Hospitality Leaders Ride the Waves of Change


The hospitality industry has been under repeated and marked changes of late, and like many other industries, the trend is consolidation. The implications extend well beyond market share and positioning; at the heart of these transactions lies the difficult task of meshing brands, segments, and management teams. Indeed, the winners in the M&A game will be the ones that can pull off the “Brady Bunch” plan better than the others.

Naturally, the media and Wall Street will be focused on the financial impact of these deals, as well as distribution and market penetration. But the really interesting stories will come from understanding how these companies are handling the internal blending of operations, cultures and people. In fact, most mergers fail because of cultural, not financial issues.

Anthropologists refer to circumstances like these as potential “culture clash”. Therefore leaders must be as mindful as ever in monitoring and managing what may likely seem like chaotic internal dynamics in positive and influential ways. This can be challenging enough when times are good and operations are in status quo; but this era of consolidation has upped the ante.

According to new research outlined in our book Loneliness of Leadership (Amazon, January 2016), such organizational and business trials and tribulations are useful in separating old school managers from modern servant leaders. In particular, the authors’ psychometric profiling of industry leaders revealed a competency set grounded in strong generalist knowledge versus single-minded, subject matter expertise. This competency set acts as a social network and focuses on intellectual bridge building. The goal is to assemble a personal board of (as-needed) advisors who round out a leader’s perspective and knowledge and subsequently challenge the leader’s thinking and working assumptions. The idea is to break away from surrounding oneself with “yes people” and thereby think and act outside of one’s own immediate interests. The hallmark of servant leadership is that ideas and actions are filtered through the lens of investing in other people’s success and fulfilment – team members as well as customers.

This approach is a competitive advantage, because it inherently encompasses an attitude of being a forward-thinker and what psychologists call “tolerant of ambiguity”. Old school managers detest unanticipated change and ambiguity, since it threatens the status quo and one’s sense of control. Of course, rigidity of thought and an inflexibility of actions and responses limit the evolution and innovation that comes from adapting to change of all kinds. In short, managers are focused with controlling circumstances, whereas leaders are more concerned with profiting from “riding the waves”.

Undoubtedly all of this consolidation in the industry will yield both expected and unforeseen change that will either help or hinder organizational evolution and product innovation – depending on the outlook and priorities of an organization’s senior leadership. Alignment and Engagement used to be the primary HR buzz words, but new mantras are needed now in order to effectively create and nurture these blended families.

The biggest winners will be the leaders – not managers – who recognize and leverage the power of adaptability, flexibility, and a mind-set grounded in the principles of servant leadership. It’s not about trying to force a square peg into a round hold, but rather about building new, novel, and profitable configurations altogether.