By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors
Everywhere we look these days, it seems, everything appears to be falling apart. New, politically explosive global trouble spots emerge daily while lingering ones become more demanding and complex. Barbaric atrocities have become a staple on the evening news while many of our global leaders seem feckless and perplexed about how to respond to the challenges before them.
Here closer to home in the US, thousands of youngsters from abroad have been tragically dumped on our borders and communities across the country are asked to make room in their local budgets to care for them. Thousands of our citizens are being dropped from their preferred health care plan and are now facing astronomical rate increases to maintain their current coverage levels—even though they were promised they would be able to keep their current plan if they wanted it. And the examples go on and on whether here or abroad.
We all have our ideas about why things seem to be going terribly wrong at this time and what to do about it. For my part, it seems that much of it comes down to a lack of Respect—for individuals; for the ideas, beliefs and traditions of others; for the rule of law and; sadly, for common decency.
Meanwhile, our US President is an excellent example of eloquently speaking the words but not following up on what he has said or being careful to modify his statements so he can’t be held accountable—no matter the outcome of his policies or statements.
The examples are too numerous but the lesson is there as we look at how we, as company executives, provide leadership in a global world. My several decades of working in a global environment with Marriott International taught me that Respect is critical and Perception is reality—both of which are often viewed through a cultural screen. The one constant is that words must be followed by actions to gain credibility.
One example comes to mind involving the building and branding of one of our hotels in China. We had reached an agreement with one of China’s wealthiest real-estate investors. He would build a spectacular, full-service hotel in a major Chinese city and we would manage it for him. In time, it became clear that the owner’s contractors were cutting corners. The building materials were second-rate and the workmanship was slipshod. In a series of meetings, we delivered the same message: we had high standards and this particular property was not up to par. The owner refused to change his approach and we never wavered—“Build the hotel the right way, or we won’t accept it.” He nicely responded, “Yes, you will.”
A competing hotel had recently opened a substandard property and our prospective owner thought we would follow suit. We refused. He held out for two years, somehow managing to withstand the financial pressure to move ahead. Finally, the stalemate was broken when he realized that his contractors were letting him down and costing him a good deal of money by not doing the job right the first time.
Later he told us, “I hate what you people did, but I respect you for doing it.” We eventually opened his hotel and it has been successful. When the dust settled, other owners of Marriott properties in the city told us they approved of our stand. What they did not say—though it was clearly understood on all sides—was that if we had yielded to him, they would have looked foolish for agreeing to maintain our standards in the hotels they had previously built.
To be sure, the building and opening of a hotel is small potatoes compared with many of the problems we’re facing today across the world. But, the principle is the same. Respect is paramount and you have to not only mean what you say, but to follow through on what you say. It’s time those in leadership positions understand that words have meaning and require action.