saw first-hand his supervisor proverbially roll up his sleeves and help during a moment of crisis. What better way to build loyalty among your troops?

Most leadership moments are not built on dramatic scenes or speeches, notes Hernbroth. An avid sports fan, Hernboth says there is a time and place for the rah-rah speeches like those delivered by Green Bay Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi. But meaningful and long-lasting motivation comes from small actions that drive individuals to push themselves to be their best.

Never before have teams in the hospitality and events industries been challenged as they are now. The pandemic effectively shutting down most travel has caused the lost of nearly 6 million jobs as of May 2020, according to data released by U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics.

Those left standing often suffer from "survivor's guilt," says Hernbroth, who worked in sales and operations at Westin properties, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel prior to going out on his own. And when hotel staff are not missing their peers, it's because they are too busy working multiple jobs and shifts to compensate for the reduced numbers.

There are good days when hotels welcome much-missed group business and down times through furlough announcements. Ultimately, the biggest hurdle on coping with today's climate is the pandemic's merciless persistence.

Navigating these times is the challenge of a lifetime (one can only hope). However, lessons of leadership will last for years.

One for All

Jack Miller, vice president and general manager at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, says the only way to navigate through such trying times is stressing positive attitudes and teamwork.

He, like Hernbroth, turns to sports when seeking motivation tools. His favorite film to quote is "Remember the Titans," which depicts the real-life challenges of integrating a high school football team in Alexandria, Virginia.

"This time period has reinforced my belief that any great hotel operates as one great team," says Miller.

The team is much more than the staff working on-site. When forced to furlough 70% of the hotel's employees, Miller's first moves were to underscore that each person remains a vital part of the community.

To that end, the hotel covered every employees' benefits from March through September. The property also partnered with the Scottsdale community in a GoFundMe campaign to raise more than $50,000 that has gone toward providing staff and their families with two drive-thru meals per week. Thus far, 30,000 individual meals have been served.

"It was incredibly rewarding for the team and me to be able to show our staff that even in these times, with all that's going on, we're here for them," Miller says.

Hernbroth says the key to strong leadership at any time, let alone in a crisis, is to express pride in your team. Private and public praise will go a long way toward lighting that "inner fire," as Hernbroth puts it, in employees who may be feeling burned out.

Consider the following ideas for inspiration:

  • When a director of sales is leading a hotel tour, drop by and mention to the visiting group how valuable the sales person is to the property's success.
  • Did a comment from a staff member ring a bell when you crafted a new speech? Let that person know that it did as a clear demonstration that his or her voice is always heard and appreciated.
  • When a new staff member starts, write a hand-written letter explaining that person's value and all that he or she will accomplish. Close it by suggesting the worker keep the note for a down day as a way to push forward.

"Make sure to let your employees know you notice they are working hard," Hernbroth says.

Motivating Factors

Back to sports, Hernbroth turns from Vince Lombardi and football to UCLA's John Wooden and basketball. Each basketball team has five players on the court, each of whom has different personalities and unique circumstances. It only makes sense the players will all be motivated differently. The following are common motivators:

  • Money- either for bragging rights or simply to put food on the table.
  • Being the best- desire to be the superstar.
  • Being a team player- many people thrive with the simple act of working together on a team.
  • Sense of accomplishment- completing a goal is its own reward.
  • Advancement - not the team superstar yet, but eager to earn promotions.

The sign of a good supervisor is to understand each employee enough to push those buttons, Hernbroth says. "The best leader finds what's inside their employees," he notes.

"A large chunk of the hospitality industry loves the business and is driven to please customers," says Todd Gehrke, director of sales marketing at The Don Cesar and Beach House Suites in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

"You are either a service person or you're not," he says. "Hospitality is something you do because you love itnot because you want to make $1 million."

It doesn't have to be an either/or situation.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess proceeded with its first Pumpkin Nights, a Halloween-themed six-week celebration with the hopes of bringing customers back to the hotel, finding work for its furloughed workers, and bringing a general sense of business after months of struggling.

Pumpkin Nights was a hit with the local community, to the point the hotel added times and dates to accommodate demand. Miller was able to bring back more than 200 workers because the event has been so successful, and extra staff will be brought in for the annual Christmas at the Princess event.

Upsizing is considerably more pleasant than the industry's downward trend the past seven months. There has to be a sense of honesty in your messaging during financial crises. While Fairmont Scottsdale Princess never completely shut its doors, "I've been up front with the team that, for a while at least, we're going to have to do more with less," Miller says.

At least in these times, less can be more. The little things add up to feeling appreciatedthe ultimate key to unlocking your team's potential.

"I really feel like the team we have here knows how valued they are and are glad to be here," says Miller.