Stephen Ayers

The responsibilities that come with the privilege of being a general manager

About two weeks into being a hotel general manager at age 33, I realised that something was not working. I was roaming my office like a caged tiger, eager to go out onto the ‘shop floor’ and correct all shortfalls in the daily operations as I was used to doing before, yet forcing myself to stay in the ‘cage’.

Sure, I had a hotel that was running well, heads of department that knew what they were about, and seemingly satisfied guests and staff that knew how to serve our guests.

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By the end of week three I had it all sorted out and was finally sitting at my desk and starting out on my career as a ‘real’ general manager. I was free of that cage and ready to start the serious work. I had worked through the issues that had me roaming incessantly, and understood was to expect from myself and what others expected from me.

The first thing that I needed to accept is that with the wonderful privilege of running a hotel comes heavy responsibility. I guess that I was apprehensive and just a little frightened by the awesome responsibility that had just been handed to me. I was in foreign territory and in a panic as to how I was going to control and direct this operation, the heads of department, the staff and this large building that seemed to be alive all around me.

As I thought of all the general managers, good and bad, that I had known on my way up I began to understand what my targets were in doing my best to be a good manager. More importantly, I understood that I was not alone. I had a huge store of knowledge all around me, ready to be tapped into for solutions at any time .

I realised that the common attributes between all the GM’s I had considered good managers were some that I would need to adopt in my quest to excel as a G.M.

The first attribute is humility.

While I had been given power, I realised that I could not use it as a weapon but rather as an opportunity to lead and create a better workplace for everyone. You cannot use power to demand respect. You have to earn respect by hard work and leadership by example. All the GM’s that I had considered good had all been humble, and hugely respectful of all their staff.

The second attribute is equality

As a GM you are there to make decisions, improve the hotel both in results and operations, and lead it into the future. But this does not mean that you are above the rest of your staff, managers or line staff. On the contrary, to the guest you are much less important. Think about that for a minute. For a customer in the restaurant the dishwasher is vastly more important, since dirty dishes will ruin his meal.

For a clean and tidy room you need good room attendants, not a great GM. For good food you need a good chef. The list goes on.

So, sitting in that office I realised that I was really at the mercy of my staff, and that I had to bring this ‘orchestra’ together by understanding their needs and expectations of me as their leader. I needed to deliver on this if I was to succeed.

As a GM, I would only be successful if we all worked together to deliver a happy stay and good value to our guests. To achieve that goal I realised that we were all equal in importance.

The third attribute is the ability to listen, learn, and not be afraid to ask

No GM I have ever come across has known everything about his or her operation. Only the bad ones profess to have ‘total’ knowledge, which is an absurd notion. A well balanced GM knows perhaps one or two departments in detail, and a little more or less about the other departments.

A good GM is one who is always learning on the job. A great GM is the one that is never afraid to ask for help and advice from everyone and anyone in his hotel. Let me assure you that room attendants know more about guest feelings and their operation than any GM.

Dishwashers know more about the operational shortcomings in their department than any GM. Waiters know more about service efficiencies and service-kitchen problems than any GM. All that is needed to unlock this valuable information is a GM who is not afraid to ask.

Yet so many feel that it is beneath them or degrading to their position to have to go to an ‘ordinary’ employee for advice. It will make them look weak and ignorant, they think. On the contrary, it will make them look much stronger and more confident in the eyes of their staff. It will earn them more respect as an equal, as someone who is willing to learn from the staff that really do know the answers.

I have always believed that a ‘democratic’ manager is better than an ‘autocrat’, although both can be successful. However, I firmly believe that if you are going to lead a successful and ‘happy’ operation as GM, you need to treat people as your equal, show them respect, learn from them and earn their respect by example.

You are their boss, their teacher, their friend and mentor, but never lose sight of the fact that you are all equally dependent on one another to succeed.

By Stephen Ayers

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