At my recent high school reunion, I asked an old classmate how his summer was going. He looked at me straight on and said “quite honestly, its hard. Summers are hard with the kids in an out of camps, at home and trying to work at the same time.” I empathized with him as a fellow parent, business owner and community leader, and also took a bit of comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. It was also healthy to see a man expressing some of the same sentiments I hear mostly from women.
Work-life balance is a common topic of conversation and one I hear frequently regardless of the circle of colleagues and friends I’m in. The challenge increases with age and upward career moves as the demands of children, care-giving, home and work responsibilities seem to pile up exponentially. Its not only the volume of demands but the quality of those experiences that can make anyone feel less than satisfied.
Like many people, I’m not a fan of the term “work-life” balance. It suggests inherently that balance is possible and as we all know, it really isn’t. And contrary to common belief, those experiences aren’t compartmentalized. Feeling stress at work influences home-life and vice versa. Further, there is a more nuanced cause of those unsettled feelings.
The Gallup organization (of the Gallup Poll), has found in its research that the work-life balance conversation can be better framed around the idea of over well-being. They break down well-being into five categories.
Career - you like what you do every day
Social - you have strong relationships
Financial - you manage your money well
Physical - you have enough energy to do the things you want
Community - you like where you live
What most attracts me to this framework is that it takes away the focus on time as the most significant factor in how we measure our lives. Instead, the measure of overall well-being is the quality of each area.
So what’s the connection between leadership and well-being? The old way of thinking is that how someone feels about their well-being is a personal matter. That belief doesn’t hold up according to the Gallup poll research. They have found that how someone feels about their career is the most significant factor in how they measure their well-being. Second, how someone feels about their career is largely impacted by their work environment and especially the quality of their manager. Third, a poor working environment leads to dis-engagement and ultimately costs the global economy upwards of $8.8 trillion according to the latest State of the Global Workforce: 2023 Report.
The evidence is clear: addressing well-being is critical for company success. And the first place leaders can start is with themselves.
At the 2023 Women Leading Travel and Hospitality Summit in Nashville, Tennessee I gave a workshop on how to start addressing well-being called Banishing Balance: A New Paradigm for Personal and Professional Success. Sign up for my complimentary course which includes the workshop background presentation and practical information and exercises to get you started on a path to improved well-being.
I often ponder the question, “what makes a great leader?”. This is a question that I’ll probably never answer because there isn’t really just one good answer. Jacob Morgan, author of The Future Leader, asked hundreds of leaders what their definition of leadership was, and all came up with different answers, and all of them right. There’s no doubt that themes emerge about the foundation and core competencies of good leadership. However, a big part of leadership is unique to each individual and the experiences that shape them. Its these experiences that make leaders authentically who they are. The more they are used to distill meaning and purpose, the more powerful they become. One such kind of experience has been called “crucible experiences”. Researchers Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas write about it in their article “Crucibles of Leadership.”
Defining Crucible Experiences:
A crucible experience is an intense, transformative event or period in our lives that demands our utmost emotional, mental, and sometimes physical fortitude. It often involves a significant personal or professional setback, loss, failure, or a life-altering decision. Crucible experiences push us beyond our comfort zones, challenging our existing beliefs, assumptions, and capabilities. They can arise from various sources, such as a career setback, a health crisis, the end of a relationship, or a profound personal loss.
Elaine Macy, one of our guests on The Travel Leader Podcast, recalled an early experience of hers that had shaped her as a person and as a leader. In our episode together, she described how one day her husband up and left her with nothing more than a can of soup in the cabinet.
The Significance of Crucible Experiences:
While crucible experiences can be daunting and distressing, they also offer remarkable opportunities for growth and self-discovery. These challenging moments force us to confront our fears, face our vulnerabilities, and question our beliefs. They act as catalysts for transformation, pushing us to redefine our priorities, reassess our values, and learn valuable lessons about ourselves and the world around us. Crucible experiences have the power to reshape our lives and bring forth qualities such as resilience, adaptability, and empathy.
Elaine Macy’s story illustrates how crucible experiences can be turned into powerful agency. She tells how she had to make a conscious choice on how she was going to continue her life after her husband left. The set back not only drove her to succeed in life and her career, but also has fueled her purpose to mentor and empower the young women who have come across her path.
