Operations: Inspired Leadership Can Transform Organizations

by David Vialpando

Many times, deficiencies and failures at casinos and gaming regulatory agencies can be traced to dysfunctional management or a lack of leadership. In today’s complex and ultra-competitive gaming industry, it behooves us to examine the elements of effective leadership.

Leadership is an acquired skill many of us can learn and leverage to the benefit of our organizations. As a social species, we seek out the leaders among us to help define the direction of our lives and identify goals with which we can identify. Organizations lacking effective leadership are easily identified by a workforce possessing low morale, eroded trust, large staff turnover, decreased productivity, financial crisis, and a questionable ethical reputation. Decision-making in these organizations lacks a coherent focus, may be contradictory, and might be lacking entirely leading to stagnation, organizational instability, and reputational damage.

Organizations possessing strong leadership are characterized by a clear, unified direction and vision, decisive decision-making based on organizational engagement and analysis of all available options, constructive and respectful conflict resolution, accountability throughout all levels of the organization, proactive crisis management and timely remediation to normal, and investment in personnel development and succession planning throughout the organization.

In the casino gaming industry, there are a plethora of courses offering curriculums in effective leadership. The elements of effective leadership are not technical, but rather intuitive and people-centric. Leadership is about being proactive, rather than reactive, with the most effective strategy being not inferring with staff efforts to get the job done, but instead supporting their efforts by providing resources, guidance, and mentorship. This strategy is often referred to as servant leadership.

An effective leader inspires, motivates, and guides others towards a common goal and a defined vision. Clear, confident communication of organizational vision coupled with timely, decisive decision-making based on well-informed choices inspires loyalty and organizational pride. Capable leaders recognize individual contributions to organizational goals and provide appreciation and positive feedback. Effective leaders accept responsibility for failure and analyze adverse situations for improvement strategies. The term, “learn from our mistakes,” is a mantra of a successful leader. Effective leaders are flexible and readily adapt to market, governmental, and environmental changes to ensure the continued success of their organization.

Effective leaders recognize that their organizations are about others and not about themselves. They exhibit empathy regarding the concerns, needs, and personal challenges of others. Leaders strive to create a positive and supportive work environment with an emphasis on honest and supportive professional relationships. Leaders eschew ego in favor of self-deprecating humor and encourage honest feedback. Strong leaders encourage innovation and risk taking as strategies leading to organizational improvement and industry supremacy.

Human history is replete with examples of effective leadership. A student of leadership would do well to study the qualities of those who have been successful in this role and adapt those qualities to one’s own personality. Carefully studying military leaders, elected officials, and the titans of industry can help us chart a path to effective organizational leadership.

It is important to recognize that leadership is not about rank or positional status within an organization. Leaders can be found at all levels within an organization, and they may be situational, conditional, and informal. Effective leaders recognize the leadership potential of personnel within their ranks and actively leverage the talents of these individuals to realize organizational goals.

We can all remember that person or two within our organization who we felt comfortable and confidant to be around; the person we looked up to for honest and trusted guidance and advice. We feel good about the success and direction of our organization with strong, competent leadership at the helm. We know what effective leadership looks like when we see it and our industry will only continue to succeed and thrive with it.

David Vialpando is Executive Director of the Pokagon Band Gaming Commission and Vice-Chairman of Tribal Gaming Protection Network. He can be reached by calling (269) 926-5485 or email [email protected].