The importance of leadership is more apparent during a crisis, and these last few months since the coronavirus outbreak began have certainly provided many opportunities for those in the lodging industry to demonstrate those skill sets.
During a recent panel discussion at the ALIS Summer Update – Nashville, a number of high-level hospitality executives were asked about how they’ve tried to help lead during these unprecedented times.
John Russell, CEO, RLHC, offered his perspective as a veteran of many years. “I would tell you the last four months has seemed like four years. I’ve been through 9/11 and 2008 had its challenges, but this is the first time in my lifetime we’ve had one common enemy worldwide; COVID-19 and all the devastation it has brought with it. From my perspective it’s about communication, communication, communication, I really believe in being transparent. Communicate daily, weekly, monthly with your owners, franchisees, employees, guests, and shareholders. A good leader is about communicating, listening to your constituency, what they tell you and trying to act proactively to help them,” he said.
Amanda Hite, CEO, STR, also touted the importance of transparency. “My leadership perspective is being very transparent with my team about what we know, what decisions we’re making and why and here are the things I need to figure out. I’m thankful for lot of friends, like the panelists here with me, where I can give them a call and pick their brain about what they are thinking about, trade perspective and ideas. There is no right answer right now. You need to really make sure you’re considering every idea, including all the crazy ones you walk away from and think this will never work. There’s no rule book or play book,” she said.
Greg Friedman, CEO, Peachtree Hotel Group, agreed. “There’s really no perfect playbook to deal with a pandemic. Ultimately it comes back to really making sure you keep your team engaged, and really have honest communication. The reality is there is light at the end of the tunnel, you have to sort of keep that optimism but also keep realistic optimism. There’s no question there’s a lot uncertainty and we’re going through an unprecedented event. We’ve never faced these occupancy levels and no one knows when there’s going to be a vaccine or when travels are going to return back to normal so you’ve got to keep the positive energy going,” he noted.
Tracy Prigmore, managing partner, TLTsolutions—a real estate acquisition and development firm, described her approach.
“I like to lead from the heart and then the head. First I wanted to be empathetic and think about what others needed from me as a leader and then I got into my head to figure out where do we go from there. We’ve a very small company and new to this space and this particular black swan event could have taken us out. I went full force working with our third-party managers to understand what they were planning to do, boots on the ground. I had to really focus with our lenders and what they were willing to do for us, and then had to have communication with our investors, because that’s really the crux of my business along with our staff. It’s been very interesting, but I would say by leading from the heart and the head I’ve been able to identify all the different resources that were available for us,” she said.
Finally, Russell offered another observation on how the industry has responded. “I do think this is the first time ever that I’ve seen the entire travel industry pull together. It’s not Red Lion against Choice or Red Lion against Wyndham, we’re all in this together. I applaud AHLA and AAHOA for taking the leadership roles both on Capitol Hill and also putting together some good training programs that will help our small business owners and operators,” he said.