It’s Monday again and it’s time to get s*** done!
Monday Productive is a weekly interview format, featuring peak-performers from my network, who share 5 quick ideas on how to boost your productivity and stay at the top of your game.
Today’s guest is Kai Schukowski. As the youngest General Manager in the history of Kempinski Hotels, Kai Schukowski is bringing a youthful flair and fresh approach to luxury hospitality. With a constant drive for improvement and growth, he won several awards as have the hotels he has managed. Having lived and worked in 6 countries he quotes his cultural awareness and emotional intelligence as his secret sauce to success.
1. How does one become a GM of a Large Hotel Chain (Kempinski) at 29 years old? And then wins several awards for Best & Leading Hotel. These things don’t happen as an accident. Share with me your secret sauce for career growth & success.
▶ Without a doubt, I have to give credit to my mentors who took a gamble and believed in me, which actually served as fuel for me to proof them right and I am deeply grateful to them and the company. Some people may say I got lucky, I more believe that is a place where opportunity meets preparation. I was at the right time at the right place with the right people, but equally important, I also worked as hard and smart as I could to get myself into a position to be considered for these rather daring and unconventional assignments I was given. Frankly, I don’t think that hospitality is rocket science. Most important are people skill and emotional intelligence, which helps in reading people and communicating with them – not in your way, but adapting your communication style to THEIR way. Naturally you speak and act differently with an investor than you do with a doorman and I think being able to switch between these, is the biggest skill as it allows to build bonds which each, adapt your message respectively and drive a stronger culture throughout the team. Ultimately, I am only as good as the weakest member of my team. I always remind ourselves, one can have the most amazing hotel experience, if at check out the receptionist was not pleasant, the entire stay is ruined and all previous fantastic TripAdvisor comments and Hotel Awards mean nothing to the guest. So it’s vital to prove ourselves everyday. Success is never owned, it’s only rented and the rent is due everyday.
2. On your LinkedIn it says you believe in: “1. Passion 2. Commitment 3. Growth 4. Humility 5. Love for what we do”. Tell me more about it. How did you define these values? And what do you do to make sure you LIVE THEM FULLY?
▶ I actually discovered those in one of our company trainings, which really helped me to hone in on them and I realised that those ‘are me’. Many people can recite their company values by heart, but never actually discovered and defined their personal values, which is extremely useful and serves me personally as a compass when it comes to certain decisions I have to make. Don’t make the mistake though of choosing values that ‘sound nice’ or values that you ‘supposed to have’, but values that really resonate with you and that you can truly live by.
If I had to highlight two values here it would be, Growth & Humility. For me growth means progress and progress bring me the greatest happiness. Not the actual achievement of something, but the process that got me there. The continuous evolution of myself and my undertakings. Secondly, humility. In times of constant bragging and self glorification and competition of the most curated instagram feeds, it’s important to remain humble and let other people do the praising. It doesn’t mean you cannot share your vision and ideas with the world, but bragging and arrogance will never build a strong and connected tribe around you.
3. How often do you plan and prioritise to make sure you pay attention to your key objectives? Can you share with us your system / process for time management?
▶ As the saying goes “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and it is totally true. Setting goals and measuring them regularly is key for success and ultimately accountability. Thus, every year I sit with all department heads during the budgeting process together and jointly agree on next years SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realtist & timebound) goals by department. This gives them ownership of those goals, rather than something being imposed upon them. We then do a monthly review of those goals to measure progress towards them. As for time-management, I use two essential apps. One is pretty straight forward, Google Calendar. Most people have it, but from what I have seen few actually fully utilize all the fantastic features it offers, it really is a lifesaver and makes planning so much easier.
Secondly, Wunderlist, my favourite to-do list manager. In this app I share lists with each Department Head and that keeps us centered about joint tasks and their respective progress. Moreover, there I also use the app for myself listing my 3 priorities for the day as well as my monthly & annual personal goals to stay accountable to myself.
One more point, on that, switching off my email & social media notifications on my desktop and phone has been one of the best decisions to allow me to stay focused, which is an underrated yet critical skill in today’s distraction driven world.
4. I visited you in Vilnius a couple of weeks ago. And I was very impressed by the level of excitement and motivation in your team. People seemed happy to work there, but also great in delivering a high-level service. How does one create such a peak-performing culture?
▶ I do believe in leading by example. It’s hard to expect excellence, passion and commitment from my team if I don’t display those values on a daily basis – Fish smells from the head. More important than the WHAT – is the HOW. How did you make a guest/customer feel? Mistakes can happen, but how our team manages to build rapport and an emotional connection with our guests is pivotal to guest satisfaction. If you truly care and look after your team, they will pay it forward. Be transparent, be approachable, be open-minded. Listen to you people and I mean, really listen, with the intention to understand not to respond. It’s simple to say and simple to do, yet with anything in life, as simple as it is to do, it’s just as simple not to do, so always be reminded of your priorities and your team should be on top of that list.
5. I know you’re investing heavily in your own personal growth. How did you get into that? What do you do on a daily basis today (habits, routines, activities) to stay at the top of your game?
▶ Yes, I believe it is key to keep learning. As aforementioned, growth and progress brings happiness and frankly, I get no particular pleasure out of looking into my past achievements, rather excitedly look into the future knowing that my best is yet to come. However in order for it to come, I need to keep myself in shape, physically and mentally, upgrade my own IOS. I usually tell our team members that I am preparing myself to be made redundant one day in the future. So the question is then, how do I stay relevant and needed? Simple, by adding value! For me to add value I need to keep up with developments and that can only be achieved by constant learning.
I am a visual learner so I love watching videos, which range from inspiring TED talks to insightful CEO Interviews on YouTube. Furthermore, I am a true Podcast addict. Everyday I would listen to a minimum of 1 hour. People always say they don’t have time for that, trust me, you do if you commit to it. I listen to it in the gym, in the car from and to the gym, when shaving in the morning and when I do some chores around the house. It’s passive wisdom that you get to enjoy and it’s free, which really is a miracle and yet, still people are not taking advantage of this. Lastly, I used to hate reading for many years, but one day after studying a lot of successful people, I noticed they all tend to be avid readers so I forced myself to start the same practice. Now I fell in love with it. After a long day, there is nothing better than taking a bubble bath with girlfriend and my Kindle loaded with an inspirational book. It became a habit, not a to-do list item.
[BONUS] Name one to three books that helped you to become a better leader?
The Compound Effect – Darren Hardy
Millionaire Success Habits – Dean Graziosi
If you have any questions to Kai, please leave your comment below!
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