What type of disruptive leaders will the hotel industry need?

In an industry of rapid change and uncertainty, Les Roches set themselves the challenge of finding out what skills and qualities current hospitality leaders believe is needed from future leaders over the next ten years. Within this, they placed particular focus on the importance of disruptiveness and how this could impact future leadership style.

By Dr Annick Darioly Carroz, Lecturer in Leadership and Frank Gueuning, Lecturer in Accounting and Revenue Management at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, part of Sommet Education

For our research, we teamed up with PSD (an international professional executive recruitment organisation) and surveyed 135 hospitality managers and senior executives (e.g. CEO, COO, General Manager, Senior Vice-President Operations and Group HR Director) at property and corporate level, working mainly in the UK and Asia.

Our methodological approach was based on the competency framework for hotel general managers developed by Bharwani and Talib, which consists of 43 items categorised into four broad dimensions: traits and motives; interpersonal attitudes and behaviour; job-specific technical skills; and conceptual knowledge.

A shortage of talent

Globally the hospitality industry is growing and there is an increasing shortage of qualified managers. As a result, the industry has applied itself in finding solutions and human resource management brought to us approaches to ‘talent management’ and ‘succession planning’, thus focusing on retention, engagement and career progression to management level.

These solutions were favoured especially as it is understood that to consolidate on strategy, internal candidates are preferred. However, the practice has its pitfalls in identifying the right future leader and this is because it focuses on nurturing talent to ‘fit’ with existing corporate culture, thus potentially curbing the entrepreneurial orientation needed from future leaders. So, to allow for increased disruptiveness and entrepreneurial orientation, new senior executives could be recruited from external sources.

Such an assertion can imply that recruiting from unrelated industries could also prove to be a game-changer in the pursuit of real innovation, perhaps even revolution. Could this be the reason why non-hospitality industries recruit from top-rated hotel schools around the world to fulfil their needs in domains such as luxury retail, financial services and airlines, and all simply because hospitality graduates provide an innovative and entrepreneurial orientation that can add the ‘service’ and ‘experience’ dimensions of their respective core activities? It is also not surprising that Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, for instance, has for some years embedded this philosophy into its programmes.

“‘A future of sharing leadership?”

The leader’s innovative mindset

Bill Gates is famously quoted for saying: ‘Innovate or die.’ The hotel industry has evolved over recent times at an incrementally fast pace. However, one could argue that the industry has been tinkering with innovation without being revolutionary. Yes, we have new products, new designs, new concepts and we are living the digital disruption by integrating artificial intelligence, augmented reality and so on. But is this genuine innovation or delivering better solutions for changing needs as a natural reaction?

So, disruption – ‘good cop or bad cop’? To answer this question, we surveyed the perception of the level of disruptiveness. Respondents clearly and globally shared the views that disruptiveness and innovation are set to become increasingly important to drive the business to become revolutionary. Our survey also revealed that there is a significant requirement to change hospitality tradition as those traditions are no longer seen as key to effectiveness.

What remains unanswered, though, is understanding whether external input from non-hospitality professionals could be a game-changer. When asked if a non-traditional hospitality industry background would enhance success, the respondents seem to be undecided: perhaps, and only as speculative comments, because the ‘good cop’ in us wants to protect the industry from within or displays the lack of confidence in challenging the norms; and on the other hand, the ‘bad cop’ would suggest bringing non-hospitality expertise as a driver of real change and potentially leading the next revolution.

“We found that future leaders will have to become even better prepared in communicating and engaging in cross-cultural encounters while displaying cultural sensitivity and mindfulness, whilst having the willingness to develop others.”

Potential drivers to disruptiveness

Our survey revealed that none of the competencies needed today to succeed will become less prevalent in the future. This means that the future leaders will have to become more effective in applying existing competences, while adopting new competencies to react to the increased level of change. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that future leaders will have mostly acquired the right skills and knowledge to succeed.

Everyone foresaw that future leaders will have to become increasingly flexible, adaptable, able to manage cultural diversity, be even more adept at change management, be disruptive enough to be innovative and creative in product and services development, and excel in driving quality to the point of becoming revolutionary.

Focusing on personal skills, the survey reveals that future leaders are more likely to shine if they display qualities more closely relating to traits and attributes such as: remaining calm and confident in the face of provocation and adversity; seeking out and accepting additional responsibilities; and acting in an honest and trustworthy manner whilst being adaptive, flexible, open and willing to learn. Coupled with that, we found that future leaders will have to become even better prepared in communicating and engaging in cross-cultural encounters while displaying cultural sensitivity and mindfulness, whilst having the willingness to develop others.

Although we are moving away from tradition and are working in an environment where soft skills are required more and more, we should not forget that future leaders will need to be technically competent and have specific knowledge.

Without surprise, in such a digitalised and interrelated world, basic computer literacy skills and knowledge of operations management systems, as well as the ability to engage with internal and external stakeholders and understand customers’ perceptions of value are seen as more and more needed. Future leaders will need to deal with change, energise the change process by removing barriers and reach solutions on the basis of observation, analysis and evaluation. On top of this, the ability to anticipate emerging opportunities and being challenging is crucial.

In conclusion…

These findings point towards validating the cause of ‘sharing leadership’ where leadership is shared among, and stems from team members to ensure that individual complexities are addressed. This gives more access to disruptive ideas, which is what the industry needs. So, tomorrow’s leaders seem to be drivers of disruptiveness, with a humbler leadership style, and are confident enough to share their power with others.