13 Traits Every Hotel General Manager Needs

August 19, 2020
Jeremy Wells

Anyone in the hospitality industry knows that hotel general managers have earned their positions. If you are a GM, you know how much work it has taken to get to where you are now, and you should feel proud of that accomplishment. Yet, now as a general manager, you’ve probably seen first-hand that you are now held to higher standards and more accountability than ever before.

Some of the qualities needed to be a successful general manager are probably skills you have been cultivating for your entire career such as being a people “person”, problem-solving, and delegating to a team. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still skills, habits, and traits to work on in order to ensure your continued success as a hotel general manager.

In this article, I’ll describe 13 things that I’ve seen the most successful hotel general managers do to stay at the top of their game.

1. Fill Up Your Cup

First things first, you’ll need coffee — or whatever it is that keeps you going. This position isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a successful hotel general manager takes time, energy, effort, and determination. But you’ve made it this far – so chances are good that you have what it takes. The following habits will help you figure out areas where you may need help and implement changes to further your career success and the success of your hotel.

2. Keep Up with the Industry

This is an important tip for any person in any industry. Industry changes can heavily impact us in our jobs very quickly and we have to be on top of it for the best chance of adaption. Think about 2020 in particular – as travel restrictions and bans were rolled out across the country, could you have afforded to ignore those for days or weeks? Absolutely not.

That is probably an extreme example, but it makes the point. You need to know what is going on in your industry and what changes or impact could be coming your way. Then you will be more equipped to readjust and pivot your strategy should the need arise.

I recommend setting aside at least 30 minutes every day to read through industry news, insights, and hotel trends. This could be anything from world events that impact the hospitality industry to new technologies you could consider adopting. It could even include articles like this one that helps you be more successful at your current job or advice for making your hotel stand out.

3. Leave the Office

Now that you’re finally a general manager, you have access to an office. While it can be a nice change of pace to take a break from a chaotic day in some peace and quiet, you won’t want to spend all of your time within those walls.

Meetings, emails, and administrative tasks can keep your calendar full and your body in your office but be sure to make time to walk around your hotel, inspect a couple of rooms, interact with your guests, and connect with your employees. I recommend literally blocking off time in your schedule every day for this. This in-person visibility is what helps you stand out from the regional managers who don’t have the opportunity to be in the hotel every day – so make the most of it.

Your daily walkabouts are your chance to get a feel for what is going on with your guests and your hotel. It is also a chance to connect with your employees, motivate them, and redirect them if they need it.

4. Lead by Example

Speaking of your employees, if you want them to trust you and have confidence in your leadership, then you need to be an example for them to aspire to. The most successful leaders practice what they preach and are very aware of the actions they take.

“Leadership is not position or a title; it’s action and example.”

Cory Booker

For example, if you are implementing a new policy for check-in, you will want to make sure you also follow that policy as you check guests in. If you want your employees to help each other and build a collaborative team who are all dedicated to providing the best guest experience possible, then you have to be willing to jump in and lend a hand when things go awry or get chaotic. If you’re constantly asking staff to “wear the radio!“ or “keep the cell in your pocket!” then you should be doing the same.

Think hard about the type of place you want your hotel to be not only for your guests but also for your staff. Then figure out where your hotel currently falls short and what actions you, personally, can take to move in that direction.

5. Share Your Knowledge

Part of your job as a hotel general manager is also to be a teacher. You’ll need to share what you know with your staff to establish a sense of empowerment in your hotel but it also makes everything run more smoothly. By sharing your knowledge with your team, you’re giving them the tools and skills they need to perform their jobs without your assistance.

You should also keep in mind that when the team fails, you’ve failed – but when the team succeeds, it is your success. Do everything in your power to make your team successful and that achievement will reflect positively on you, too.

6. Know When and How to Ask for Help

You are the manager and it is your job to have a good understanding of your hotel. That being said, you shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. Being a hotel manager is one of the most stressful jobs in the hospitality industry if not the world. Everyone has a limit for what they can handle and what knowledge they can have.

“Never let your ego get in the way of asking for help.”

Edmond Mbiaka

Asking for help will not make your team see you as weak. In fact, it will actually encourage them to also ask for help when they need it (instead of making assumptions or letting problems go unreported.) It will also help your team feel more collaborative, which only benefits the hotel as a whole.

7. It’s Okay if You Don’t Know Everything

Going along with #6, you’ll need to admit that you don’t know everything. If a team member or guest asks you a question and you really aren’t sure, don’t make up an answer. Instead, tell them you don’t know but you’ll find out and get back to them.

As a hotel manager, you are expected to know a lot of stuff – especially the basics like where the pool is located and how to get in touch with the kitchen staff. But if a topic comes up that you just aren’t 100% knowledgeable in, admit that you need to do some digging and come back to it.

Everyone you interact with will appreciate the honesty, and the truth, more than they would have been impressed by your ability to make something up on the fly that only turns out to be false later.

