No stranger to hospitality, Daymain C. Smith has more than 13 years experience in the hospitality industry having worked for the Marriott Corporation and Choice Hotels International. In his most recent role as general manager at the new Comfort Suites Downtown Atlanta, he knows the ins-and-outs of the industry along with the duties of running a hotel. Smith is not only responsible for managing the staff and the property, but he also manages the image of the hotel as well. Now approaching the next challenge in his career, Smith took time to speak with rolling out about what it takes to be a leader in the hospitality industry. –christa e. jackson

Leadership — can it be taught or is it intrinsic?
I absolutely believe that “leadership” is intrinsic. As someone who has been in a leadership role for over 15 years, in my past, I have tried to force leadership onto ‘great’ managers and it has not worked out. I believe that a good manager is an asset, but if you want a leader — the search is not for tangible skills — it is for innate skills. A good manager can be functional based on what you need from them, though. The skills of organization, planning, multitasking, and coordination of people are leadership traits, but true leadership is the depth of one’s ability to apply the aforementioned practically on a case-by-case situation.

Some maintain that it takes certain characteristics to be an effective leader. In your opinion, what are those characteristics? Exactly, what does it take?
Well, I do believe that it takes certain characteristics to be an effective leader, a few of the specifics are: the ability to relate to anyone on any level; the ability and mind-set to not take yourself too seriously; you must be well-read in your specific area of expertise; use your vast knowledge when appropriate; never to berate your team, and finally, you must like to teach … and want to teach everything that you know to whomever is interested …  In addition to the aforementioned, a true leader must have humility, which is the element that makes it all congeal.

A new Mercer survey reveals that organizations worldwide lack a strategy for developing women leaders. What are your thoughts on this?
I actually disagree in relation to the hospitality industry.  I believe that in the hospitality industry there are more women in regional, vice president and director roles than African American men. African American men are the underserved minority in this industry. There is a trench of divide between black men in the aforementioned roles, compared to black and white women in the same roles.  it is actually kind of sad. There are opportunities and programs to grow people, but it has always been based on ability — not race or sex in the hospitality industry. But numbers don’t lie, more women — black and white, are in executive leadership roles than black men per capita in the hospitality industry.

Would a diversity professional benefit from an MBA?
I believe so. But truly the best diversity managers that I have worked with have just had experience — and time in the position is critical in this area. Experience is [necessary] not only to be successful, but to understand what the need is for their constituents and know how to address all of the many nationalities that are represented by their work force.

Do you have a mentor or advisory board? If so, how long have you had this guidance?
Absolutely! I could not have made it this far if I didn’t have a team of people that I respect and most of all listen to. I have had people like Marcus Redmon [The Redmon Group] who I took on as a mentor and professional life coach. I have had my mentor advisory board for about 10 years, once I put my ego aside and realized that I cannot possibly always be right. It was the best adjustment that I ever made.

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