Armed with tertiary qualifications in psychology and qualified in the use of psychometrics, Luxury Hospitality’s new head of client services, Ceri McVittie, is an expert in understanding how people think, feel and behave. Responsible for developing and delivering a bespoke leadership programme for specific clients, she prides herself on her ability to bring about behavioural change in individuals to improve their performance.
Here Ceri discusses what makes a great leader, the challenges of leadership across generations, and why good leaders aren’t necessarily born, but can most definitely be made.
Tell us a little about your background, where did you grow up?
I am originally from Scotland. I grew up in Ayr which is probably why I always feel happiest when I am living near the sea. My family moved to Surrey when I was a teenager and that’s still where I consider home when I head back to the UK. I am also half Irish, so I’m a full-blown Celt!
I’m now based in Mallorca but I have lived in many different countries, mostly by the sea, including Israel, Australia, Ireland and Dubai.
What was your first job and how did you get involved in leadership training?
My first job was as a waitress in a small hotel in Ayr, and I have never forgotten dropping scampi on the lap of one of the customers! Luckily he had a sense of humour and over time I learned better plate holding skills. I worked in hospitality for over 15 years, working my way up from bar staff to supervisor to shift manager to licensee. I was lucky to be given the role of key staff trainer early on in my career where I found my love of helping others develop.
I then moved into human resources and after gaining a degree in psychology I joined a global consultancy company. I was given some great opportunities and got to work all over the UK and internationally, and in many different sectors, including security and intelligence, defence and aerospace, transport and aviation, design, engineering, telecoms and project management.
I find it fascinating to learn about different industries and sectors, but the common thread is people and, no matter what industry you are in, people are people and the same issues arise! I spent most of my time coaching and developing the skills and capabilities of leaders and managers, enabling them to develop and create the right environments for their teams to perform and thrive.
I was based for a number of years in the Middle East working in the UAE, Bahrain, KSA, Oman and Qatar as an HR generalist, but my real passion was coaching and personal development so after completing my qualifications in Dubai, I established my own consultancy business delivering executive coaching and leadership development.
I moved back to Europe after having my son and for the past eight years I have specialised in coaching and leadership and talent development roles.
How would you describe your approach and who has most influenced that?
I have worked at director level myself and been responsible for teams so I know first-hand the issues of leadership. I know what not to do from getting things wrong myself! One of my managers gave me the biggest boost by believing in me, giving me challenging opportunities and supporting me in achieving them, so that’s the approach I emulate.
My personal leadership style is one of a leader coach. I use coaching to get the best out of my team helping to open their thinking and challenging them but always support them too.
You recently joined Luxury Hospitality as Leadership Specialist – how did that come about?
A mutual friend put me in touch with Peter Vogel as he saw synergies in how we view personal and leadership development. From our first conversation I knew we were aligned in our thinking and as he shared his vision for LH in the superyacht industry and beyond, I knew I had to get involved.
What does your role entail and what courses will you be delivering?
Currently most of my time is spent developing and delivering a bespoke leadership programme for a specific client. However, my overall role is to ensure we design leadership services that deliver maximum value for our clients.
You mentioned ‘Leading Self’ – what does that mean in practice?
The problem with many leadership programmes is that they only start supporting leaders once they are in a leadership position. One of my fundamental beliefs, and one that Peter and I share, is that you have to start by leading yourself. Knowing who you are, your strengths and talents, developing your emotional intelligence and being in control of your behaviours will enable you to be your best self and to have the impact you want to have. This is what really sets you up for success. The earlier you gain insight and learn to lead yourself in your career, the better!
How would you define good leadership?
For me good leadership is about being emotionally intelligent, with the ability to connect with people and get the best out of them. Being adept at developing and maintaining connections has become even more important over the past 21 months. As we crossed boundaries of home and work life, leaders were given the privilege of knowing their teams on a much more personal level, and the qualities of empathy, compassion and understanding are fundamental to any successful leader now.
What are some of the common issues you encounter that get in the way of that?
Leadership isn’t easy and there are a lot of challenges Not having the right mindset is one of the biggest issues. I have encountered many leaders with fixed mindsets, for example: ‘well I got here so I must have done something right’ and they don’t accept that they still need to grow, develop, adapt and adjust. Leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a constant journey. Leaders need to have growth mindsets and be constantly learning and open to feedback.
Why are some people just better leaders than others?
Some people naturally have some of the qualities and characteristics of a good leader but, most important is that they have the right attitude and mindset. Leadership skills and qualities can be developed but the right mindset is what sets those exceptional leaders apart from the rest.
The new generation entering the yachting industry is different in many ways – how do captains and HODs need to adapt to meet their needs and expectations?
The generations coming into the industry now are seeking fulfilling opportunities. It may be a long-term career aspiration for some but mostly they want to pursue fulfilling opportunities that develop them personally. Captains and HOD’s need to tap into this and not just think about linear roles. They need to give opportunities, experience and exposure to their crew, above and beyond their day-to-day roles.
How do captains effectively lead a team of crew members with a range of ages and life experience?
Leadership is about understanding your team as individuals, and what they each bring to the team. It’s also important that captains know what drives and motivates each individual, so they can maximise everyone’s contribution within the team. Asking those with more experience to mentor those with less experience is a great way to share and build knowledge. This works regardless of age, as some of the younger crew could mentor more ‘experienced’ crew on new technology and different methods of doing things. This is a great way to encourage team building and innovation!
What are the main benefits of good leadership to an overall operation?
Good leadership permeates everything and should never be underestimated; it creates the culture for the whole operation. Do you want to work in an environment where you feel supported, developed, appreciated and valued, where you make a difference? I know I do, and most people do. Good leadership creates the right environment for everyone to thrive.
Early in the pandemic LH was quick to move their crew training courses online – was that well received and are your online courses here to stay?
LH has been offering online courses for some time, and they are a key part of the LH blended learning approach, but Covid an opportunity to widen the scope. Online learning is much more accessible and we’ve had such positive feedback on how our courses can be completed in the flow of people’s day to day. It also connects people in different geographical locations so it’s a great way to work without the need to travel.
What has most surprised you about the yachting industry so far?
The amazing work ethic is the thing that has stood out for me so far. Everyone is busy doing a million things under considerable pressure yet, despite their personal stresses, all I have seen is their tenacity and commitment to deliver.
Tell us a lesser-known fact about yourself, something that would surprise your colleagues?
Unfortunately, because I don’t have the opportunity to do it much, people won’t be aware that I love sailing. I passed my RYA Competent Crew course 10 years ago in Dubai. I also have my Powerboat Level 2 licence and used to drive the safety boat on regatta days at the Dubai offshore sailing club to help out. I loved it!
I also love rugby and play with the Rebels Touch Rugby team in Palma, Mallorca. It’s great being part of a team and my son loves it too – he’s now a little Rebelito!
We have a few crew who play for the team and if anyone is interested in some fitness and fun and wants to join a fantastic rugby family they can contact @rebelsrugbyclub on Facebook to find out more!