Industry Update
Opinion Article14 January 2020

Hospitality Leadership Series – Future Leaders: Seeking Advice and Applying the Right Filter

Seasoned executive search professional and human capital advisor, Thomas Mielke, shares thoughts on success for emerging hospitality industry leaders

By Thomas Mielke, Managing Director, AETHOS Consulting Group London

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A new year has arrived and with it comes different opportunities and challenges. Some things, though, never change - the great majority of us tend to 'take stock' at this time of the year and plan for what we want to achieve or do differently, both personally and professionally.

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For most industry 'novices', the fresh hospitality graduates or apprentices out there, there does not tend to be a limit on their ambitions and aspirations. With a clear target in mind, the question is not what they want to accomplish but how best to go about doing it. Advice is plentiful - the trick lies in applying the right 'filter'.

Most industry leaders have established relationships with a mentor or a very select group of personal advisors for whom they can call upon for thoughts, advice, or direction as it relates to their career. AETHOS has often highlighted the importance of such 'personal boards of advisors'. For new entrants to the industry, though, it is often difficult to know who to choose as a mentor or role model. It is no surprise, then, that during last year's "Young Hoteliers Summit", which annually gathers more than 200 students from hospitality universities in over 20 countries, this issue was raised the most in the one-on-one discussions.

It is easy to be blinded by someone else's mastery and thus to try and mimic their career steps or rely upon them for career advice. However, those who do are potentially setting themselves up for failure. When seeking a mentor, or preferably a group of advisors, young professionals need to first do some 'homework' to avoid being misguided or trapped on the wrong track:

  • Be self-aware and know what you are passionate about.
  • Define your purpose. What gets you up in the morning?
  • Act deliberately and stay in line with your drivers.
  • Be open to options.

In other words, industry up-and-comers should not be too influenced by career choices others have taken. One should remember that doing something because others have done it is seldomly a winning strategy. What works for others does not automatically work for oneself, and it can be dangerous to blindly follow the advice of those who have already achieved success. Their 'best practices' or behaviours may have changed now that they have achieved their ambitions, so merely copying their current habits may lead to little else other than frustration. When putting together a 'personal board of advisors', it is wise for those looking for external guidance to:

  • Assemble a diverse group of individuals who can advise on different areas and provide support personally and/or professionally; getting the right mix is crucial to avoid group thinking and/or to pursue forgone conclusions;
  • Limit yourself to approximately ten 'trusted advisors'; this ensures diversity of opinions but also allows selection of a smaller group of, for example, five experts for input at any given time on a particular challenge you are facing;
  • Choose mentors not purely based on their impressive accomplishments but on their ability to sort out the noise and focus on what matters to you; to help you question your assumptions and own objectivity; to be persistent (and not complacent); and to practice your skills as well as to evaluate potential associated 'risks' of a decision.

Most likely, listening to the chosen mentors will be challenging at first. Yet, to be open to (tough) feedback and be willing to course-correct is vital to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. The qualities industry newcomers should be watching out for in their 'personal board of advisors' are:

  • Natural curiosity, i.e., an ability to challenge but also to be a good listener.
  • Innate empathy, i.e., someone who will get to know you and who has your best interest at heart.
  • Inherent grit and candour, i.e., a pragmatist who will provide honest and direct feedback.
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