Strengths Coaching Blog

Friday, November 25, 2016

Leaders, Know Thyself

By Simon Cooper

In Alfred Lord Tennyson's great poem great poem Oenone, the goddess of wisdom offers Paris the gift of "self-knowledge" as one of three qualities that will give him "sovereign power." Paris turns the offer down. I think that is a mistake. The most effective leaders embrace self-knowledge as fundamental to a successful career. 

When I think back on my early career, I, like many others, did not really know what my talents were and how they might best be deployed. There was no CliftonStrengths to tell me, but I was fortunate in that, before I began my hospitality career, I had captained numerous sports teams, as well as some lovely sailing yachts. That gave me no special edge, but it did give me confidence that I could lead small groups of people in a common direction. I had self-confidence, but I totally lacked self-knowledge.


Fortunately, I ended up in a career that was a perfect match for my strengths. Either by luck or by design, I found myself heading up the Ritz-Carlton organization at the end of 2000. I took over a cherished global luxury brand that created incredible experiences for its guests as a result of the dedication of thousands of committed Ladies and Gentlemen (the term for employees at Ritz-Carlton) around the world. The brand was incredibly well-established, and all the critical metrics like customer satisfaction and revenue were world class. Ritz-Carlton was a global benchmark.

As I stepped into leadership at Ritz-Carlton, I was fortunate that my top Signature Theme is Maximizer. The Maximizer in me has always believed that everything can be improved. At the Ritz-Carlton, we are relentless in our drive to improve our outcomes, as well as stay "timelessly relevant" to our global customers. 

Those seem like mutually exclusive goals. But Maximizers can’t rest if they see any room for improvement, any way to increase excellence even by a degree. I have always admired Tiger Woods for taking time off to change his swing when he was at the height of his success. He needed to change it to stay competitive. Maximizers understand that impulse. And I saw a way to improve on excellence in guest satisfaction when I arrived at Ritz-Carlton.  

In 2000, nearly 95% of our guests were "satisfied" with their experience at one of our hotels. I am sure our top global competitor had the same number, but satisfaction is very much a measure of tangible outcomes. We needed to be able to measure long-term emotional engagement with our brand in order to create long-term success. Partnering with Gallup, we embraced the CE11 customer engagement assessment, and today the true test of the brand's relationship with its guests is measured by the percentage of positive responses to the question "I cannot imagine a world without Ritz-Carlton." A high bar! Hotels that achieve the 97th percentile on Gallup's worldwide customer engagement database are considered world class — and the Ritz-Carlton is and has stayed in that percentile. 

Another of my signature themes is Arranger. This is about managing lots of variables. In 2010, I was fortunate that Marriott (owner of Ritz-Carlton) asked me to be the first CEO in Asia Pacific as part of a new global structure. In simple terms, we were shifting risk, accountability and regional strategy from Bethesda, Maryland, to our Hong Kong office. My Arranger strength showed up often and was very valuable.

Arranger came into play immediately as we shifted multiple roles to Hong Kong that had previously resided in Bethesda. There were many moving parts and a few barriers to be overcome, but within three years we had a fantastic stand-alone team in Asia. Meanwhile, there are so many developing economies and different political systems in the region that the unexpected is the norm. My Arranger helped because I relish the unexpected — I fondly remember leaving the office of a head of state after a very preliminary discussion about a possible Ritz-Carlton in his capital city and being completely blindsided by a battery of TV cameras and reporters asking questions about our new hotel. Of course, he was up for re-election, and I was part of his “good news” campaign. Arrangers can adapt to that kind of thing, and even enjoy the surprise!

In his article The Value of Self-Knowledge, Christopher Contrary wrote that "though often hard, and sometimes terrifying, self-knowledge is empowering." I think this quote says it all. Knowing our individual strengths develops self-confidence and empowers us. 

When I brought home my StrengthsFinder report with my 34 themes ranked in order, my wife Marcelle studied it for two minutes, handed it back and said, "I could have told you that and saved a lot of time!" Well, yes, of course my wife knows me that well. But I didn’t. I needed to see the list, understand the scientific validity of it and learn where best to place my individual talents. We all do, especially those of us in leadership. Self-knowledge is an important part of “sovereign power.” The goddess of wisdom offered it to Paris, and he refused it. Fortunately, no one else has to make that mistake.

Simon Cooper is the former president of The Ritz-Carlton and a senior adviser to Gallup.








Simon's top 5 strengths are: Maximizer, Woo, Arranger, Activator and Significance. 



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