Leadership Lessons from Two Fortune 500 CEOs

Two of Maryland’s three Fortune 500 CEOs headlined the Maryland Chamber’s first CEO Spotlight event last week, discussing leadership, business decisions, career thoughts, and trends shaping business today. More than 250 business leaders joined us to gain insights from Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International and Ed Walter, President and CEO of Host Hotels & Resorts.  

In case you missed it, here are five career and leadership lessons from their discussion: 

1. Seek diverse experiences: Early in his career, Walter had the opportunity to be exposed to many different facets of the real estate business. He said the experience helped prepare him for his current leadership post. “I had the benefit of generally understanding what the big issues were from everybody’s perspective. Having that broad-based exposure gives you a great foundation for how you are going to analyze the problems going forward,” he said.    

2. Listen to understand: Sorenson credited Bill Marriott for modeling a leadership style that focusses on listening. “It starts with confidence to have the humility that allows you to say, alright I’m going to be open minded and I’m going to listen to all of our folks.” Sorenson said. “I’m going to listen to the folks that are around and understand what it is they are saying about our business, understand what it is that they are frustrated about, understand what their ideas are, and use that listening skill as the strongest aspect of leadership.” 

3. Hire for teamwork and commitment: Sorenson said that hiring mistakes are never about talent. Mistakes are always about either teamwork or commitment. “There’s nothing that anyone can accomplish alone,” he said. ”If they can’t come in and work with a team and influence through advocacy and persuasion as opposed to brute force, they are not going to succeed.” 

4. Act quickly to correct hiring mistakes: When you do make a hiring mistake, Walter said that it is crucial that you act quickly to correct it. As a leader, you have to make the hard decisions. Others are paying attention and failure to act could hurt your organization. “Give clear feedback to try to establish to that person what needs to be different,” Walter said. “Give them a fair chance, the same fair chance that you would like if you were in their position. And if they don’t get there in that timeframe, the last thing you can do as a leader in a company is just wait. You have to act because it’s hurting the organization.”

5. Beware of the person who says it’s different this time: Walter said Host tries to create a company culture that is fact based, not emotion based. He said it’s easy to fall in love with a hotel that is hot right now and forget the reasons you didn’t want to own it at the end of the next cycle. As a leader, you must examine your decisions and make certain the facts you are relying on still apply. “It’s worthwhile to go back and test old assumptions, but it’s also good to remember old lessons,” Walter said.

Categories: Think Tank

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