Mediocre bosses are in all of the industries, not only in hospitality. It's what the majority of research on leadership conclude. When underlings have the opportunity to evaluate their managers, just a small percentage of them are ranked as excellent bosses. This percentage increases a bit more for those managers graded as good. But a great majority of managers are usually evaluated as mediocre or bad from employees. For example, studies as those of the professor of leadership of Harvard Business School, Linda A. Hill explain: "Based on what we have seen, most organizations have few great managers, some good managers, a horde of mediocre managers, some poor manages, and some awful managers."

Other more global studies exist as those of Gallup on motivation, revealing few levels of commitment among employees in their jobs overall. This global consultancy company put the voice of alarm concluding that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, according to its research based on 142-country study. "In other words, about one eight of workers –roughly 180 million employees in the countries studied- are psychological committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations." Gallup also concluded -as many of us have personally experienced in our careers- that employees quit their jobs mostly because they have bad bosses.

The hospitality industry is not an exception. Indeed, I would like to analyze through this article why there is a crisis of leadership in hotel companies. And why many hospitality organizations are failing in developing their managers and organizational talent. Maybe because they are promoting the wrong people to leadership positions or perhaps due to a wrong selection criteria, but the problem is that the bar on leadership is very low. Executives and the industry overall, are only focusing in technical competences but leaving behind the necessary human and people development skills, needed as well in good managers.

And yet, the great paradox is that if we could be able to ask hotel directors, heads of department, supervisors, and even C-level executives, "how would you rate yourself as a boss?" A majority would rate themselves above average. How is this possible?

Obviously, there is a gap of perception of what employees think of their managers and that of what managers think about themselves; still employees' perception matters a great deal in management because it defines reality. If your associates think you are not a good boss that will finally affect to their level of motivation, creativity, productivity and engagement, and thus the level of service.

No manager wants to be ineffective or evil. However, in spite of the years of experience many managers could be surprised of the results of a 360º upward evaluation (anonymous) from team members. If employees ever had the chance to evaluate their managers in different soft skills such as coaching, communication, listening, integrity, passion, engagement…etc., what do you think they would say about them? The outcome of such evaluation could be disheartening, but it could be also a good shock therapy. Suddenly, we are not the best managers we thought. And yet, the best way to confront with this evaluation is having the courage to accept the results. What are you going to do to make things right? How are you going to work in your fatal weaknesses?

The truth of the matter is that we cannot find many hospitality organizations in which employees can rate their managers. Only a few of them, maybe some big hotel groups, have set evaluation systems 360º with the purpose of controlling the quality of their leaders. Even less are those companies committed to getting rid of toxic managers that are consistently getting poor evaluations from their underlings.

These are some points that explain why there are more mediocre managers than good or excellent:

  1. The majority of hospitality organizations only focus on economic results. Customer satisfaction is paramount as well, but at the end what really counts is getting the numbers right (cost, profits, revenues…etc.) as well as maintaining the workflow of the hotel or department. So for this purpose, what matters is the technical, professional competencies and knowledge of managers. Let's call this 'hard skills'. These skills are certainly necessary, the problem is when hotel companies prioritize in this kind of skills but pay lip service to other needed competences related to "soft skills"; and permit dysfunctional behaviors from managers such as unfairness, lack of communication, lack of empathy, lack of integrity, or lack of transparency. In the worse case scenario we have toxic managers spreading their venom to people. Leadership guru and professor of Stanford University, Robert Sutton, reminded us about the danger of having certified assholes in our organizations, in his book The No Asshole Rule. A certified asshole is a person who needs to display a persistent pattern of bad behaviors, someone who has a history of episodes that end with one "target" after another feeling belittle, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about him or herself.

  2. The selection process is mainly based on technical skills. Hotels and selection consultancy companies, unconsciously or consciously, prioritize in professional experience and knowledge over leadership skills; i.e., hotel director with consistent experience in managing luxury resorts, or a food & beverage manager with good knowledge and experience in all-inclusive properties…etc. So the technical part of the future candidate weighs twice more than the human side, necessary for leading people.

  3. Decisions in promoting "A" employees to management positions are as well decided by the technical expertise side. That brilliant employee was very good at his or her job, had more experience than anyone else, was very knowledgeable…until he or she had to face with the reality of leadership. Individual skills that brought him up aren't good enough now. Becoming a boss is not about you, it's about them; it's not about "I" it's about "We". Unexpectedly, you realize that your title and level of authority is not enough for getting the commitment of all of your people. In order get higher levels of engagement from your team members you need to exert influence.

  4. Hospitality programs, degrees, and management schools aren't doing a good job in teaching students leadership skills either. Most programs prioritize in the necessary technical area of knowledge but leave the master of leadership skills to superficial aspects of HR. Students then enter the hospitality industry and learn about their jobs, they get proficient and experienced in knowing how to do the job, but they lack leadership competences.

  5. Professional expertise by itself, such as having +5, +10, and +15 years of experience doesn't guarantee at all leadership qualities. Linda A. Hill puts it again in a great statement: "Those who become managers must learn to see themselves and their work differently. They must develop new values, deeper self-awareness, increased emotional maturity, and the ability to exercise wise judgment". The problem is that we see many managers receptive to learn and self-improve at the beginning of their careers, but once they established themselves comfortable in their positions, they stopped growing. They became complacent and nice to be. What they do is basically managing people, giving orders and instructions to be followed, without allowing any dissent of opinion, nor making team members participate in the problem analysis and decision making process.

  6. Hospitality companies do not have a common framework of what talent means and how they could develop their people. Thankfully, we see exceptions, such as the case of good practices at Rezidor hotel group and its road map for talent management. ( Establishing a common framework for talent in a hotel director or head of department, must include competences like "he is capable of influencing and getting the best out in his people", or "she walks the talk and is a role model", or "he is a good coach", or "she is honest and shows integrity", or, " he displays a good balance between humility and assertiveness," and "he is a good fit with the values of the company". So, headhunters and HR departments should strive to identify these qualities in leaders, and also develop them.

  7. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity. If you've learned from a bad manager odds are you'll become a bad manager too. Employees in hospitality organizations watch their bosses in action performing daily activities, and may think leadership is only about having more knowledge and expertise in your field of domain, and that a manager's job is to come up with all of the answers. Much of this learning is casual and informal. For a long time in my professional career, I thought leadership was only about getting results and telling people what to do. In order to do that, you would use your formal authority because that's what I saw from my bosses. "I'm the boss". But this is a fundamental way of managing through fear, and will not certainly generate personal commitment or real engagement from your people. What's worse, those managers who use authority as the only source of power won't be able to get the best out of his people.

It should be clear at this point that managers have two main responsibilities; one is getting results and getting the job done. But the second, as important as the first one, is to develop their people individually, and thus make them function as a good team. This last goal is about developing your team members through coaching, boosting their talent, and giving them more autonomy to make their own decisions and participate in important issues of the daily job. I would love to see hotel groups evaluating their managers with one KPI such as "number of team members promoted from his or her team, and transferred to other hotels…" Instead of seeing mediocre managers fearing proficient employees and hiding their talent.

So managers must be good in coaching. And yet, coaching others cannot be done if you don't have enough credibility. How are you going to inspire others if you are not credible to your people? Or, how are you going to make your employees self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses if they don't trust you? Trust and cooperation cannot be imposed because they are sentiments.

The good news is that good managers aren't born but made. Leadership is a process of constant learning and self-reflection. A bad boss today can be an outstanding leader tomorrow if he or she has the courage to confront with his or her weaknesses, and accept his responsibility for self-development.