Desperate hotel managers – it’s all about leadership!


“Low staff motivation”, “skills shortage”, “seasonal workers” or “poor service quality” are keywords that drive hotel managers to despair. Employees that are unfriendly, not motivated, do not deliver the expected service quality or quit their job as soon as possible pose a serious threat to the success of a hotel business. The very common initial reaction of hotel managers to solve the problem is to increase control and repeat commands or to fire staff and hire fresh people.

Hotel managers often are looking for “the right” employees, who follow the instructions, work hard and efficiently for 12 hours a day, are super-friendly to guests and do not interfere with the hotel operations. They shall respect the bosses and never waste time with questioning the hotel structures and procedures. Improvements and changes come from the leaders and managers, employees must follow – true to the motto: the managers control, and the staff works. This mindset is still common practice in many hotels today.

But what hotel managers need to understand is that this kind of employee does not exist – and that’s good news!

For some reason, an authoritarian leadership culture is still common practice in most hotels. Managers are used to making the decisions based on their own authority and not on a consensus. As a result, employees are not encouraged to find solutions, improve procedures, or take over responsibility. Their development perspectives are limited, payment is low and working conditions are poor.

Leadership workshop with hotel managers in Tunisia

Following this argumentation, it becomes clear that the hotel management bears responsibility for the problems outlined in the introduction of this article – not the employees! But is this clear to everyone? Not yet!

During many discussions with hotel managers, a lack of knowledge and experience on how to implement an appreciative and supporting leadership culture has been identified. This is not surprising! In most hotel schools and academies, management skills such as team communication, active listening, giving feedback, coaching or collaborative leadership are not part of the program. Moreover, the hotel sector seems to be a “closed shop”. Experiences from other sectors are not welcome, mostly underlined by statements like “this is not possible in a hotel” or “the hotel sector is different”. But, to be honest, from my experience I do not think that the requirements for hotel employees are more demanding than in other sectors.

During my leadership trainings in different countries and hotels I made the experience that hotel managers are able to learn and willing to improve their own performance – after they have accepted that they are part of the problem! In workshop sessions, we often found out that the housekeepers, front office staff or waiters developed excellent ideas for improvements – as soon as they were encouraged to do so. In many cases the service quality, security issues or staff satisfaction was improved after responsibility has been handed over to the employees. Furthermore, the managers understood that it makes their lives easier, if they focus on supporting their employees and defining the goals that need to be achieved, instead of controlling every working step. In this way, they can concentrate on their core tasks: managing their hotel and developing innovative and future-oriented ideas. In other words: strategic planning replaces micromanaging.

Of course, it is a long way to go to establish an appreciative leadership culture and implement modern management methods.

But it pays back – in high motivation, low fluctuation of employees and an improved service quality! Therefore, it is worth a try.

Author: Karsten Palme

I am Managing Director of COMPASS. I studied Geography of Economics and Tourism M.A. (RWTH Aachen) and I am certified trainer for innovation and management. My consultancy focus lies in destination management and tourism marketing with focus on cross-border cooperation. I also offer managementtraining and train-the-trainer-seminars. Economic Development: Cross-border co-operations, promotion of investments, city and location marketing, development of business clusters. Contact:, tel. +49 (0)221 94339638

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