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Guest Room: Feeling Up on Down Days

The sluggish economy — topped off by nerves still frayed from Sept. 11 — knocked the wind out of even the most enthusiastic employees. So how can event professionals keep their team feeling strong, creative and committed? Psychologist Loret Carbone, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, offers these motivation tips:

Special Events Magazine: In light of economic and emotional uncertainty, how are employees feeling today?

Loret Carbone: When the security cage is rattled, people get afraid because they don't know what's coming. Strong leaders develop and reinforce clarity in goals, standards, rewards and discipline. It's the job of the leader to absorb stress and hold it away from the employee. The best thing you can do is to care for employees in every possible way, which includes holding them accountable.

Q: So leaders shouldn't lower their expectations?

A: Hope is the gift that the leader gives. When employees have the hope that they can complete a task, and the organization celebrates their accomplishments, it gives them hope that they can continue to be better.

Q: Creativity is so important in the world of special events; how do leaders keep that spark alive?

A: Give people very clear direction, let them know you are here to coach and help them. But if you hire the right people, you have to let go of the reins. If they get off track a little bit, that's where the leader uses his or her expertise to guide them back. But let them go, and encourage them. Unfortunately, what happens so often is the leader says, “I will give you this event to plan, and now get out your pencil because I'm going to tell you exactly how to do it.”

Q: What motivation mistakes do you see most often?

A: The younger managers espe-cially, who don't have a lot of experience, buckle under pressure, and they don't yet have the emotional maturity to hold it back from their staff. It shows on their face. They snap quickly; they just overreact.

When the pressure gets tough and people are squeezed, you see what they are really made of. I make it a personal commitment to always be the best person I can be, no matter what. Sometimes when I don't feel good, it's still the best person I can be at that moment. There is no reason to be disrespectful or abusive to people because of the stress that you're feeling. I'm not saying you don't say to them, “Hey, we've got serious times here, but there is no doubt in my mind that we can pull this together. Here are my ideas, let's powwow and talk about how we're going to get through this. Because we will get through this.”

Q: How do we keep people working together as a team?

A: You either win or lose as a team by linking your goals together, and all the goals feed into the annual big goal of the company. Keep reminding them of the big picture. In my last company, where I was president, we had a big chart on the wall showing where we judged we should be for sales each period and where we actually were. We were always referring back to it, asking, “What are we trying to do here?” It's amazing how excited people can get and how they want to help each other.

Q: How do we keep ourselves motivated?

A: If it's really, really bad, you need to go to someone at your level, someone you can trust, and unload. If you have to, take a personal day off. Go do something to fill your soul. If you are giving, giving, giving, it drains you. And you have to remember your exercise, massages, going out with friends. If you don't put them into your schedule, you won't do them, and if you don't do them, your cup starts to get empty. No one can give you emotional energy but you. Leaders have to take care of themselves, physically and emotionally.

Loret Carbone is vice president of human resources and chief people officer at Ruby's Diner, based in Newport Beach, Calif.

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