5 Traits of Great Hotel General Managers

5 Traits of Great Hotel General Managers

Being a Hotel GM, or General Manager, is not for the faint hearted. Particularly in the luxury hotel segment, they have to grapple with celebrity guests and their security details, all kinds of unusual and even bizarre guest requests and complaints, recruiting, training, and retaining the right staff to attend to these highly discerning guests, and of course manage the hotel's profitability, compliance with local regulations, maintenance, renovations, and more. It goes without saying that a certain level of business acumen and experience in the luxury hotel business is required, but those are just table stakes.

I've been fortunate to meet and connect with many fantastic luxury hotel GMs, and these are some of the traits I've noticed in the best of them.

1. Connects Personally with Guests

Someone who wants to sit in an office all day shouldn't be a hotel GM. While of course it's not possible at very large hotels and resorts for the hotel GM to greet all guests on arrival, at smaller or more boutique luxury hotels, a good GM will either greet on arrival or try to connect personally with most guests, either wishing them a wonderful stay or, if meeting them midway through a stay, asking how their stay is going–and listening carefully to the response.

A good GM responds to guest feedback, but a better GM is collecting much of this feedback himself or herself, not waiting for it to be given to colleagues or via TripAdvisor.

2. Takes Feedback as a Learning Opportunity Instead of Getting Defensive

Recently I discovered that the GM of a hotel I reviewed not entirely favorably maligned me to colleagues, claiming that I lied about my experience. Mind you, he never connected with me during my stay or made any effort to do so afterwards. That kind of defensiveness just reflects poorly on him, and I just feel sorry for his staff, since that's not leadership–it's shooting the messenger instead of seriously attending to the hotel's shortcomings.

Instead, great hotel GMs are great listeners when it comes to focusing on a guest's complaint or feedback, and view it as a valuable learning opportunity to improve the hotel, whether it has to do with the physical hard product, or the “soft” product such as staff service and responsiveness, ambience, and experiences.

3. Ability to Find, Coach and Keep Great Team Members

The best luxury hotels are all about the team of people, and the service they provide. Given enough money, anyone can build an amazing property. But that property, as a hotel, can be an utter failure if it's not run by the right people. And there are quite a number of people who, no matter how much money you paid them, are abysmal at providing great hospitality and service.

A great GM, through intuition and years of experience in the business, is able to quickly discern who's a great fit for the hotel in terms of attitude and desire to learn and improve, even if that person may need specific training in order to develop the requisite skills for the job. Similarly, a really good GM will ensure that staff at all levels receive the appropriate training, including some cross-functional training so team members have a more holistic understanding of the service they provide guests, and will do their utmost to help guests get the help they need.

4. Passionate About What They Do

There's probably a more eloquent way to describe this, but something I've noticed with the GMs I most admire is that it's not just a job to them. They are truly passionate about what they do, and particularly the team that they inspire and lead and the guests that they serve. In the case of many luxury hotels, the hotel has a management contract with a brand, such as Four Seasons, and the General Manager may only be there for a few years. But you wouldn't know that from the way their eyes light up when they talk about what they and their team are engaged in and innovating.

5. Calm Under Pressure

I've sometimes been talking with a GM when there's a fire (thankfully not literally) s/he needs to put out, and with the best ones, I'm always impressed at their grace under pressure. I've noticed it's particularly true with GMs who have experience with pre-openings, which can be especially stressful, with many moving pieces, and the propensity for construction delays.

Have you met a luxury hotel GM that you admire?

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