Soft Leadership Skills: Cultivating a Human-Centered Company Culture… – Hospitality Net

Could it be time to revolutionize the way we lead? With employee expectations changing and the younger generation currently seeking a greater sense of purpose, what does this mean for those charged with leading and motivating the work group?

The current leadership models need to be informed by new values, systems and criteria to reinvent what the pillars of success are really based on: human capital. Echoing the article by Dr. Stefano Borzillo, Reinventing Leadership Styles in the Hospitality Industry, this article focuses on ways to develop leadership soft skills to inspire greater engagement, loyalty, productivity, and improve overall business performance. Ultimately, this article demonstrates that the right set of management-level skills produces a human-centered company culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast Peter Drucker

Human values ​​and positive company culture

Culture, culture, culture!

A few decades ago, hospitality companies began to adopt a catchphrase from the real estate world: “Location, location, location!” Establishing yourself in the right place was considered one of the main factors in the success story of a hospitality company. Today I would like to reinvent the slogan and simply change it “Culture, culture, culture!”


Because changing attitudes towards the attractiveness of our industry and its leadership styles is what will encourage a new generation of workers to join and stay in this sector. Communicating and adhering to an employee-driven work culture is where the competitive advantage lies.

The post-Covid landscape The one we find ourselves in is populated by new expectations from employees who are rightly calling for a more human-centric approach. As Dr. Borzillo said, “It is time to extend the raison d’être of organizations related to the hospitality industry beyond economic criteria” since traditional leadership models that focus solely on profit margins at the expense of investing in human capital will not be able to attract and maintain a talent pool geared towards longevity, productivity and success. The development of employee-focused leadership models that promote human values ​​and a positive business culture is the starting point for reinventing the new paradigms that hospitality so badly needs.

Culture that reflects changes in employee expectations

It could be argued that traditional post-war culture and leadership models were never threatened until the Covid pandemic arrived to challenge a top-down system whose time was up. Rather, today’s job requirements reflect the need for basic human values, and what’s more, the pervasive digitalization of our society has only reinforced the need for human-centeredness, genuine interaction, and a feeling of belonging.

Business dynamics have changed, and today, I see the expectations of the employees now including:

  • decent working hours with flexible possibilities,
  • employee training and development programs,
  • goal-oriented work with clear career paths,
  • space for employee voice, ownership and creativity,
  • openness to new ways of thinking and operating,
  • human-directed empathic leadership models,
  • a supportive and inclusive business culture.

Building a strong company culture is the foundation on which these expectations can evolve, therefore it involves more than a good CSR statement with advertising intent. The culture must be clearly aligned and communicated between leaders, employees, end consumers; in summary, all concerned parties. But more importantly, it must be built with a certain methodology in mind that ensures credibility, feasibility, and measurability. For me, these are the important questions to ask yourself:

  • How is cultural identity created? (What are the principles you would like to see govern your company culture? These could be employee growth, empowerment, inclusion and diversity, etc.)
  • How can you train your leaders in human skills to lead by example and spread the desired company culture?
  • How do you measure the success of your company culture? (Define success, develop tools to measure the gap and win, and share the results.)

The benefits of creating a strong company culture should be the drivers of this paradigm shift. Employee engagement driven by a growth plan, an innovative mindset, fair hours, empowerment and transparency: this is how companies today differentiate themselves in the marketplace and position themselves as forward-thinking and attractive workplaces where talents want to stay and flourish.

Employee-centric culture has an impact on the bottom line by creating a virtuous circle where engaged workers deliver better results, leading to satisfied customers and higher business productivity. To quote the ever popular simon sinek:

Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders, in that order.

smart leadership skills

A strong organizational culture depends heavily on leaders who understand that it is important to lead by example: Emotionally intelligent leaders must tailor their leadership style to each employee, like a co-created dialogue based on their different personalities, competencies, and aspirations. As Dr. Borzillo explains, this psychological safety space allows each collaborator to adopt the values ​​and objectives of the company, thus becoming committed, loyal and creative agents of change in a favorable work environment. This requires a specifically agile and soft skills mindset that prioritizes qualities like humility, active listening, empathy, and adaptability that allow employees to feel like they can “be themselves” in the workplace.

These “smart skills” they are as essential to successful trading results as knowing how to manage a profit and loss statement or close a lucrative deal. Since human capital (i.e., people) is a deeply complex variable, it is important that leaders are trained in effective communication, emotional intelligence, and motivational incentives to bring out the best in teams.

“It’s about developing leadership skills and human-centered sensibility beyond a pure focus on business insight. Having acquired these skills will help leaders drive change, continually adapt, build teams, be agile, promote a positive organizational culture, and navigate an uncertain future. The idea of ​​collectivity is destined to become a major critical success factor. How you share success and how agile you are in increasingly uncertain times depends on how well you are connected to your teams.” Dr. Achim SchmittFull Professor and Dean of the EHL Graduate School.

Learnable skills with proven results

Recent studies highlight that the development of soft skills has become a priority for business leaders in 2023. Investigation conducted in the US across 22 industry sectors revealed that soft skills are the most desired qualifications for 91% of management positions. According to a Business Solver survey76% of employees believe that an empathic organization inspires more motivated employees. Forbes claims that developing soft skills is key to future-proofing a person’s career, listing durability, resilience and productivity as why, above hard skills, they count more in today’s workplace.

These “elegant” The qualities are deeply learnable, practicable, and highly transferable across all types of industries that rely on a customer service exchange (healthcare, banking, real estate, luxury, to name just a few). In fact, the sign of a motivated work culture is one that invests in the leadership skills of its employees and builds a skills-based strategy aligned with its business goals where growth opportunities are identified and nurtured.

The EHL Graduate School welcomes business leaders from a wide variety of industry sectors to impart not only the EI skills associated with excellence in hospitality, but above all, new attitudes towards employee-centric approaches, such as servant leadership (whereby leaders “must embody the values ​​of the organization and set an example to bring out the behaviors that will give life to the organizational culture in a real and profound way“, according Dr Borzillo), transformational leadership and human skills. While these approaches are practiced every day, in every interaction, leaders can be trained to specifically implement them during larger events, such as job interviews or formal performance review conversations.

the future is human

At a time when the question of AI dominance comes with an ambiguous set of pros and cons, I believe it is in harnessing these intelligent human abilities that we can create AI-proof careers. Genuinely caring for people is the new must-have prerequisite for today’s managers who practice human-centered leadership. Relying solely on digital technologies to create competitive advantage is not where the magic formula for future business success lies. Without a doubt, digital connection is a great thing, but, because of it and not despite it, human connection ultimately reigns supreme, as human capital remains the largest in a company.

EHL Hospitality Business School
Communications Department
+41 21 785 1354

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Raven Asher

Hey there, I'm Raven Asher, a writer and blogger currently studying at McMaster University. My passion lies in arts and culture, and I love exploring and sharing my thoughts on different aspects of this field through my writing. I've been fortunate enough to have my articles featured on several blogs and news websites, which has allowed me to connect with readers from all over the world. Apart from writing, I'm also an avid traveler, and I love experiencing different cultures and learning new things. Join me on my journey as I explore the world and share my insights on everything art and culture!

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