Hotel guru. Armchair psychologist. Traveling philosopher. Author. Speaker. Teacher. Student. Chip Conley has lived out more than one calling in his lifetime. Many of you know of Chip from his best-selling leadership books and TED talks. He is an inspirational entrepreneur and the founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre hotel group. During his nearly 24 years as CEO, he grew the company to become the second largest boutique hotel company in America. After selling the company, he joined Airbnb in 2013 as Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy to share his hospitality methods with hosts in nearly 200 countries.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with Chip about leadership and what fuels his passion within Airbnb.
SB: I just read your book Emotional Equations and immediately saw the power of practical strategies for leadership. Tell me more about your view on leadership today.
CC: Leaders are the emotional thermostats for the business. Whoever is the top dog conveys mood and tone. How they talk is amplified across the organization. It is contagious and sensed by employees.
Today, anxiety is the number one emotion felt across organizations. According to Abraham Maslow’s “psycho-hygiene”, we can sense stressors in our environments. People don’t do their best work in anxious circumstances and lack of confidence impacts our work. I’ve observed that the best companies allow for vulnerability and they consciously strive to build trust.
SB: Are you seeing leaders today that are more in touch with their authentic self?
CC: Yes, and I think there are influences working in our favor. There are more women in the workplace and with that there’s a better reading of the room and emotions. Secondly, coaches have become a normal part of leader development. We also offer feedback through multi-rater tools. And the issue of diversity is now part of the Board conversation. This adds to a CEO’s understanding of the environment and ultimately themselves.
SB: What prompted you to join Airbnb after selling the largest boutique hotel group in the west?
CC: It began when the CEO asked me to be his coach. This was my first tech startup, and I found the organization so intriguing - it was a total immersion. It wasn’t what I anticipated at that stage in my life, but I found it fascinating and it was a great work-life fit for me.
SB: What have you learned at Airbnb?
CC: I am beginning to understand tech. Today we know the face of our mobile phone better than the face of an actual person. At Airbnb our workforce is intergenerational. Prior to working in strategy, I was the head of learning and development where I was teaching twenty-five year olds how to manage twenty-three year olds. I was able to help people through great emotional growth. Now I work on public policy and help our clients all over the world be the best hosts they can be. I am proud to say that our guest satisfaction is the highest it’s ever been.
SB: How do you find top talent?
CC: Success breeds success. Now Airbnb is the leading world hospitality company and our culture and values drive our decisions. We have 2,700 employees and 100 recruiters on staff. Of course it helps to have thousands wanting to work with us, but we start our talent assessment with core values - every candidate goes through a core values interview.
SB: How do you continue to disrupt your industry?
CC: We have to disrupt ourselves before we can disrupt the industry and that begins with looking beyond where we are right now. My advice would be to talk to people outside the industry you’re in and find your blind spots. Be evangelical about what you do. You don’t succeed by meeting customer expectations – you have to go beyond and imagine their unrecognized needs. Highly successful companies know how to increase the intimacy of their customer relationships, and they surprise and delight them with something unrecognized. Reinforce the emotional connection between you and your customers to help them meet their highest goals.
SB: What’s next?
CC: I am constantly curious. I was curious about tech so I joined Airbnb. In 2013, we were booking 8 million room nights a year and now it’s up to 150 million. I was drawn in by the combination of home-sharing, tech, and startup culture. I will continue to work at transformation and coaching others to find their path, always reaching for new work-life fit experiences.
Many of us are working in virtual teams and organizations across the globe. Chip’s reminder is an important one: to be smart in today’s workforce means not just understanding people but to also understand ourselves. Are you investing in you and the intangible relationships inside and outside of your organization? Are you caught up in the tangibles of day-to-day? What are you curious about? Let us know what you are learning!