By Alison Kanovsky, MMH ’18
Aida Scarpati; Tiang Xiao; Coach Ed Evans ’74 , MBA ’75, VP and chief human resources officer at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Yiting Wang; and Alice Wu.
The MMH Leadership Development Program (LDP) is a weekend-long event that connects current students in the Master of Management in Hospitality program with top-tier alumni from the School of Hotel Administration. These alumni are all highly regarded in their respective industries and volunteer their own personal time to come back to Cornell for the weekend. LDP is one of the many opportunities the Hotel School gives its students to connect with alumni and develop their leadership skills.
LDP helped us learn about ourselves through behavioral assessments and group activities. Before the weekend began, we filled out leadership assessments and analyzed our results, and during the weekend, visiting alumni coached us through a series of activities and complex cases—including a thrilling obstacle course and a mountain survival scenario—to help us elevate our interpersonal and group dynamic skills to the next level.
Here are the top 5 takeaways from my experience with LDP:
#1. Technical skills may get you that first or second promotion, but after that, it’s all about interpersonal skills
While at Cornell, you learn a lot of technical skills that range from finance to marketing. These skills are necessary for a career in hospitality, help us with business literacy, and make us “well-rounded” students. They are the skills that are required for securing your first or second job after graduation, but to get that promotion to become a manager, you need to have people skills. It’s about working well with others, because almost everything in business involves interacting with a team. Many of the coaches at LDP stated that the classes they felt were the most beneficial during their Cornell career were courses that helped them learn how to navigate behaviors in the workplace, such as Organizational Behavior.
#2. Being a leader isn’t about having the best idea, but about facilitating conversations within a group
We aren’t experts in everything, that’s a given. Being a great leader isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. It’s more important to facilitate conversations and brainstorming so that your group, or colleagues, can come up with great ideas. As the philosopher Aristotle put it: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” One of the group exercises at LDP included a mountain survival case. We scored ourselves individually on what items we would need to survive a mountain plane crash, and then came together as a group to discuss why we chose those specific things. We then answered the questions again, but as a group, with great conversation and brainstorming on what the best items would truly be. Hearing each other’s perspectives helped us make wiser decisions, and every group ended up having a higher group survival score than any individual score. This helped show us that groups often times provide better results than individuals.
#3. Know your strengths and weaknesses
This ties in with point #2. We can’t know everything about everything, so knowing what you aren’t good at will help you find someone who can fill the gaps on your team. If you know that you’re really great at fine-tuning details, find someone to partner with who enjoys looking at the big picture.
MMH students during the Leadership Development Program
#4. Nothing is a substitute for operational experience in hospitality
The MMH students had a Q&A session with all the coaches and the question was asked: “How important is it for us to have operational experience?” Many of the coaches attributed their success and ability to understand the business as a whole to having some kind of operational understanding and experience. It’s important to know what goes into each job and how other departments interact and rely on each other. For example, beginning a career in housekeeping might not sound “glamorous” to others, but it really gives you a strong foundation for understanding how everything else in your organization works.
#5. “Play full out,” according to Professor Tony Simons
LDP weekend was led by Professor Tony Simons. In his opening address to the class he stressed the importance of “playing full out.” Basically, it means to try your hardest at everything you do, because you’ll get more out of the experience. You never know what you will uncover—whether it’s something about the experience or yourself. When given an amazing opportunity, you always want to give it your all and make sure you get the most out of it.
About the author:
Alison is an MMH student, Class of 2018, from Maryland. She started her career in hospitality at the age of 17 while working in a small sandwich shop in Washington D.C. Since then, she has expanded her experience to include country clubs and hotels, working in a variety of positions from server to human resources. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh studying general management with a concentration in human resources and marketing. Prior to Cornell, she worked for the Westin Georgetown in D.C. as a catering and event management coordinator. She plans to pursue a self-directed concentration.