My Thoughts on Leadership in the Service Industry


My Thoughts on Leadership in the Service Industry

Robert Milner

Executive Director Auxiliary Services University of Maryland, Baltimore

• Leadership is a responsibility, not a title or position to achieve

• Leadership is not being in charge, it is being responsible for and taking care of the people in your charge. One goes from being responsible for the results to being responsible for those people responsible for the results.

There are many common definitions of leadership, for example: the art of motivating a group of people towards a goal, the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants, organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal, etc. The definition of leadership I like is, if you provide support and guidance to the person to the left or right of you, you are showing leadership. 

Leadership is a practicable skill. It can be learned but it must be practiced: 

• Regular exercise of this skill is the best way to be proficient.

• Keep in mind, not everyone is cut out to be a leader. Some people do not want the responsibility of being a leader – it can come with great pressure and personal sacrifice. The statement, ‘you are not in charge, you are responsible for those in your charge’ means, when everything goes right, your team should get all the credit. When things go wrong, you as the leader will have to shoulder the burden and the blame, which stinks. It basically comes down to Selfless vs Selfish. It’s things like staying late to mentor someone how to do something properly. When there is a failure, you offer words of encouragement while correcting the process/practice that led to the failure.  

• Not everyone should be a leader

While there are many Characteristics of a good leader, I have found the following ones most important: Trust, Empathy and Patience.

Trust – Assured reliance on the character, ability strength or truth of someone or something.

Do we create an environment where people feel safe to say things like: ‘I made a mistake,’ ‘I don’t feel I have been given the proper training to do my job,’ ‘I messed something up,’ ‘I am worried, I am scared, I am nervous …’?  Team members won’t say this if they feel it will make them vulnerable in the future. I believe too many emails are sent as CYAs because of lack of trust.

Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Before giving up on a poorly performing staff member, other approaches should be explored. Sometimes, just offering words of support will do wonders for someone to believe in themselves. A common example is the struggling salesperson where they had missed their numbers for two quarters in a row and their boss said something like ‘if things don’t get better soon, I can’t guarantee what might happen.’ That’s not inspiring, right? How would you feel after that comment? A manager should always remember that their employees are human and they may have problems outside of their work.

Patience – The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Everyone works at different speeds, and as a leader, you learn each employee is unique.  Sometimes spending some additional time showing an employee a different approach will help them to be more successful. Sometimes giving them more time or an environment with fewer distractions would be the answer. Not showing proper patience while the employee gets up-to-speed and builds on small accomplishments may result in the overall poor performance of that employee.

From my experience in the service industry, I believe work-life balance and being a good leader is kind of a paradox. It is a struggle to stop working at exact times every day and not working on days others may be off, especially when your employees are working nights and weekends. To provide the proper support structure for them, they should know you have their backs, regardless of the time. There is a chain of command, and the buck stops with you. If it means running down to the office to help solve a major issue, then that’s what you do … your employees do notice things like that. 

Great leadership is achieved best by becoming a lifelong student of leadership.//

Robert Milner, Executive Director Auxiliary Services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore

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