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The Leadership Playbook for Bouncing Back from Failure to Navigating Award-Winning Success

I've never been more conflicted with a decision during my Marriott career, then when I received the results from my first employee opinion survey as a GM. After six months on the job, the staff rated my leadership ability in the bottom quartile of all the Fairfield Inn hotels in the Mid-Atlantic region. During all the years I’d worked my way up through the ranks of management in Marriott’s Courtyard division, my employee opinion survey results were always at least 85% and several years it was over 90%. So, I was taken back by the perception the staff had of me. After considering all that I had experienced during the six months I had been GM of the hotel, I questioned if I had made the best decision.
Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.
~ Horace~
The results of this survey didn’t tell the back story of events which had taken place during my first six months on the job. Such as, being required to travel back and forth between NC, SC and GA for three months to complete Fairfield Inn General Management training in Atlanta, while relocating my teen daughter and myself to a new city and state, AND experiencing the unexpected loss of my teenage son, Blease. I had been through the ringer as I faced one challenge after another since accepting this GM's position.
I'm certain that my heightened level of  frustration and doubts about my decision to move to Wilmington, NC for the position was influenced by my mental and emotional state of losing my son just three months prior to the staff taking this particular survey. Nevertheless, this didn't stop me from wondering if I had made a BIG mistake. I wrestled with the idea of resigning from the position and relocating back to Columbia, SC to work as a department manager until another opportunity I was interested in became available.
Eventually, I dismissed that idea when I took the time to consider all that I had already overcome and sacrificed during the ten years leading up to this promotion with the hope of giving my children a better life. Something about quitting after receiving what I had considered to be a game changing promotion for improving the quality of our lives and my career as a business leader didn’t sit well with me. I decided that in spite of the circumstances, “Now, isn’t time to throw in the towel.”
Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition such as lifting weights we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.
~Stephen R. Covey~
During my annual performance after the results of this particular employee opinion survey, my Regional Manager, Steve Dawe and I had a candid conversation about my performance during my first year as a GM. Steve suggested that I approach the staff from a different perspective. Considering I had been with Marriott 10 years, I had been immersed in its culture and values by working in its full-service division and the Courtyard division. In my mind, "I was an expert on Marriott's excellence and what it took to succeed working for the company."

The Leader's Playbook for Turning Failure into Success

Step 1: Be Self-Aware.

I was so caught up in "my way", it blinded me to how many of my actions were being negatively perceived by over half the staff. My quest to elevate the guest experience at our Fairfield Inn by implementing similar "extras" received by guests of the full-service Marriott and Courtyard brands alienated the staff versus engaging them.

Step 2: Create A Space for Open and Honest Communication

When I scheduled one-on-one's with each staff member to get their feedback about how I could improve, I discovered that many of primary influencers on the staff were put off by how what my actions seemed to imply, I knew how to better serve the guests at the Fairfield Inn because I'd worked in the Courtyard and full-service Marriott divisions. My actions in a nutshell implied to the staff I was perceiving the hotel and them to be below the Marriott's standards. Talk about a wake-up call.
Of course, this wasn't my intention. But as a leader you know that people's perception is their reality.During the one-on-one meetings with the staff, I apologized for how I had come in blazing with ideas about how we could improve the service at the hotel without actually getting feedback from them about my ideas.
We spoke honestly about the manner in which I made attempts to engage them in the improvement process and how my tone of speech often made them feel as if they weren't cut out to meet and exceed Marriott's standards.
I had to back paddle. I needed to build a foundation of trust and open communication which would provide me opportunities to display the respect and value I felt towards them from day one.

Step 3: Focus on Shared Values

As I started to ask questions of the staff with the intention of receiving their honest feedback on improvements for the hotel to scale service excellence they slowly began to share their knowledge and ideas with me. I realized that we shared the same goal for the hotel, we all wanted it to continue to be successful. We started focusing on what we shared in common. This became a turning point in our teams development. I challenged myself to "step up my leadership game" with the goal of becoming the best GM I could be.