Crucible experiences may test our limits and push us to the edge of our comfort zones, but they hold immense potential for personal growth and transformation. By embracing these challenges with resilience, a growth mindset, and a support system, we can emerge stronger, wiser, and more compassionate individuals. Embracing crucible experiences not only allows us to overcome obstacles but also helps us discover our inner strength, refine our purpose, and lead a more fulfilling life. Remember, it is within the crucible that diamonds are forged.
The Power Humility
As a hospitality leader, there has been more than one occasion when I don’t see our business achieving a specific outcome, and I think: If only employee x would do y, we would get the result we want. And then I ask, why isn’t employee x doing it!? It’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and analyze all the reasons why said employee is behaving the way they are. In reality, there’s a big chance that if I looked myself in the mirror, I would get the answer I’m looking for.
Many times, undesirable outcomes result from undesirable behaviors that stem from less than stellar leadership practices. This can stem from anything like poor communication, lack of setting expectations or systemic cultural problems in an organization. And most of these can be attributed to the leaders at the very top.
Ask any leader how strong their competencies are in any of these areas, and more than likely they will rate themselves better than someone looking from the outside in. For his book “The Future Leader”, Jacob Morgan surveyed hundreds of employees and leaders about different leadership mindsets and skills. For every one, leaders scored themselves as more proficient than their direct reports. This phenomena is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect by social scientists: “a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge.” Adam Grant talks about this in his book “Think Again”.
Feeling deflated? Don’t worry! We are all guilty of it. There’s an antidote for it as well – the metaphorical mirror, or in other words, humility.
Jacob Morgan defines humility as “the willingness to obtain accurate self-knowledge. Keeping an open mind and being willing to constantly learn and improve”. Humility is a powerful mindset and practice. First, it paves the way for all other leadership competencies. Humility is first the belief that we are all fallible human beings with the potential for improvement. It is a “modest self-portrayal”. Humility also includes self-awareness – the ability to look in-wards, self-reflect and accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses. Humility is so powerful that Jim Collins found in his research for “Good to Great” that it was the most important factor that separates truly great companies from all the rest.
So where do you begin to practice humility? Break out the mirror and ask yourselves these questions:
Start with asking yourself those questions and the sky is the limit for your own leadership growth and the organization for which you work.
(The following blog is based on the opening of a panel discussion I moderated at the Travel Unity Summit in Auburn, New York on December 7 and 8, 2022)
Learning starts early and doesn't stop
Recently, my 12 year old son came home one evening and shared his day at school. After a few minutes of recounting encounters with friends, games during gym and boring math classes, he became more serious. He played back an exchange in one of his classes when they were doing an assignment to describe a character in a book. A boy sitting next to him got in trouble for something that he had written on his paper. My son recalled that when the teacher walked by and noticed that the boy described the character as “colored” the teacher became agitated and in an angry tone told him what he had written was wrong and that he needed to change it. My son’s reaction was one of confusion and emotion, not understanding why his friend had “gotten in trouble”. After a long discussion with my son about the historical context around the word, I also thought, wow, this really is confusing.
I was also 12 years old when I first became aware of the deeper meaning of skin color. The language we use today didn’t even exist. We didn’t use words and phrases like anti-racism, bipoc, social justice, and global majority. I’ve noticed how much and how rapidly the vocabulary has changed just in the last 3 years, let alone 25. There’s no doubt that I have gotten it wrong and still do today.
Making mistakes leads to growth
Along the way I've had moments I’m not proud of. In 2018, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue murders in which 11 congregants were tragically killed, I attended a vigil at our local synagogue that was open for the general public. Following the event, I was deeply moved but also confused and a bit angry. After talking to some others who had similar feelings, I wrote an anonymous letter to the synagogue leadership about how I felt about the proceedings. I expressed to them that I had experienced the vigil as polarizing and politicized. Two years later, when I was identified as the anonymous letter writer, I was persuaded to discuss the matter with the Rabbi and others involved. I realized through this process that how I reacted was a prime example of my white Christian privilege and that it was not about me, or how I experienced that event.
