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Lesson #1: Leadership Is Not To Be Taken Lightly
Sharp didn’t become the leading luxury hotelier in the world all by himself. In the over forty years he has been in the industry, Sharp has developed a unique leadership style that has encouraged his employees to devote 110 percent of themselves to the company. By creating a working environment that is built on trust, credibility, and integrity, Sharp has inspired his team to work to realize their best efforts. In the end, he understood that this was the secret ingredient to helping the company realize its best results.
According to Sharp, the most essential quality of leadership – and the one most often overlooked – is responsibility. “Maybe it’s taken for granted,” he says. “Maybe it lacks pizzazz. In any case, it’s basic, the other side of the coin of authority.” As a leader, Sharp admits that his first responsibility if of course to be profitable and competitive in a global economy. But this, he says, no longer means just the creation of wealth through physical assets: “It calls for wealth creation through human resources – the continuous input of information, ideas, and enterprise from our employees.”
Sharp believed that by empowering his employees, his company would experience significant productivity gains. Thus, his first task was always to create a united purpose amongst his workers. “We do that, first of all, by establishing a meaningful goal, an overriding purpose that most people can relate to,” says Sharp. “If the goal is clear and the focus is sharp and constantly reinforced, we unify and energize through a sense of common purpose that inspires employees to ardent effort.”
While his competitors were downsizing in response to the pressures of various recessions, Sharp didn’t believe that the solution to their problems was cutting costs by cutting labour. This, he believed, only served to cut quality. Instead of “minimizing labour’s cost”, Sharp strove to “maximize labour’s value by convincing our employees that our purpose merits commitment.”
Sharp knew that the dedication of his employees was not something he could simply command, nor could anyone else. Leadership, for Sharp, requires persuasion to follow the common vision that he had established. That persuasion was to be built upon a foundation of credibility and trust. Echoing the words of Edward R. Murrow, Sharp suggests, “To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. And to be credible, we must be truthful.”
Throughout his career, Sharp strove to earn that credibility. It was never something he took for granted. “We earn credibility only when employees see that what we say is confirmed by what we do, and when our actions consistently further our stated goal,” he says. “We have to share information truthfully, openly and fully. And we have to earn trust before a sense of common purpose can emerge.”
Sharp’s three cardinal qualities of leadership were the ability to unify, to direct and to motivate. Through a combination of mental toughness and enthusiasm, Sharp was able to bring out the best in his people, which is, after all, the ultimate goal of leadership.
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