Sunday, September 12, 2010

Street Smart vs. Book Smart – And the Winner is

It comes up all the time, doesn’t it?

Which is “better?”

Those who have the foundation of extensive post-secondary education, or, those that have worked their way up and through the ranks, rising to management positions after years of working in various line positions?

In writing this post, I will confess to two things. 

First, I am the “street smart” Hotel Executive.  I started in the Hotel business as a bellman at an opening Hotel, having had to drop out of school when I was 16, in order to support myself.  I had had other jobs, and was in fact at that time an apprentice electrician with a very small company, when, as often happened, I was laid off due to a lack of business.  I was 18.

As I’ve written before, once having gotten my first Hotel job, I was hooked, and never thought of doing anything else once I had been baptized into the industry, and I have been fortunate to experience great success as a Hotelier, due in large part to the opportunities that I was presented with along the way, by those who believed in my abilities, regardless of a lack of education, which leads me to my second confession.

No matter how much praise I have received for my accomplishments, or the depth and diversity of my resume, until recently I have always felt that something was missing, that I was somehow not as “good” or as “qualified” as some of my peers, because I did not have an extensive education.

Sure, I did eventually go back and get my GED, and I have taken courses over the years in every imaginable facet of business operations and strategy, and I am a voracious reader on multiple topics, but, I still didn’t have that elusive post-secondary degree.

And then, about a year or so ago now, I was asked to speak at a university, as I have done many times over the years.  But it was as I was making my notes that I found myself reflecting on past successes and some of the moments and accomplishments that I am most proud of, that I realized that it was my “street smarts” that had allowed me to excel when others had not, to connect with my employees in a truly unique and genuine way, through shared experiences, that had gained me their respect, their loyalty, and their support.

So, I guess you can tell that I believe that it is the experiences in life that has the potential to shape us into great leaders, the foundation of which, in my opinion anyway, comes from “street smarts.”

That said, please don’t make the mistake of thinking me naïve enough not to value education, nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact, I love participating in education, any time that I am able.

Fortunately for me, and others like me, I came across a program, the Executive Cohort Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management, which was being offered through the Vancouver Community College.

The program targets senior Hospitality Executives who want to obtain their Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management, but who are not in the position to attend classes on a full-time basis, as is usually required.

I have been participating in the Executive Cohort Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management program since 2009, and at the conclusion of 2010 I will have obtained my Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my participation with the Executive Cohort program, and it has been inspiring to meet and attend classes with so many other successful Hotel General Managers, Regional Vice Presidents of major Hotel companies, and other senior Hospitality Executives, all of us having shared similar paths through our progressively successful careers.

Bottom line, which is better – street smart or book smart?  Neither.  It is our combination of successes and failures, experiences and education that forge us into who we are, if, and only if, we are open to learn from everything and everyone that we encounter.

Learning is not confined to the classroom. 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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