A Tenacious Journey to defining Success in Hospitality
Mada Lakiss, a name well known in the hospitality industry, didn’t yearn for an easy life. Her desire for challenges began in childhood, encouraged by her parents’ unfailing trust and unconditional support, they instilled in her the belief that success and fulfillment doesn’t come effortlessly. This early encouragement strengthened her confidence, daring her to challenge societal limitations generally applied to women, especially those who want a career.
As a teenager, Mada defied these norms, refusing to limit herself to a life of domesticity while aspiring to achieve professional success and personal independence. Driven by the desire to break free from these expectations, Mada began her journey to Europe at the youthful age of 17. The transition was both exciting and intimidating – she was entering a new territory in a foreign land where language, solitude, and self-dependency became her new reality. She had also decided to study hospitality, a male dominated business.
During this period away from home, loneliness also forged her inner strength, and these circumstances shaped her inner will and determination. The Hospitality sector was a fascinating environment for Mada and she keenly observed this was a place where diverse backgrounds congregate. The variety, pace and difficulty of the various jobs and roles was fascinating and Mada was able to visualize being a conductor in this collective orchestra.
She was realistic enough to know it would also take hard work and determination. She was observant enough to see it was an industry commanded by men. It meant women not only had to work smarter but, in many cases, harder. This was just to prove to those same individuals that ability, value and productivity are not gender specific.
Mada has faced numerous examinations during her journey in the world of hospitality, with each chapter highlighting its own story of perseverance. As a raw recruit working as a waitress in France, she worked while also studying, a demanding endeavor requiring not only the physical dexterity but also mental guile to manage the job. Carrying heavy trays and processing orders quickly became a daily challenge. During a significant banquet, an accidental mix-up of orders led to a consequence of guests expressing dissatisfaction and escalating the matter to the General Manager. This left Mada feeling unappreciated and self-critical. This preceded feelings of remorse and selfdoubt, a period of wanting to return home and forgoing of her initial aspirations that was tantamount to quitting. Fighting back from indecision, Mada was able to extract herself from this self-doubt and marshal the inner will and strength needed to preserve and complete her studies.
After graduating, Mada jumped headfirst into the hospitality industry as a front desk receptionist of a leading 5-star property in her own country, thus taking her initial steps into a professional career. Driven to succeed, she set herself a goal to be a Department Head in 5 years and through hard work and achievement, she attained this milestone in the stated time, with a responsibility for managing a team of 30. This came with a different set of challenges, however. Her team were a greater majority of older male colleagues with established opinions on the role of women and not just in the workplace. Despite trailblazing a path and being a role model for other females in a globally recognized hotel company as well as being recognized for her leadership ability, her tenure as manager was often distracted by juvenile acts of recrimination because of her gender and those attitudes within her team. It forced her to reevaluate her life and tested her resolve.
The best therapy is sometimes to walk away and surrender. Instead Mada chose to travel as far away as she could to put time and distance between a job and a life on pause. In doing so, she travelled to Cuba and her very first interactions in the country confirmed for her the time she had invested in pursuing a career in hospitality was currency well spent, especially from an inspirational moment she experienced in the first hotel she entered. Coincidentally this adventure led to an opportunity in the United Arab Emirates, leading a much larger team of mixed nationalities in the flagship hotel of the same international company, with greater responsibilities and more difficult challenges in an extremely busy beachfront property in Dubai. Despite the potential for career acceleration in a company championing diversity, further obstacles were then encountered ;this made her ever the more determined not to retreat position or diminish herself to inferior intellect. Though not every day was sunshine, it made her realize that the traits required of great leadership never impact integrity, courage, respect or empathy, all characteristics you learn on the job from an engaged team, one that she helped shape.
With over 17 years of senior managerial experience in Hotels, Mada has already been recognized with several accolades, one of them endorsing her in stellar company as one of Asia’s Top 100 most powerful women. Aside from these industry achievements, Mada is also a certified “Women in Leadership” facilitator as is currently undertaking qualifications to become an ICF Leadership coach.
For Mada, leadership extends far beyond mere influence; it embraces ideas contained within emotional intelligence, guiding others towards achieving goals and set targets while navigating through various barriers without being discouraged. She believes that effective leadership encompasses using emotional intelligence to shape the commitment and conduct of a team, by inspiring them to achieve these goals for the benefit of all stakeholders. It is her philosophy and in part the leadership style she developed by experience, that self-discipline is as important as discipline, like having an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Mada contends that while intellect and technical skill is important, they don’t alone materialize into exceptional leadership. True leadership, as she believes, transcends merely identifying problems; it includes seizing opportunities, fostering genuineness, shouldering responsibility for decisions, and communicating effectively. For Mada, the hallmark of great leaders, lay in the strength of their emotional intelligence, that ability to comprehend and connect with those under their leadership. In her eyes, leaders draw strength from adversity, transforming challenges into steppingstones toward growth.
Mada’s conviction in nurturing leaders over followers stems from her innate understanding of the differences between individuals who excel in their roles but lack the inclination or desire to assume leadership responsibilities to those with lesser abilities but who have the drive or focus and aspiration to excel. Recognizing that not all talented individuals aspire to lead, some opting to prioritize personal lives over professional advancement, she believes that genuine leaders should empower potential leaders within their ranks. According to her, it is the duty of a true leader to equip and support aspiring leaders, providing them with the tools and guidance needed to excel in leadership roles. Her absolute belief lay in the responsibility of authentic leaders to cultivate a new generation of successful leaders, acknowledging that while followers are ample, genuine and accomplished leaders are rare, much like diamonds in their scarceness and value.
Mada reflects on the foundations she built from the adversities she encountered since joining this demanding business. She highlights the significance of self-discipline and consistency in her triumphs. To all women pursuing their professional endeavors, her resounding advice is never to relinquish their innerstrength and self-belief and craft out opportunities even if none appear to present themselves. Addressing CEOs and decision-makers in the hospitality industry, she urges reevaluating value criteria beyond appearance and superficial vanity, emphasizing the multifaceted skill set required for roles such as reception and service roles that often women are limited to as entry points to the industry.
Amidst these challenges, setbacks, and achievements, Mada Lakiss epitomizes a tale of tenacity and perseverance, urging all career driven individuals to forge their paths with a similar dedication to excellence and with the same undying spirit.