Step 4: Invest in the Growth & Development of Team Members

To take our team to the next level, we needed a tune-up and an alignment of our values, actions, and goals. So, I began a staff development and growth campaign. I went to Sam's Wholesale and purchased a copy of John's Maxwell's book,Developing the Leaders Around You, for each member of the staff. I used the book as the topic of discussion in our monthly employee meetings. I took the steps necessary to continue to immerse myself in the Fairfield Inn's culture.
In April of 1996, the employees took the spring employee opinion survey. We received the result during that summer. All areas of employee satisfaction had improved across the board. So much, I was recognized at the 1997 Fairfield Inn/Courtyard GM's Conference as one of the Fairfield Inn GM's with the greatest improvement in his or her employee survey. 

Step 5: Deliver High Performance & Expect It from Your Team

This accomplishment fueled my drive to see what more we could accomplish as a team. I continued to focus on growing and developing the leadership capacity of staff members at all levels in the hotel.
All department employees were required to complete an Intro to Computer class. I received flack from both housekeeping and maintenance staff members about this one. Many of them felt it was a waste of time. Yet, in the next year, a few housekeeping staff members and a maintenance staff member were promoted into positions that required basic computer skills. I hired a consultant to facilitate a team-building workshop which we all were required to attend. 
In my second year as GM, I purchased a copy of John Maxwell's book, Becoming a Person of Influence for each staff member. During the year, I used the insights from the book as discussion material in our employee meetings. My commitment to the success of the individuals on the team became my driving purpose as a leader. It was the "why" that gave me the courage and tenacity to grow my skills so that I could develop the leaders around me.
Our commitment as a team and the results we were able to produce took center stage in 1998 at the Fairfield Inn GM's Conference in New Orleans, LA. Despite our numerous starts and stops as a team, the horrendous hurricane seasons of 1996-97 that challenged all of us to dig deeper to provide service to the hundreds of people that were displaced over extended periods of time, and the influx of newer hotels in our market, our customers had become evangelists for our team, so much so that just by the number of comment forms submitted by them out of 350 Fairfield Inn hotels, our team received four #1 customer satisfaction awards at the GM's conference. Our team was recognized as #1 in Service, #1 in Value, #1 Room Cleanliness and #1 in Maintenance and Upkeep of the Building.

Step 6: Create a Leadership Legacy that Cannot Be Erased

These awards were the icing on the cake with a strawberry on top. Despite the challenges we'd faced at the beginning of our team's evolution, our commitment so service excellence had enabled us to become in the eyes of our customers, an award-winning team. 
I was, and continue to feel a great sense of pride in our ability to overcome the obstacles that could have hindered each of us from experiencing this great achievement. And to have our tireless effort towards creating memorable and value-added customer service experiences be recognized by our guests made it just that much better.
We celebrated with a beach party. Staff members from other Fairfield Inn's traveled to Wilmington so that we could travel to Myrtle Beach. Soon after this experience, many members of my leadership team, including my assistant manager and maintenance assistant were promoted into leadership positions within the company or a franchise unit. 
Today, several members of that Fairfield Inn team continue to work in leadership positions in the Hospitality Industry. While others have struck out on their own as small business owners or were able to successfully transfer their skills to other industries.
Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.
~President Abraham Lincoln~
As a leader, there will be moments during your career when you'll be thrown a sucker punch. Like a prizefighter in a boxing championship, you have a choice to stay down and call it quits or pull yourself up by the strength of your spirit, mind, and body to finish the fight like a winner. If you decide to stay in the ring and fight to achieve your goal, your commitment and bulldog tenacity will serve notice to others that you're in to win it!
Now, I'd love to hear from you.
In the comments below, share some of the actions you've taken to bounce back from a failure.
Each week, this website reaches thousands of incredible souls seeking to be inspired, equipped and motivated by applying what they learn to experience new possibilities in their lives, so your feedback serves others in a valuable way.
P.S. Know anyone struggling with a career setback. Share this article with your colleagues, family, and friends.
With love and gratitude

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