That moment was one of many defining moments on my DEI journey and very humbling. I always considered myself well versed on the issues. I spent my early years in high school and college studying civil rights and participating in campus race dialogues and went on to study abroad in South Africa to learn about Apartheid. But it wasn't until more recently that I realized that this work is just as much if not more about the inward learning and reflection than it is about the outward. I've struggled with my own questions of identity and how to use my voice as a business owner in the tourism and hospitality space on behalf of DEI. The last few years of reflection, training and dialogue on anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion have coincided with my development as a leader and a leadership coach. What I have learned more than anything, is that this work is fundamentally about leadership and how I show up as a leader.
A call to action
A few months ago the moment came when I was called to show up. I received an anonymous email through our hotel website contact form with the following message: "Hi, one of your employees, recently harassed and threatened a beloved member of the local transgender community who also happens to be a combat veteran. For proof see this link... Is this what your hotel stands for??? I’ll never consider staying here again unless action is taken to terminate this persons employment immediately . Everyone else in the lgbtq community is aware of this too and will not stay at your establishment until he is fired."
Receiving this message was deeply upsetting and uncomfortable. But I knew this was the moment that all my work had until now been leading up to. While I couldn't respond to the anonymous person who brought this to our attention, there was public post on instagram to which I could respond. I drafted a response in which we publicly acknowledge the harm done to this member of our community, denounced the act and also committed to addressing the situation internally. While the employee in question had been fired for other reasons already a month before the incident, we took it seriously as a moment to reflect and publicly decry acts of hate such as this one.
Lessons I've learned
There are so many lessons I've learned over the last few years.
I’ve never really considered myself a Tech person. My strongest school subjects were in the social sciences. I participated in the sciences out of necessity and never enrolled in computer science. However, somewhere along the way, I realized that digital technology had a super-power and it was going to make my personal and professional life easier. Both at home and at work I’ve leaned into technology to professionalize processes and systems and ultimately to invest in a return on time and money.
In 2011, when we took over our family hotel business, we were using an outdated property management system, receiving online channel agency reservations by fax message and keying in credit cards one number at a time. We have spent the good of the last ten years upgrading all systems on our property to improve the employee experience, customer experience and our bottom line.
Implementing technology improvements has not been all fun and games. I found out relatively quickly that technology usage is harder for some than others, that not everyone can see the advantages and that adapting to change is a process. I’ve made some mistakes and learned that it takes leadership to establish a vision, address resistance to new systems and manage the change process.
Establish a vision
You may think that the new system you will introduce is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the people around you may have no idea why. When doing so, it is critical to demonstrate 1) the positive outcomes that will result for team members 2) how it will impact customers and 3) how the company as a whole will benefit.
In her book, The Customer of the Future, Blake Morgan lays out the case for technology innovations and how necessary they are for the employee and customer experience. When employees don’t have the right tools and technology, engagement falls. The key to customer experience success is creating frictionless experiences and this is where technology either plays a role in creating or removing friction.
A couple of years before the pandemic we started taking reservations at our restaurant and bowling lounge. Every reservation had to be taken by phone and email and then payments for deposits and the actual reservation had to be entered into the system manually at an on-site physical location. We finally bit the bullet and started a process to implement an online reservation process on our website. In doing so we would decrease the time staff spent taking and entering reservations, allowing them to do other things. We would be improving the customer experience because they had more control over the process and could complete a reservation in less time. And finally, we would no doubt book more reservations and maximize our overall occupancy and therefore financial bottom line.
At my hotel we are currently considering whether to implement cashless tipping for the housekeeping department. We are introducing this idea because we think it will pay off for housekeepers and increase their tips. We also believe it will make it easier for guests to tip when they want to. I’ve brought the idea to our housekeeping team, but the response was luke warm…and I get it. There’s something about cash and knowing you can stick it in your pocket. You can touch and feel it. There is a security to it. Switching to cashless tipping brings an unfamiliar system and uncertainty around when and how you will actually receive your money.
The bottom line is that resistance comes from a deeper place of fear and those fears may not look the same for everyone. It is critical to uncover what they are for each person and address them by doing the research and answering questions. I have also found that it becomes a question of the tipping point: at what point does the opportunity of the change outweigh the “pain” or disadvantages of the status quo?
