Here’s the fourth in our new series of articles featuring thoughts and insights from members of our MBA program faculty. In it, Associate Professor Dr. Annick Darioly Carroz charts the ever-increasing importance of soft skills for leaders inside and outside hospitality.
Leadership is certainly not a universal ambition. Many of us are content to blend into the background, to be part of a team or in a job where technical skills are paramount.
If you choose to undertake an MBA, however, it’s pretty likely that a leadership role is on your career ‘to do’ list.
“They define themselves as entrepreneurs; they want a better balance between work and personal life; they are more open to cultural diversity; more confident and focused on high self-esteem; and more tech-savvy.”
That’s why leadership attributes and behaviors form a thread that runs throughout our MBA in Hospitality Management; and nowhere more so than in the Personal Development and Leadership Skills course which students take in their first MBA semester.
The course is taught by Dr. Annick Darioly Carroz, and it allows her the opportunity to continue what has been a career-long interest in the topic of leadership. Given the age profile of the typical Les Roches MBA student, Annick also enjoys ample opportunity to ponder the great leadership debate of our time: how to manage the millennial/Gen Z demographic successfully.
“These generations tend to think and behave differently to previous ones,” Annick explains. “They define themselves as entrepreneurs; they want a better balance between work and personal life; they are more open to cultural diversity; more confident and focused on high self-esteem; and more tech-savvy.
“This is a generalization of course, and there will be exceptions, but these are the traits that come up time and again when we research millennials and Gen Zs.”
How does this translate into the skills and behaviors required to manage the younger generations effectively?
“It’s very different from the old style command and control style of management. They need to be given an environment that’s conducive to creativity and innovation; to feel they are able to take decisions by themselves, while receiving constant feedback and positive encouragement. And this is completely in line with the soft skills which are prerequisites for 21st century managers,” Annick says.
The key soft skills in this context include communication, interpersonal skills, giving feedback, teamwork, and others. Are such skills teachable?
“Yes they are, and they are the focus of my Personal Development and Leadership Skills course,” Annick answers. “We take the time to ask the students to self-reflect on their soft skills, and in particular those in which they feel they are stronger or weaker.
“We look at what they want to achieve in the medium term after they graduate with their MBA – and especially the gaps they need to close if they want to demonstrate to employers that they have the skills, personality and values required to reach managerial levels.”
Role play for the “Zoom generation”
A vital element of the leadership skills learning process is role play in class. But of course this is a practice which has been significantly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.
“It’s been a real challenge to adapt to a remote learning situation for role plays, because so much of how they work involves non-verbal communication. This is much harder to teach and observe in a Zoom/Teams environment,” says Annick.
“At the same time, it is a useful learning experience for the current MBA cohorts, because we are entering an era where remote working is becoming more prevalent. So it’s important to learn how to adapt your communication skills when you’re not face-to-face but sitting in front of a computer.”
One thing that remains a constant with the MBA cohort is the exceptional mix of student nationalities that is a core Les Roches characteristic. Annick sees this, and the intercultural fluency it encourages, as a USP for the program from a leadership skills perspective.
“Hospitality is a truly global industry, but so are many of the fields – like luxury, finance and events – in which our students make their careers,” she says. “So there’s a real advantage for our students in mixing with so many cultures and nationalities, because they can learn how to appreciate, and even emulate, forms of non-verbal communication which they would not necessarily be exposed to at home.”
As an example, Annick cites the very different non-verbal communication behaviors between Asian students and those from Europe or the US. It’s why she always mixes the cultures in breakouts or project work, to see how the students begin to mirror each other with their movements and behaviors.
Hospitality and the AI “paradox”
Perhaps the strongest connection between the soft skills taught at MBA level and the thirst for innovation that forms part of our DNA as a school is the way in which these skills can help to solve what Annick calls hospitality’s AI “paradox”.
“Empathy, communication, listening skills, relationship-building – I’m not sure there’s a robot yet developed which can do this today, or likely any time soon.”
This relates to the spread of artificial intelligence (AI) applications, robotics and digital technologies across the sector, allowing the more transactional/operational processes – for example check-in/check-out – to be automated. The paradox is that it inevitably reduces the human contact at these key touch points, which could make the hotel service element feel cold and impersonal.
However, this can be made a virtue if employees are freed up to become even more customer-centric; and especially if they are armed with an array of soft skills that can help them to ‘charm’ the guests. As a result of automation, we are likely to see hotel employees spending more quality time with guests, telling them about great things to see and do locally, and generally adding value to the guest experience.
“In this way, soft skills become the primary purpose of employment,” says Annick. “Empathy, communication, listening skills, relationship-building – I’m not sure there’s a robot yet developed which can do this today, or likely any time soon.
“Add in the adaptability and resilience that our current and most recent MBA cohorts have had to learn through this pandemic, and it makes them very employable individuals.”