Hotel executive talks leadership style

Kirk Kinsell advised students to get to know future employees personally

· January 24, 2013, 10:45 pm

Ceaphas Stubbs | DP

Kirk Kinsell, the president for the Americas an Intercontinental Hotels Group, spoke as part of Wharton’s Leadership Lecture Series Thursday night. He stressed the importance of being a team player when leading.


Thursday night, a proud son presented his distinguished father to more than 100 students and faculty in Huntsman Hall.

As part of Wharton’s Leadership Lecture Series, Kirk Kinsell — father of Wharton MBA student Kyle Kinsell — gave a lecture titled “The Power of Conversation.”

Kinsell, president of the Americas at the InterContinental Hotels Group, which manages Holiday Inn and other brands, lifted the title of his lecture from his blog.

Throughout his talk, Kinsell emphasized the importance of feedback, which he repeatedly called “a gift.” He attributed his own success to his sustained attempts at self-improvement and stated that offering such constructive criticism was one of his most important roles as a leader.

“In a leadership role, you have a responsibility to help people unlock … their potential,” he said. “At the end of the day, leadership means setting people up for success.”

Kinsell explained that the hotel business is “very people-intensive,” involving both guests and employees.

He said his blog was one attempt to connect with his employees. Reading aloud a blog post he wrote over a vacation, Kinsell elaborated on the importance of a creating a balance between work and other activities. He advised his audience to “make life a career-learning exercise” and advised his staff to take lessons from work home and vice versa.

Wharton senior Briana Mariolle thought that this was one of Kinsell’s most important points.

“I really admire the way he purposely brings [his staff’s personal and professional lives] together and acknowledges it,” she said. “It’s something I would really like to incorporate into my leadership style.“

Kinsell said that he has always tried to be consistent and authentic in his dealings both in business and at home. He hopes that his colleagues always know what to expect from him and that he will be able to preserve a unity between his professional and personal goals.

He added that both company and individual should be in alignment, supporting one another, and he strove to keep his own purpose in mind throughout his career.

Rachel Nayman, a Wharton MBA student, said this was “very similar to things [she’s] learned in the classroom here. It’s nice to understand that people are using that in real life.”

Along with his remarks on work-life balance, Kinsell spent much of his talk presenting his personal leadership style in depth.

Most of his job, he said, consists of directing others, since in his current position he has little direct control over his company’s operations. Hence, he strives to be both inspirational and personal in his business interactions. He reminds his employees of the overall purpose of their jobs and works to “create an environment where people want to stay.”

He added, “People want a mission, to serve a greater purpose. They need a boss who will help them grow and shares their dreams.”

The role of a leader is ultimately a supporting one, Kinsell said. “Leadership is not about ourselves. Leading means opening yourself up for others. The best thing you can do is be a good team player.”

Katie Ferrell, also a Wharton MBA student, said, “I thought Mr. Kinsell offered a very insightful perspective on leadership and I was blown away by his sincerity.”

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