Lalia Rach

As the industry starts looking forward to meeting again, it will need enlightened leadership more than ever. “In the aftermath of an unexpected tragedy, there is a need for leaders at all levels, regardless of title, that are not just good, but great,” says Dr. Lalia Rach, founding dean of Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University and executive managing director of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI)’s new Strategic Consulting Services.

Smart Meetings sat down with Rach, who is renowned for her “uncommon sense”, on a Zoom call from her home in Henderson, Nevada, to ask what specific skills will be required of meeting professionals to get to a more positive future.

Change is Personal

“We all need people we can trust right now,” Rach said. “Whenever you have change, it is personal. Great leaders understand the intangible aspects of managing people.”

She emphasized that leadership in the midst of change requires a short-term vision that is focused and repeated. “We don’t always hear well when we are afraid,” she said.

“I keep getting asked when we will go back to normal. That ship has sailed. We will be able to feel some of the things we felt and do some of the things we did before Covid, but there are some things from the before times we should never do again and there are also things we did in Covid we need to continue. Plus, there are some things we need to start doing,” she said.

One of those things is reaching out and having regular personal conversations with team members, clients and stakeholders. “I can’t believe we weren’t doing that before,” she said. “It may not be easy, but it is necessary.”

In Rach’s telling, it is not enough to deliver results during the program. That is a given. “To exceed expectations and lead the type of team you want to lead, you have to demonstrate being able to connect on a personal level.”

Great leaders explain the path forward and ask probing questions (“Tell me more about that”, “Is there something I need to know?”). “Leaders are willing to have difficult conversations.” Sometimes a leader’s job is not to find solutions, but to show empathy and listen. “Great leaders don’t make it about themselves,” Rach explained.

Mature leadership requires mature, emotional intelligence. “This is about living your consistent, authentic values to the team and the client,” she said.

“You have to be able to relate as a personal professional to be effective,” Rach said. “You can’t get your tactical list checked off until you know how the other person is really feeling.”

Shake the Rust Off

“In the meetings industry, we have a tendency to like what we are comfortable with,” she stated bluntly. “That is not going to work right now.”

Virtual will continue even as we go back to meeting in person,” she said unapologetically. “Who wouldn’t want to have multiple revenue streams and avenues to achieve our purpose?”