Are we fostering a nation of pretend hospitality leaders?

Chris Sheppardson, entrepreneur and CEO at EP Business in Hospitality.
Chris Sheppardson, entrepreneur and CEO at EP Business in Hospitality.

Hospitality directors under threat, says Chris Sheppardson, entrepreneur and CEO at EP Business in Hospitality.

LEADERSHIP, or lack of it has become something of a bone of contention amongst business experts of late. One thing is for sure, there is a growing lack of trust in leadership today generally, not just within the hospitality industry, and this is further exacerbated by a notable demise in productivity levels, cultural working environments and talent development.

Good leadership is crucial to the wellbeing of any company and yet CEOs are reportedly feeling more pressure than ever before with many of these senior level roles are being ditched in some larger organisations.  What makes this period of time so different is that it is arguably the first time that professionals and board directors are actually under threat.

Traditionally it has been blue-collar professions that have been under threat but in the coming years this has the potential to be reversed.

Where are the new leaders of today?

For example, the hospitality industry alone has reputedly 125,000 director positions that remain unfilled and are likely to stay that way as they are being replaced by process, systems and others carrying the workload.  It is expected that the numbers of directors in business will fall by around 30% over the next decade.

Business environments are not in the best of shape right now for several reasons and both social media and education has changed the psychology of the younger emerging talent today (our future leaders), which doesn’t help matters.

As such, people are now starting to ask: where are the new leaders of today and why aren’t they breaking through?

Arguably and somewhat ironically, this scenario has been driven largely by trust levels in leadership, which are breaking down via a mix of increased pressures on the young (much of which is process-driven or bottom line focused), which in turn, is creating a more guarded generation with an enhanced fear of failure.

Broken trust is hard to repair

During a wide-ranging debate with a number of hospitality business leaders from across the UK (at the recent Hotelympia event), lack of trust in leadership was top of the agenda for many. In fact, it emerged that it was having the biggest impact on performance and company culture today. It was argued that once trust is broken in leadership, it is very difficult to repair. Many argued that some leaders are not leaders at all because they have no real followers. More likely, they were deemed to be ‘pretend leaders’ who have by chance been selected to manage.

People argue that the world has never changed at such a rapid pace; but in truth this is false, as is the argument that this is the second industrial revolution. Historians can show that the world changed at a greater speed during the 1940s and 50s especially with the advent of commercial international airlines and television for instance.

The more truthful critique is frankly that leaders are far less visible and less accessible today generally. The British are traditionally very ‘tribal’ beings and we need to be able visualise and to be close to our leaders.  This is perhaps why the captains of our sports teams hold such an elevated position in society and often a cult status in our culture? Think, Bobby Moore, Martin Johnson, Will Carling and David Beckham.

Pressure points

As well as a lack of visibility, leaders are under continued pressure today to respond to KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and external pressures rather than focusing on strong cultures, people and positive work environments – even though, done right, all of the these elements drive business success long term. Today, in a world of technological innovation, more than ever, people are the differentiator in business, yet more and more people are leaving their jobs as a result of mental health issues and the simple fact that they are unhappy at work.

These increased levels of stress and disengagement that we so often hear about today is simply because many companies and directors are struggling to adapt to all of the extra pressures and advances and there is a need for realignment and retrenching with old values that did exist in the past.

Hospitality can lead change

On a positive note, the identification of these issues does mean there is a genuine opportunity for change if companies understand that need for change and can start to think differently about their customers and their own teams and work culture.  The hospitality industry itself as a people-focused business and one that prides itself on service and delivery, is also well placed to lead that change across the board.

There is a general consensus within the hospitality sector that the following need to be addressed to make those changes a reality:

  • To focus on raising the bar on quality and product so that the hospitality industry does stand apart.
  • To look at how sport and the industry can learn from each other (going back to those tribal roots) and there is a need to learn new ideas in leadership.
  • To look at how sport and the industry can learn from each other and that there is a need to learn new ideas in Leadership & Development (L&D) meaning we need to be broader minded.
  • To focus more on culture and engagement – but make it priority not a ‘nice to have’.
  • To look at recruitment differently by looking at talent rather than CVs.

Can we learn from generations of old?

To that end, and in retrospect, perhaps the big focus on ‘bottom line’ for leaders in particular stems from an increased fear of failure, worries about not achieving the anticipated goal and the additional pressures that this places on the individual?  As mentioned, for younger emerging leaders this fear is on the increase.

In contrast, the baby boom generation of the 1980s were often more gung-ho in approach and evidently achieved great things.  It was undoubtedly a generation of superb leaders so can we learn something from this?  There is far less freedom today and young people generally are known to feel under far greater pressure at work.  Mental illness and depression is on the increase and it is logical that when one feels under such pressure, talent will lack creativity or productivity – eventually, those people will choose to leave, or in the case of the would-be leader, they will simply give up.  Faced with the same scenario, the baby boom generation would have probably done exactly the same.  Is the answer staring us in the face?

EP Business in Hospitality –

EP is a leading communicator in business thinking and opinion with a focus on shared knowledge and connectivity across the hospitality industry.  Bringing like-minded communities together, EP provides a central resource for the discussion and debate of key issues affecting businesses today.

Opinion by Chris Sheppardson, entrepreneur and CEO at EP Business in Hospitality.


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