“How did you become a GM so fast?” or “How do I get your job as fast as possible?” These are just two of many questions posed to me by my peers, competitors and hotel team. I welcome them and, at times, have to say, they are entertaining. In most cases, the questions come out of curiosity because of my age and my unique path to becoming a GM. Traditionally, the timeline to go from entry-level employee to general manager can be anywhere from 15 to 20 years. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are many factors that are out of your control, like being at the right place at the right time, or working for a company that takes a leap of faith and hands you the keys. It is my belief that if you work hard and are good at what you do, the glory follows—the title, the salary, the accolades and the trust of the team you lead. Trust the process and consider these tips to help along the way:
1. Build equity
Too often, I see employees start somewhere and within six months, they are looking elsewhere for the next title or promotion. Stop jumping from one property or job to the next in search of the next title or salary increase. Build equity with your company. I was with my entry-level company for eight years; I went from parking-garage attendant to director of operations before looking for opportunities elsewhere. Put in the time with a company, get to know its brand, its values and establish yourself within its culture regardless of your current title. Grounding yourself and establishing the employer/employee trust with one company fosters a solid relationship.
2. Find a mentor
Get yourself at least one mentor in the role you aspire to achieve. Bonus points if you can get multiple mentors, at different points in their careers. When you are a 25-year-old director of operations, you think you know everything—trust me, I’ve been there. Mentors are great resources. You have someone to bounce ideas off of, help with job interview prep, answer salary-range questions, set you straight when you get ahead of yourself, or lend an ear to vent to. If you don’t know where to start, simply start a conversation with someone who is doing things you would like to be doing.
3. Brand yourself
Your personal brand is what others say about you when you are not in the room. Having a compelling professional story and positive reputation will open many doors for you. Utilizing LinkedIn as a tool to accentuate your brand will help. LinkedIn has given us the opportunity to have a living, breathing resume. Gone are the days when you need to sit in front of someone with a copy of your resume for them to know who you are and what you are about. Consider how you are being perceived by those who come across your LinkedIn or other social media profiles. Do you have a professional picture? Do you have an intriguing summary? One of the first things I do when I get a resume is go on LinkedIn to get a better feel for the person; if it’s not updated or cleaned up, I lose interest.
4. Be kind
Such a simple phrase, but very often it’s overlooked as you move up in this industry. The perception seems to be that the higher your position, or the more power you attain, the more calculated or ambitious you have to be or appear to be. I don’t buy it. Kindness always wins. If you do things with good intentions and mean well, people see that and want to perform for you. Be a model for your employees and your colleagues, regardless of title. If you do things for personal gain, people see through this and leave to work for someone who actually cares about them and their development.
5. Develop your replacement
Early in my career, my mentality was, “It’s all about me. How can I get recognition, how can I get the promotion? Me, me, me!” Then I started to interview for executive-level or managerial positions and the questions that kept coming up were, “How many employees have you developed? Can you name a time when you took the initiative to develop an employee?” I quickly realized that I would only be as successful as the team around me. The only way to grow out of being the No. 2 is to develop someone to take the role when you move up to No. 1. Do not make yourself irreplaceable—that’s the easiest way to NOT get promoted.
The actions and techniques listed above are very applicable in any phase of your career and life, but I believe implementing them during the earliest phases of your career will open many opportunities for you and those around you. HB
Juan Leyva serves as the general manager of LondonHouse Chicago, managing a team of more than 350 employees and overseeing day-to-day operations at the 452-room luxury lifestyle hotel in downtown Chicago. With more than 12 years of hospitality experience, Leyva rose through the ranks in operations, starting out as a parking-garage attendant and front-desk agent. Leyva has been with LondonHouse Chicago since its opening in spring of 2016 and has been nominated for multiple industry awards, such as Hotelier of the Year and Latino Leader of the Year.
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