The Importance of Agile Leadership to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Managing a business looks almost entirely different than it did 20 years ago. The hospitality industry, once a slow adopter of change, is now often in the vanguard of innovation and inspired leadership.

We’ve entered a world where physical space is less vital then ever and connecting in person is often the last step in a relationship:

  • The cloud has replaced filing cabinets
  • Mobile has surpassed desktop
  • Text messages and email are increasingly favored over phone calls
  • In-person meetings are now video conferences
  • Traditional office space has morphed into “collaboration pods,” remote offices and co-working spaces

I, however, work in an industry anchored by physical spaces. Judged by interpersonal relationships. Measured by a real experience, not a virtual one. Still, as they saying goes, we must adapt or be left behind.

How does a company that’s been around for decades keep up with these rapid changes? Simple. The leaders at the helm – and their teams – must know how to work nimbly and lead with agility.

Companies that have found success in this landscape know that change is inevitable and necessary to thrive in the marketplace. Since you can’t always anticipate when changes occur, having an agile leadership team is necessary to confidently pivot directions when it does happen. The concept of agile leadership, commonly associated with start-up culture, has quickly become a more widely accepted practice at global companies. Today, companies are expected to do more with less and work more nimbly to remain relevant and outpace competitors, especially in times of uncertainty.

Agile leaders are removers of obstacles, and strive to engage and empower individuals. Decentralized decision-making builds a culture of trust that leads to active learning, a willingness to “throw spaghetti against the wall,” and creates an environment where trying new things is the norm because it is constantly championed and nurtured. Teams that feel that the work they do provides value and is impactful contribute more because they are energized and engaged.

Knowing that, I knew our team needed a space to brainstorm so we reconfigured an old storage space at one of my hotels and built a space dedicated to innovation, dubbed the “Thinkubator.” The design features and furniture of the Thinkubator are conducive to brainstorming and lend a casual atmosphere different than other areas of the hotel, and built to encourage new ideas to flourish and drive unconventional solutions to common problems we face daily.

Boston is a great proving ground for the value of agile leadership. Our business community is filled with incubators and accelerators, collaborative and creative workspaces, and imaginative leaders. Our ecosystem contains an active, participatory government, world-class educational institutions, and a global feel that marries Boston’s parochialism with a world view.

In the hotel community, we have longstanding properties with classic, traditional guest experiences. We have newer hotels, like our Aloft Boston Seaport, with first-in-class technology featuring our voice-activated room, or Element Boston Seaport built for the eco-minded. Would either of those concepts – and all that is housed within them – exist without agile leadership? I’d argue that they wouldn’t.

The competition is going to keep inventing new and amazing experiences at their hotels. Staying ahead takes a village. Staying relevant requires being agile. And staying in one place is not an option.

I’m proud of the agile leadership examples I see in the hospitality industry. Here are five things my industry is doing to stay agile and ahead of the competition.

  1. Utilizing real-time feedback to enhance the guest experience through social media and dedicated digital platforms like Kipsu
  2. Holding team retreats with specific focus on innovative leadership
  3. You can’t innovate in a vacuum, so using concept labs as incubators for new technology that is then swiftly implemented in hotels and adjusted based on guest and staff feedback, helps us stay ahead of the curve and produce products that work for everyone
  4. Developing partnerships with like-minded companies to expand audiences and get a first-hand look at how other industries lead with agility
  5. Hiring Chief Innovation Officers who listen and look for opportunities among staff, and speak with guests to implement solutions and improve processes in real-time

Peter Drucker said “there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”  This may highlight the agile leader’s mission most effectively. Our challenge as leaders is to find those things that we are proud of saying we are doing efficiently and realize that they may not need to be done at all — more than likely we continue to do them because they have always been done that way. We need to continue to root out our assumptions of the past and evaluate whether they will make us successful in the future.

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