Managing the change process:
Managing the change process is for me the most challenging part. I am not a patient person and that impatience often threatens to blow the whole thing to smithereens. When we decided to move to a guest text messaging system which required a completely new software, I had been researching it for months, made a decision and I was ready the next day to execute. I ended up skipping over a bunch of steps and asked my team to roll out the usage of the new text messaging system on the Friday of a major peak ski weekend. Huge blunder….no surprise there. Here are the critical steps to take to ensure a smoother change process:
Technology innovations are critical to the success of any company to keep up with customer expectations and the competition. While it can be daunting, reflecting on your own mindset, that of your employees and engaging in the process above, it can be a lot easier to undertake.
Who isn’t attracted to the idea of achieving work life balance? Every where I turn there are articles like “10 steps to achieve work/life balance” or seminars that promise if you undertake certain methods or strategies all your work/life balance problems will be solved. What does it even mean?
For me, work/life balance has meant somehow giving equal attention to work priorities, family and my personal needs. To achieve this goal, I’ve tried everything. I’ve believed that if I adopted certain strategies especially around time management that I would get there. I’ve used to-do lists, blocked off time in my calendar, created special spreadsheets based on Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants and set SMART Goals. Inevitably, I’ve aborted every single strategy because 1) they took up a lot of my valuable time and 2) they didn’t really move the needle. I mostly ended up right where I started: frustrated and hopeless.
It wasn’t until I became a leadership coach, which involved a lot of personal and professional development before I could coach others, did I understand why my goal of achieving work/life balance was so elusive. The problem is twofold. First, focusing on time management strategies only addresses the symptoms of bigger problems and not the root causes. For instance, I can have the best of intentions to block time off in my calendar for weekly exercise, but if I repeatedly override those blocks with meetings because I feel like I can’t say no, then there is a deeper mindset issue at play.
Second, focusing on specific outcomes like balance keeps us trapped in a specific definition or goal. If we don’t achieve that definition, then we just feel even more frustrated. Striving to achieve balance is a perfect example. Giving equal attention to all areas of our lives at all times is impossible. And each time we set that standard, we set ourselves up for failure.
Establish new beliefs
The solution is also twofold. Instead of focusing on specific strategies, address the underlying source of why you are not able to make the choices you want to. Usually, these are beliefs and mindsets that creating obstacles for those choices. Establish new beliefs and mindset shifts that will allow you to make the right choices. Here are a few beliefs that I’ve addressed in my life:
Let go of perfectionism and control
Perfectionism and control play a big role in my personal life. Breast-feeding my kids (or at least attempting), homemade baby food, homemade snacks to reduce plastic waste, perfectly balanced and healthy meals, making sure my kids are wearing matching clothes…yup all of it, I did (and sometimes still do). Perfectionism and maintaining control are HUGE time suckers. Slowly I’ve learned to challenge myself to let go of things that really don’t matter. A big win for me was that one night recently I was very tired and couldn’t bring myself to make dinner or even go to the store to find something easy. So I said, okay kids, go at it, you can eat whatever you want for dinner that you can make yourself…cereal, toaster waffles. And guess what…nobody died. Mind. Blown.
Set clear boundaries
Being accessible for my team at work has always been really important to me. Whether or not I’m on-site or off, my staff know they can knock, call, text or email and I’ll be available for them. But there are clear drawbacks to this mindset. I’ve found that if I’m not clear about boundaries, I’ll receive messages at all hours of the day or week and it prevents me from shutting off or focusing on my family. I’ve begun to shift this mindset and understand that I can still be seen as an accessible boss, without my staff having access 24/7. If I communicate when I’m available and when I’m not, team members can still get what they need without too much delay.
Give yourself permission
“I can’t possibly do that…” I can’t tell you how many times that phrase has gone through my head. I subconsciously tell myself that I’m not allowed to do certain things because what would other people think? Or because other people don’t do it that way. Or because people expect something different from me. A perfect example of this was how I design my work week. I was convinced that I had to work in specific places, at specific times etc. It took coming close to burnout after a hotel expansion project to give myself permission to do things differently. My life has drastically changed because of it and I believe my business not only hasn’t suffered, but has thrived.
