Saturday, July 9, 2022


One of the defining moments of corporate leadership at the start of pandemic came in from Arne Sorenson, the former CEO of Marriott. Arne sadly passed away almost a year back after bravely battling pancreatic cancer. Despite his illness, he braved Marriott through the tough times. Catch the glimpse of his extraordinarily authentic leadership when he released a public video for his employees.

His 5 minute speech is a case study in compassion & empathy. He presents himself as vulnerable yet fully in control of situation- a rare combination. Here are a few lessons for me, especially in dealing with warlike situations:

1. Despite his frail condition, he made it a point to speak with employees. Simple lesson, often forgotten: Talk to your team, they need to hear from you.

2. He called the pandemic situation (for hospitality industry) worse than 9/11 & 2009 financial crisis combined. Lesson: Be transparent, don't sugarcoat the words. Delivering bad news is something a leader has to learn to do well.

3. He commits to forgo his full salary & his exec team by 50%. Gives a message that he & his immediate team are first in the line of fire before the impact reaches employees.

These learnings are quite well-reflected and put in context by Ravi Venkatesan in his book- "What the Heck Do I Do with My Life?". Ravi says- "Leaders are made, not born. While some people are born with leadership traits, the vast majority of leaders are primarily made by life experience, or what we call crucible experience." (Included my Sketchnote summary of the chapter)

Arne's crucible experience moment was dealing with the unprecedented impact the pandemic was having on his industry. This experience shaped his leadership.

Ravi also mentions in his book- "When the sacrifice is called for, leaders must sacrifice first before asking others to give up something." , this act of sacrifice was clearly reflected in the way Arne conducted himself.

Of his 63 years of existence, most of us were exposed mostly to these 5 minutes but the manner in which he handled these 5 min left a treasure-trove of learnings.

What's your definition of leadership ?

My LinkedIn Post:

No comments: