Adapting a father/leadership role in hospitality

As a leader, managing people can be as tough as it is rewarding, and there are so many similarities to parenthood. We caught up with Kruger Shalati’s Executive Operations Manager, Gavin Ferreira to chat about his leadership role and parenting journey in this young business.

Gavin, father of two little girls, Charlotte (3) and Ella (20 months) was appointed as the Executive Operations Manager for Kruger Station and Kruger Shalati in 2019. He has 21 years of hospitality experience ranging from kitchen to food and beverage service and hotel management. Gavin has a passion for growing people in the business and allowing their personalities to lead the way on the firm building blocks of knowledge, development and love for this dynamic industry.

‘A great leader would act many times as a good parent and not as a boss.’ Marius Mocanu, Business Development Executive, UK.

Tell us a bit about your experience adapting a father/leadership role at Kruger Shalati

In this country, there is a real shortfall of good leadership, not only in the workplace, but also in our families and personal lives. Dynamic leaders need to be multi-capped – so for example, I have to be a good leader at work but also a good dad to my children and a good spouse to my wife – it’s all important. Excelling at one aspect but failing at another would be futile. Ultimate success for me as a leader at work and at home means all aspect of my life thrive, my team at work as well as my team at home.

Currently both Kruger Shalati and Kruger Station are functioning optimally. There is always room for improvement, but we are very proud of how far we have come in a relatively short period of time. These young teams are dynamic, attentive and ready to serve our guests. This is a great achievement. By fostering a safe environment for people to express themselves, push the boundaries and make mistakes we have achieved our vision. I think that in the hospitality industry we are very reluctant to allow staff to make mistakes as they learn because we are acutely aware of the value of each mistake. When it is our duty to ensure that all of our guests have a wonderful experience it is hard to jeopardize that for the sake of a learning experience. The sad result is that personal flair and fun are stifled. I believe that in the process you lose the essence of what makes a hotel or restaurant unique, warm and welcoming. It is these personal touches that we have tried to encourage and grow within our team to help elevate the guest experience.

We are all human – we all make mistakes so when you are dealing with 200-350 people a day, there will be a few mistakes. These are opportunities to engage with the staff and management to ensure that we’re not making the same mistakes twice – we’re focusing on making new mistakes. It is a continuous learning process and as we stand the teams are delivering brilliant service which is evident in the guest comments.  When we do make a mistake, we share the knowledge gained on an open general platform to make sure that the whole team can learn from each other. In doing so we are able to really create a great space and a safe environment for people to grow and develop without fear of retribution. This has resulted in amazing guest experiences and reviews.  Hospitality and people go hand in hand. A business is essentially only four walls. It is the people and how they perform within those walls that make it an experience. Their creativity and flair is what elevates the experience to excellence.

So as a father and leader I try to ensure that my kids and my teams at work are well trained and proficient at the skills that allow them to succeed at their jobs and in life. When it comes to creativity and personal development I have to allow them to explore, make mistakes and be creative, hopefully allowing them to become the best versions of themselves.

Do you have a good work-life balance?

Work-life balance on a project like this is always going to be a challenge – I have to be there for both parties (home and work). When my girls were very little, I could take a break during the day and pop home to see them quickly or come home early in the afternoon and spend some quality time with them before heading back to work for the dinner shift later in the evening once they were asleep. Now that they are older it is a bit trickier. They want my attention, they want me to play on the floor with them, build puzzles, tents and have tea parties. It has become so important for me to allow my teams at work to trust in their training and follow the process knowing that they are allowed to put their necks out there and make good decisions so that I can have some time off to play dress-up and make pancakes. The work hours in hospitality are grueling so when I do get the chance to be home for bath time or for a couple of hours during the day I really try to be present, engaging and give my full attention to my family.

If you’re a leader at work and a dad at home, when do you rest?

Often the time you have to rest or take a break is at odd hours – and that’s OK –  I’ve gotten used to that over the years.

I really enjoy living in Kruger National Park – I can exercise or play golf once or twice a month and just to have me-time. I’ve found a new love for cricket. I play for the Skukuza Cricket Team after not having played for 24 years; it is about being part of a team environment and working hard when you’re the outsider trying to catch up. It’s a personal challenge that I enjoy.

Game drives with the kids are fantastic; looking for animals and reading up about them -it’s so special. Kruger may not be my home forever, but what a time to raise two young girls in this amazing place, surrounded by the Big Five and all the crawlies.

Leadership is a 24-hour, 365-day job and sadly, like parenting, it’s a thankless job. Often you feel tired and cranky, but it’s our biggest responsibility as a leader and a parent to show up every day – and show up consistently – and have that smile on your face to ensure that your negative energy is not transferred to your staff or your family.

As I’ve gained more experience (and a family) it’s a bit more about crafting those hours in a day to make sure I’m connecting with my family and making sure I’m not the dad who comes in late at night and leaves early in the morning.  You end up wanting to be everywhere for everyone, but it’s important to have hard rules some boundaries at home and at work.

The same goes for the people you’re responsible for. People need to be given time off and rest when they need to. One person’s off day doesn’t have to mean someone else has to work harder.  It’s about laying the foundation for people who are supporting you to do their jobs efficiently so that you can trust that if someone is missing, the team continues to grow and operate.

Any last words about leadership and parenting?

People in leadership positions should be growing leaders not managers – managers follow the check list. We want to grow leaders who step up when no one else is around. These are the guys doing the work and we acknowledge that.

I feel that often my role as a dad and a leader in the workplace are very closely linked.  As a dad you always have to listen, you need to have a good temperament and you’ve always got to seem to be in control. Often you don’t know the answers and you sometimes have to be creative with your response; it’s about making sure you’re always thinking about the bigger picture and the impact that you have within your personal life or within a business. How do we make sure we’re doing the right thing for everyone involved? It’s a very fine line. I absolutely love being a father and I love managing the team at Kruger Station and Kruger Shalati. These are the most amazing times – being a young family and leading a new, young business as well.