Building a Culture of Excellence:  Leadership lessons from the Hospitality Sector

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    As I transitioned from General Manager to CEO, I needed to train my replacement.  The first thing I told her was that managing her team would be her biggest challenge.

    Employees expect a leader to take charge, but also need compassion in training, dealing with difficult people and sometimes dealing with difficult team members.

    I often refer to being the GM as being the Mom of the group!

    The first directive in the hospitality business is to teach your team that “It’s not in my job description” should not ever be heard out loud.  We work as a team and if that means that housekeeping is falling behind due to the number of check-ins, we all go up to the guest rooms to help turn the rooms over.  In heels, I have been known to clean toilets.  Period.  If meeting rooms need to be turned over without adequate notice, we all go in and help move tables and chairs.  We all pick up liter outside, we all say Good Morning with meaning and we all offer to get a guest a cup of coffee.  If you do not like people, Hospitality is not the business to be in. The bottom line is, Hospitality employees accept multiple responsibilities and will be asked to do work outside of their normal duties.  But most important is that the leader of the group is just that.  Leading their team by example.  This is how you will earn respect and if your team sees that you will never ask them to do something you are unwilling to do they will work harder simply to please you.  My motto is I will work 110%, so I will expect 100% out of my employee’s.  And after 28 years, my average staff member has been with me for over 20 years!

    Save the day now, Fix the problem later.  I love this!!  When you are managing 75 people plus, it is expected that you will have crisis situations amongst employees. 

    What is important here is that there are two sides to every story.  It’s important not to react to the situation, rather just listen.  I will not give my opinion until I have met with each person involved in the circumstances.  For example; Housekeeping manager states that Maintenace manager told Joan that I wasn’t checking rooms on Thursday.  Wow, that doesn’t sound right and I believe you so give me time to check this out. Investigating further, Maintenace manager didn’t work yesterday, so this cannot be true.  The best way to straighten this situation out is to bring all parties into one room.  Yell, scream accuse and at the end as the moderator encourage a hug and high five and let’s all work together and move on.  We don’t have time for animosity and hurt feelings.  This is a small example, but powerful one.  Life is hard, life is work.  We work hard at our marriages/relationships, at our jobs, in our family life, and everyday challenges.  But the reward is happiness.  If you are not happy at your job where you will spend more time with me than you will your own family, you will always be miserable.  Let’s make the most of every day and find a positive force.  I can stand tall only by the Grace of God.  Lot’s of prayer and learning to tell myself to “Let it go” and move on.

    Maintaining a united front amongst employees.  The first step is communication.  Managers often ask, why do you send the notice to all of us if it is only for one department.  Because we all need to be on the same team!  In order for our organization to be successful, we all have to know the day to day operations and when a project is starting and when it is scheduled to be complete.  We need this in order to schedule employee’s appropriately, and we need to know that the reason a department is non communicative is because they are on a mission.  A mission to make our property better for our guests and our employees. 

    We must also remember that it is important to encourage constructive feedback.  In other words, develop a culture where feedback is viewed as a tool for growth, not criticism.

    Without confident employee’s your business will fail.  Again, this all falls under teamwork.

    Set and Manage Expectations.  Better Up says it best.  Which leads to Management doing their research and implementing their findings.  Every day should be a learning experience.  The day I know everything is the day I will retire or resign and move on.

    Whether every leader acknowledges it or not, communication is integral to their success. 

    Communicating expectations effectively is a critical component of what it takes to be a great leader. Without communication around expectations, your employees (and your workforce) won’t know what direction to go. 

    But communicating expectations isn’t as easy as it seems. One survey found a severe gap in communication between managers and employees. In fact, 91% of employees say communication issues prevent effective leadership. 

    For most of us, communication skills are just that — skills to build, practice, and invest in. In today’s climate, companies are moving fast.

    Many organizations are pivoting priorities quickly, adjusting to changes in the economy, job market, and staffing. A resilient and agile workforce is more important than ever, which means so is communication. 

    Let’s talk about the importance of clearly communicating expectations. We’ll also cover how to communicate expectations with your team — and how to unlock the full potential of your workforce in a tight labor market. 

    The importance of clearly communicating expectations

    Setting expectations with your team has its benefits. It’s more than just setting attainable goals to achieve or clearly communicating team expectations. 

    Here are seven reasons why communicating expectations is so important — and how it can impact your bottom line. 

    • It helps increase employee engagement 
    • It optimizes your team’s productivity 
    • It helps solve some performance management issues 
    • It can help improve your organization’s work environment 
    • It can help increase employee retention 
    • It makes sure both parties have a clear understanding of shared goals 
    • It gives employees expectations and clarity on what projects, initiatives, or priorities to focus on 

    Do not just make rules—build character!  I am only as good as my employees.  That is the bottom line.  When I talk about my employee’s I refer to them as my Family.  I lift them up by saying thank you and recognize when they have gone above and beyond. 

    We do team building including all departments.  We recognize diversity, we have work parties to include their families and encourage the children to visit the property!  Several of my seasoned employees now have their children working at the property, some even have their grandchildren now working.  This is Not an employee-owned company, but we are definitely family driven.

    When I start out my staff meetings it is reminded.  If you are on time, you are late!  I say this as it takes several minutes to grab your coffee, catch up on the latest gossip and simply pull yourself together to get your day started.  I use this example and live by it.  I cannot state this and be 10 minutes late to work or even on time.  I am punctually at the property at least one hour early to find out all details of the night prior to inform all departments what is ahead of them for the day.  I would never expect this from my staff, but I would like to believe that this is enough of an encouragement to make them understand the importance of not only showing up on time, but if someone does not show up at all, if affects the entire operation.

    Build character in your business by being a positive role model.  Your team will follow!  I promise you this.  Not only will you succeed in your role as a leader of a business, but this will follow you.  Your personal accountability, integrity and reliability at your workplace, in your role at home and in the community will be a positive force that earns respect and trust.

    Tammie Carstensen


    Harbor Shores Hotel Management, Inc.


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    Tammie Carstensen
    Tammie Carstensen
    Tammie Carstensen is a seasoned executive with over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, specializing in operations and customer service management. As the CEO of Harbor Shores Hotel Management, Inc. in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Tammie oversees all aspects of hotel operations, from personnel management to financial planning and guest relations. Her journey with Harbor Shores began in September 1996 as General Manager, and her dedication and passion for excellence propelled her to the role of CEO in August 2022. Tammie is known for her exceptional leadership qualities, strategic acumen, and operational expertise, driving the growth and success of Harbor Shores as a premier luxury destination. She excels in forging strong relationships with stakeholders, including board members, local businesses, and community organizations, demonstrating integrity and empathy in every interaction. Beyond her professional achievements, Tammie is deeply committed to community service, actively participating in boards and committees such as the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Geneva Tourism Commission. Her contributions to the community have earned her numerous awards, including the Citizen of the Year award by the City of Lake Geneva in 2017. Tammie holds certifications in Global Bio Risk Management and Hotel Administration from Best Western International, underscoring her commitment to industry best practices and continuous personal growth. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family, engaging in outdoor activities, and giving back to her community, firmly believing in the power of kindness to make a positive difference. Tammie Carstensen is a visionary leader, community champion, and beacon of excellence in the hospitality industry, inspiring and uplifting those around her with her unwavering dedication and profound expertise.