Move towards a feeling
Second, instead of focusing on a specific outcome, establish how you want to feel. Focusing on how you want to feel, allows you to open up more doors and possibilities. Overtime I have found that what’s most important for me is that the time I spend on anything is about quality over quantity. I’ve let go of counting hours and put my time in where it is most meaningful. At work, this means being there for my team when we have staffing gaps. At home it means carving out time before and during dinner so that my kids can tell me about their day. I’ve discovered that more than anything, the way I want to feel is fulfilled and that I’ve made a meaningful contribution to the people that matter to me. The best part is that focusing on this feeling has residual effects. I make decisions easier, I’m present, I’m healthier and I’m downright a better mom and leader.
So what about those strategies and outcomes? Do they have no purpose? Strategies and outcomes are important, however, they are secondary rather than primary forces of change and improvements. They are supportive rather than causative. I have found that addressing limiting beliefs and knowing more generally how I want to feel have given me so much guidance in making choices, that I often need far less strategies and specific outcomes to get where I want to be in work and life.
Last week I read the Joblist Survey report with sincere interest. One of the biggest findings was that of the millions of people who quit their jobs as part of the on-going great resignation, at least one in four of those regrets doing so. The hospitality industry had a rate of 31% who regretted leaving their position! Read more about this report and how it relates to the hospitality industry and what actions we can take in my recent newsletter.
These results made me curious: how do you know when its time to leave your job? Scott Samuels, CEO of Horizon Hospitality, answers that very question in his article “When is it Time to Find Another Job?”.
In his article, Samuels identifies and expands upon four reasons for deciding to leave a job:
I couldn’t agree more with Samuels that the above are all good reasons for leaving a job. As a leadership coach and an owner of hospitality business, I was triggered to explore each of these reasons. Underlying all the reasons that people might leave their job and the reasons for regret that might follow, is the reality, that when you leave a job, you also take with you any unresolved issues or patterns of behavior with you. As a result, you can end up being equally unhappy in the new position. If you are unsatisfied with your job for any of the above reasons, consider the beliefs and behaviors below before making any big moves.
Evaluate your sense of self-worth (Compensation)
There’s no doubt that an employer should regularly be reviewing salaries and wages, reward good performance and offer financial growth opportunities. On the other hand, professionals also should take self- responsibility, be their own advocate and ask for what they want and need. Have you resisted asking for a better compensation package because you have low self-confidence or sense of self-worth?
Reflect on your behaviors (Toxic work environment)
Addressing a toxic work environment is one of the most difficult work culture issues for employers to address. Often it takes years to identify the circumstances or employees who are contributing to it and it may not be fully realized until the person has left. While employers have a significant responsibility to find and weed out the causes of the toxic environment, have you considered that your behavior might contribute? Toxic behavior is caused by a myriad of circumstances such as not being able to self-reflect, having un-met needs, being a perfectionist or always playing the victim, damaging relationships or giving in to destructive behavior.
Cultivate a Growth Mindset (Your growth has stalled)
Its easy to point fingers and determine that you have not been given opportunities to grow in your company. However, what else might be stopping you from that growth? Having a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset is one of the biggest reasons people cannot get to the next step in their career. They are either unwilling or unable to see that they are capable of learning new things and that experiencing failures along the way does not mean you are a failure.
Set Clear Boundaries (There's no end to burnout)
Burnout and the contribution of poor working environments to it, is a real thing. If companies are not addressing systemic issues that contribute to burnout, then it might be time to say goodbye. On the other hand, have you been clear about your boundaries? Do you always say yes to overtime? Have you communicated to your boss what you are willing and not willing to take on? If not, what is the underlying reason you have not been able to set boundaries?
The truest sign of a leader is the deliberate effort to clear your own path to achieve your peak potential. If you are exploring your next career move, whether or not it means leaving a job or staying, be sure that you are also turning your inquiry and reflection inward. You'll be happier in an existing job and if you do decided to leave, you'll be more successful and satisfied with your new position.
Communication has got to be one of the most emphasized and underdeveloped work and leadership skills. How many times have I heard or said, “you need to communicate better”? If its so important, why do we struggle to get it right?
Mid-way through my career, communicating effectively as a leader, is a skill I work on daily. I spend a lot of effort un-learning what I thought good communication to be usually through trial and lots of errors. I’ve written emails that I thought were perfectly fine but received angry responses in return. I’ve had conversations with employees and the employee quit by the end of it. I’ve posted things social media that didn’t sit well with our audience.
