Leadership Is a Choice, Not a Title

How can you inspire employees at every level to be leaders?


Dr. Jill Guindon-Nasir is an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and former senior corporate director of global learning solutions and organizational development at the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center. One of her primary messages is: a title does not make you a leader; leadership is who you are. Jill illustrates this with a story from her own leadership experience, recalling how the staff at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. came together on the day of the 9/11 attacks to go above and beyond for their guests. You will be moved by this genuine example of leadership at all levels.

Leadership is definitely a choice. It's not a rank. Meaning another way to say it also is leadership is a choice. It's not just a title. So I teach. I have the pleasure of teaching as an adjunct faculty role in the evenings at a university level. And I always begin every semester asking them, especially in global leadership, "How many of you think you're a leader?" and I might be lucky out of 30 to 40 students if one of them raises their hands and says that they're a leader and it's usually because that person already has a title.

Again, these are evening students, they're already working, so many of them have progressed in their career. Some of them are starting in their career. But it's usually that one person that has the title and the rest of them feel that they're not equal, they don't feel that they have leadership qualities, they don't feel that they are a leader, and yet, I start to share with them throughout the semester that there are leaders at all levels. And a title does not make you a leader. It means that you have authority and it means that people, yes, will listen to you because they want their job and they respect you for the authority you have with the title, but it does not mean that you're a leader.

I unfortunately was here during 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and was at the Ritz Carlton Washington, D.C. and our general manager at the time was away at a general manager's conference, and so our senior leadership was not on site. And so I got to see all the different units and all the different people come together and our housekeeping was outstanding. We had a group with us that was primarily from New York and so they were watching things unveil on TV and watching loved ones, knowing that they were in the building, and literally just falling on the floor in our ballroom. And these housekeepers rallied around them. Not only did they rally around them, they took care of them. Some of them even gave them their personal car keys to drive up to New York so they could see family.

But what was even more unveiling about this and seeing their leadership at all levels was that a year later when we had the first anniversary, the D.C. area was pretty much empty. There was no one here and no one was holding anything but our hotel was not. It was full, because that group came back and they wanted to make a stand that they were coming back. And not only did they come back, but they requested the same exact housekeepers would take care of them while they're there for their stay. And that to me showed leaders at all level. It wasn't our general manager. It wasn't our guidance team. It was the housekeeping team that really took over and really helped to care for these people at their time of need.

It really does lead back to culture with the leadership because they knew that they were empowered, they were engaged, and they were taken care of so they knew that, god forbid, they had gone through something like this and technically we were all going through it together that they would be taken care of as well. It becomes who you are, not what you do, so they can't turn this off. It's really engrained in them and I think that it came back to our selection process and selecting the right people, and then our leaders role modeling that behavior, so our employees knew exactly what they do when they weren't there.

It's all about what are your employees going to do when you're not micro-managing them, you're not standing over them because you're not going to be able to. Over 85 percent of our employees are hourly employees, non-manager employees. If we were trying to micro-manage them around the world, it wouldn't work. We wouldn't get that success. We select the right people and then we basically get out of their way. We let them do their job and we believe in them and we encourage them and they're empowered to be able to do that. So I think that they just went into action and this was a normal thing for them and this is kind of what they would do every day and what they do for their loved ones and that's how they treated it with respect, with dignity, and that's really what we believe in.

Dr. Jill Guindon-Nasir

Dr. Jill Guindon-Nasir has a passion for sharing best practices, implementing lessons learned and achieving sustainable results. She has over 20 years in business and has served at The Ritz-Carlton for almost 15 years. Her past positions...

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