Key leadership takeaways from the crisis

Over the course of this week, Kenneth Greger and James Theodore, partners in the Travel & Hospitality Practice at global executive search firm August Leadership, are sharing ideas about leadership based on interviews with Arne Sorensen, CEO, Marriott International; Sébastien Bazin, CEO, Accor; Edie Rodriguez, immediate past chairman of the Americas, Ponant Cruise Line (former CEO, president, Crystal Cruise Lines); and Mike Leven, former president and COO, Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Synthesizing this input, here are some of the key points Greger and Theodore ask you to keep in mind as you continue leading your organizations through the COVID-19 abyss:

  • Your leadership style and values are in a white-hot spotlight, and reflected in all that you do
  • Prioritize your people and empathize with their pain –be open, transparent and humble
  • Be visible and present every single day
  • Communicate openly, constantly and honestly; engender trust, stem the fear
  • Lead by example – be optimistic, instill confidence, and admit you don’t have all the answers
  • Surround yourself with great minds, deal with the present, but plan for the end goal
  • Be disciplined about the business and its survival – manage cost and think creatively
  • Stay close to your people – remember this is an emotional hit, not just economic
  • Maintain engagement directly and through every means technology provides
  • The recovery will take time, potentially a long time, and a vaccine is key
  • We will emerge with a new “normal” in regard to travel and hospitality, and how we work
  • People will travel again
  • The industry will thrive again

The values you hold as a leader and that you represent on your company’s behalf are already established when a crisis hits, and will determine your effectiveness or shortcomings in such a demise. COVID-19 is no different in that regard. But there is one difference Greger and Theodore say they would love to see when all of this is over. In difficult times, we tend to unite, collaborate, reveal our fears and share our humanity. Titles and levels flatten and we’re all in it together. But when we recover, history clearly shows that our memories are often short and we don’t really change, mostly because the pressure to do so is gone and it’s a lot of work.

As you reflect on your own experience as a leader trying to navigate COVID-19, and as a human, the challenge is to stop that cycle by focusing on what needs to change moving forward and committing to making it happen. COVID-19 has been disruptive, to say the least. Now it’s time for you to be disruptive in response. Having the character to do so is what separates leaders from those who are just running companies.