By definition, communication is simply the exchange of information between individuals. Effective communication, however, is a much more complicated phenomena and fraught with land mines where it can blow up in your face. In my experience, communication has gone wrong for me because I believed that the goal was to impart information to another person and make sure they understand what ever that information may be. When in fact, there is really just one goal, for every kind of communication: to build trust.
Who are you most likely to take advice from? – A friend you trust. What advertisements convince you to buy a product or service? – Those that come from a company or brand you trust. When do you best receive feedback in your work? – When it comes from a manager you trust.
Effective communication starts with a genuine mindset shift that when we are exchanging information, we are also open and genuinely receiving what is coming from the other. When the other person, or your target audience believes in our authenticity, trust begins to form. There are practices that support this trust building.
“What got you here, won’t get you there”…
I’ve learned that lesson many times over the years, especially as a business owner. Typically here’s how it goes. I set a goal or an expectation to achieve more and I hit a brick wall. Effort and my existing set of resources, knowledge and experiences are no longer helpful in getting me to where I need to be. This is the moment that I start thinking about where I’m going to get those things so I can move forward.
In 2019, my husband and I came to such a moment. We knew we had come to a cross-roads with our restaurant and attractions business. We felt that we lacked foundational knowledge and some skill sets to run that part of our business more professionally and to produce better results. To address this, we brought in a restaurant consulting firm. They conducted an assessment, shared their expertise and systems and provided insight on where we could go move forward. It was a big investment but it paid off not just in our confidence levels but also bottom line results.
Learning has been a value of mine since as far back as I can remember. Even though it didn’t always come naturally, I found it rewarding to come to a point where I knew something that I didn’t know before. In these early years traditional education was my main source of new knowledge and trigger to change my performance. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of opportunities to learn in different formats. From this process I also discovered that not all forms of knowledge and resources have the same kind of impact and different formats are better for some things than others.
It wasn’t until more recently, however, that I uncovered the reason why some formats are better at different times than others. In their book “Leading Beyond change: a Practical Guide to Evolving Business Agility”, the authors provide the context to answer this question. What they describe is that different learning approaches can fall into three categories 1) Knowing, 2) Practices, Techniques and Skills, and 3) Being. As you employ different approaches the impact they have on your evolution increases.
Its not always easy to know what approach to apply for which situation and when. In the story above we were missing key pieces of knowledge. Neither my husband nor I had any formal training in restaurant management or the culinary arts. We also didn’t have the time to do a lot of self-study. This is why we brought in the consulting firm. They had the knowledge we needed, they had nailed repeatable processes from their many years of experience, and we could get that knowledge relatively quickly from them. The approach with this consultant also included some skill building. They didn’t just hand us a report and call it a day. There was an on-going exchange and interaction in which we discussed our weaknesses and they helped us formulate methods to improve upon them.
After about five or six years of running our hotel and attractions business, I found that knowledge and skill building, including a two year hospitality certificate with Cornell, was starting to reach its limit in terms of what it could do to improve my performance. Patterns became apparent related to my behavior, the consequences of my behavior with others, interpersonal relations, confidence, ability to make decisions, job satisfaction and my general professional and personal well-being. These patterns of behaviors were beginning to become serious obstacles to high performance. All of that just described, are examples of the “being” referred to above. For this, I needed a different approach.
To “be” a different person, I doubled down on my reading about personal and organizational development. The turning point came when I engaged with a coach. The journey has continued with efforts including creating a leadership retreat for women in travel, developing a meditation practice and finally, becoming a coach myself.
The impact of my focus on the “being” vs. the doing, has been profound. I’ve developed a different mindset which enables me to address almost any challenge with a new sense of confidence and stability, even if I don’t have the immediate knowledge or skills needed to address it.
In a nutshell, it was for me like having all the best components and parts for a car (knowledge and skills) but the car still kept stalling out. Once I cleaned up the engine and made it run better (being) I could really put the pedal to the metal and accelerate.