Also, lean into your other team members/managers talents, skills, and abilities. Acknowledge your areas of improvement and encourage team members who excel in those areas to contribute — even take the lead.

8. Provide Motivation for Your Team

You may find that many non-management employees are not fully engaged in their jobs. The most important factor for influencing engagement (besides being a manager themselves) is an employee’s relationship with his or her direct supervisor. That means it is your responsibility to get your team engaged and keep them that way.

How can you motivate your team? There is tons of advice out there about methods for doing just that. But a simple framework is to set clear expectations and goals, provide constructive feedback on a regular basis, praise them publicly for a job well done, and provide opportunities for them to learn and grow.

Allow your team the latitude to fail. Not all operational changes or promotions will be home runs. Great team members will thrive when you allow them space to fail and take measured risks.

9. Travel More

For many hotel general managers, it can feel like the hotel is their life. Some hotel general managers find it difficult to leave for any extended amount of time. But the best general managers have an incredible team that they can delegate to and therefore have enough time to travel at least a couple of times per year. If you don’t feel like you can delegate or take a vacation, then you might want to think harder about who is on your team and whether changes need to be made.

Traveling is incredibly beneficial for those of us who work within the hospitality industry. It is how we get new, innovative ideas for our own hotels and restaurants. It is also a good way to understand and connect with our guests better and figure out ways to provide an even better experience for them.

10. Get Techy

Technology is a beautiful thing – but many general managers just don’t utilize it appropriately or take the time to invest in it. As a hotel general manager, there are a lot of different technologies to consider and implement – everything from guest experience platforms, property management, and employee training. While it can seem overwhelming at first, the benefits make it all worth it and it helps you maintain (or gain) a competitive advantage in your market.

It’s important to stay ahead of the curve in this way.

11. Ask for Feedback

One of the best ways to improve is to ask for feedback regularly. That’s right – ask for criticism and don’t get defensive about it.

This doesn’t mean sitting on Yelp or TripAdvisor and reading all of the negative comments every day – although reputation management is important and worth spending a little time on.

Instead, make sure you are asking guests about their experiences (like on those walkabouts I mentioned earlier.) Encourage them to leave feedback via comment cards or emailed surveys after their stays. Ask your employees to solicit feedback from guests about their experiences as well.

But it isn’t enough to get the feedback. You also need to do something with it. You might have a monthly meeting where everyone brings their non-urgent feedback for discussion. Then your team could brainstorm how to address some of the common issues that have come up.

Besides your guests, you should also ask for feedback from your employees. Ask them how you are as a manager. Ask them what you could do to increase their engagement. Ask them what you could do to make their lives at work better or easier. Your employees see you at work every day and likely have solid advice to give you – but you’ll probably have to ask for it and be open to receiving it.

12. Embrace Change

The hospitality industry is constantly evolving – so to be a great manager, you’re going to need to accept that and work with it instead of against it. There will always be policy changes, technology changes, staff turnover, vendor shifts, economic shifts, and more. Don’t fight against change and don’t show fear in the face of it. If your employees see that you are adopting to change and agile as it arises, they will follow suit (instead of jumping ship the minute things seem a little dicey.)

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

John F. Kennedy

13. Work on Your Communication Skills

You’ve made it to hotel general manager – so you probably have decent communication skills, especially when it comes to one-on-one interactions. That’s great. But as a manager, you also need to be able to clearly communicate your vision and your goals. You need to be able to encourage and motivate your entire staff towards that goal. You have to be clear and persuasive, and those may not be communication skills that you’ve perfected at this point in your career.

Again, how to be more persuasive and motivating are entire research topics on their own and you’ll have to figure out which styles work best for you and your team. Regardless of the methodology, experts agree that being clear and thinking through what you want to say before you say it is key.

14. Display Your Passion (Bonus!)

Since number one wasn’t technically a tip, I’ve included a bonus tip. Display your passion for your hotel, your brand, and your industry for your employees and your guests. Without a genuine passion for providing positive guest experiences and a passion for the hospitality industry, it is going to be almost impossible to be an effective hotel general manager.

Conclusion

Success in any role in the hospitality industry, including hotel general manager, requires a unique blend of soft and hard skills. Read back through the list and think through what areas you are succeeding in and what areas need work. Prioritize those that need work and start implementing changes today to help you get where you want to be.

As a general manager, the success of the hotel falls to you. Being a leader means you take on that responsibility. Because of that, you should be taking time to cultivate positive practices and new skills into your own management and leadership styles ultimately benefit the business as well.

Jeremy Wells

Chief Marketing Officer, Longitude°

Jeremy is an author, speaker, and partner at Longitude°, with well over a decade of experience and expertise in brand strategy, business development, customer behavior insights, and marketing. His career has centered around helping leaders build influential brands by telling more compelling stories in order to connect on a deeper level with their audience.