Leadership in a crisis: A core lesson we all must learn
 
Leadership in a crisis: A core lesson we all must learn
02 SEPTEMBER 2020 7:22 AM

In times of crisis, the ability to manage change is paramount. Those who are able to embrace and manage change will navigate these troubled times with much more success.

When the coronavirus struck, our industry went from “60 to zero” in a matter of days.

Suddenly, terrifyingly, hotels closed and many of our colleagues were out of work. And there weren’t enough adjectives to describe the destruction. Unprecedented. Catastrophic. Horrendous. Cataclysmic. Devastating. Worst global pandemic in living memory. At one point the U.S. Travel Association reported that “while the economy is in a recession, the travel industry is in a depression: Overall travel industry unemployment is 51%, twice the unemployment of the worst year of the Great Depression.”

As the pandemic emerged and the virus was given a name (COVID-19), a plethora of advice started appearing in articles, webinars, whitepapers, newsletters and forums. Handbooks were published on how to prepare for recovery in operations, in marketing and in revenue management, with some prognosticators saying the road to recovery may be as long as a decade. Comparisons were/are being made to industry recoveries after the 9/11 tragedy and the 2008 financial crisis. The circumstances were and are so unprecedented that literally we are all making this up as we go along. No one has all the answers.

What is the core lesson we must all learn? Well, we need only look to some smart people to find the answer. And that answer lies in our ability to change. Darwin said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”

Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

And one of my favorite quotes is credited to a man name William Arthur Ward. He said: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Now let me guess—the pessimist reading this article is probably saying, “Sails! What sails?? There isn’t even any wind!”

But as a practicing revenue-management consultant for 25 years, I can tell you that change management is the toughest piece of the puzzle. One can explain concepts and teach skills but changing peoples’ minds is a whole different matter; changing how we think; changing how we approach a problem; changing how we provide leadership. In this world of COVID-19, it’s about retraining our brains to think differently. In other words, it will take the mother of all paradigm shifts to weather and solve this crisis in our industry. We will have to be precise in our approaches, listening carefully to the myriad of factors around us.

This reminds me of a post I recently read from Colonel Nicole Malachowski, USAF Ret. Colonel Malachowski is the first woman to be a member of the famed United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron. She talked about what extraordinary precision it takes to fly at those speeds, so close together. Her post read as follows:

“What the audience couldn't see, were the thousands of micro-decisions made by each pilot. As we fly, the lead aircraft is literally talking (more like singing) to us the entire time. The rate, tone and inflection of his voice would translate to muscle memory in each pilot. Maneuvers required each pilot to make decisions independently & agilely. That's what it took to appear flawless to the audience.

Even with tons of practice, every air show was different. The lead aircraft would have to adapt for environmental changes such as wind, terrain and clouds. He’d signal these changes by adjusting the rhythm, rate and tone of his voice. We would immediately adapt how we flew the plane, alter our micro-decisions, to match his lead.

As a leader you have the power to guide how your team handles expected & unexpected changes within your organization. You set the rhythm for smooth transitions. Make sure your tone reflects your desired outcome.”

Pretty damn good advice in these unprecedented times, from the best of the best.

What are our conclusions? Those who can innovate and create will survive. Those who can shift gears easily, who can quickly learn to fish where the fish are, will survive. Those who provide strong, responsive leadership will survive. Those who retool, reimagine and reinvent will survive.

This is not easy. We tend to be creatures of habit and it’s only natural to drift in the direction that is most familiar. So the key will be leadership – whether it be at the corporate level, the property level or with asset management and ownership. And patience will be critical. As an industry not known for its patience, we must give ourselves the time to make those all-important micro-decisions and to adjust our sails to a new reality.

Bonnie Buckhiester is the principal of consulting firm Buckhiester Management Limited. Contact her at www.buckhiester.com

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