I’ve put together some examples of learning and development approaches that fall under the three categories as described above 1) Knowing, 2) Practices, techniques and skills, 3) Being. This resource list is far from exhaustive and its not always black and white what sources of learning might fall in which category. Some sources may fall into more than one category and impact people differently. Get access to the resource list here and feel free to reach out anytime with questions around this topic or to learn more about coaching with PEAK.
Operating a business with a third of your staff and record-breaking revenue will teach you a few things about yourself. The return of travel is a welcome change, but the labor shortage conditions are like a new kind of pandemic. What there isn’t a shortage of is opportunities for growth and discovery in the face of these extreme challenges.
Scarcity eats perfectionism for breakfast
If there was a perfectionist fan club, I would be the first member. It shows up everywhere in my life. I struggle with letting my kids leave for school with un-matching clothes. I clean my house before the cleaner comes. If I start a terrible book and realize its terrible by page 5, I will painstakingly continue to finish all 500 pages because I just can’t abort.
At work, my perfectionist tendencies have me ping ponging across the hotel lining up lawn chairs in a perfect row, scrubbing carpet stains and shifting my path so I can greet and chat with hotel guest. On face value, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these things, and I’ve always felt that my perfectionism helps drive my achievements. However, this trait, can also be a crippling handicap.
I’ve learned a lot about perfectionism through many of Brené Brown’s books. Her research has revealed the roots of perfectionism in our negative self-image, shame and self-blame: “It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough”. For me, not being able to provide the perfect experience for my guests because we have limited operational human resources, becomes very personal and identity defining. I feel responsible for not delivering on our promised experience.
Here's the thing: perfectionism is soul sucking and a wasteful use of time and resources. With the current labor shortage time and resources are fundamentally scarce. I have had no choice but to change my mindset to what Brené Brown calls “healthy striving”. What this looks like: today we did our best. Tomorrow we will try again. I am not defined by the weeds growing in the garden. It’s good enough.
Serve me up some humble pie
Business owners, general managers and directors are being called away from the corner office to serve on the front lines all over the country. In our business I went from helping one day a week in housekeeping this past winter to four days a week at the peak of this summer. The physical labor of housekeeping presents a stark contrast with the mental and intellectual pursuits of marketing, business development and strategy. Its hard not to feel sometimes like I’m being taken away from the “important” work sitting on my computer. But what if the “important” work at this moment, is taking out the trash? What if doing laundry is exactly where I’m supposed to be?
The benefits of working on the line are not new lessons for me. I wrote about them when labor shortages started becoming a problem already four years ago. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-employees-hard-come-roll-up-your-sleeves-rachel-vandenberg/. What is new for me is the idea that one set of tasks is not necessarily more “important” than others. I’ve become increasingly humble about the work that really drives performance on any given day. This humility has also been closely linked with increased empathy and understanding of what the day to day is like for our staff.
“Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death” - unknown
I could hear it in his voice. He was frustrated and short with me the moment I saw him when I came into work. Oh boy, I had a feeling what the source of the problem was and all I could think was that I didn’t want to have this conversation, because there was nothing I could offer him as a solution.
A deluge of words and emotions spilled out: I’m overwhelmed, I’m tired, I don’t know how we are going to fill all the shifts. We just had two more people quit. Not a single person is applying for our open positions…
This is where I often go into hyper problem-solving mode. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to just be able to wave a magic wand and take away the frustration. I wanted to have the solutions at my finger tips. But I didn’t have anything.
I brought this experience to my coach. Some very important shifts happened for me in that conversation. The first was the insight around what drives me to go into hyper problem-solving mode: FEAR. What happens if I don’t have the solutions? Will the person leave? Will the situation get even worse? Was I letting him down? Would he be okay in terms of his mental and physical health if I didn’t solve the problem? What I learned was that leading from fear creates disempowerment. The exact opposite of what I intended. What my staff member really needed in that moment was someone to listen. What they needed was my faith in them that they were strong enough to handle it and find their own solutions.
As far as the current labor crisis goes, there are no easy answers but hospitality and travel leaders have already demonstrated how resilient they are through the pandemic. We’ve got this.
Rachel Vandenberg is a leadership coach living in Stowe, Vermont with her husband and three children. Rachel also owns and operates a hotel and attractions property with her family. She sits on the board of the local tourism association and also created a leadership retreat for women leaders in travel.