Antonia Hock of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center: “Engagement”

Coach: — If you routinely find that you are struggling to move through challenges or find yourself in negative self-talk, I would recommend finding someone you admire for their resiliency and spending time with them. How did they become resilient? What do they do that helps them build confidence? How do they stay positive and move forward? […]

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Coach: — If you routinely find that you are struggling to move through challenges or find yourself in negative self-talk, I would recommend finding someone you admire for their resiliency and spending time with them. How did they become resilient? What do they do that helps them build confidence? How do they stay positive and move forward? Often sharing experiences and talking with someone about these skills can help them become a bigger part of your own personal arsenal. I also think moving towards a positive action-orientation can be accelerated by surrounding yourself with people who exhibit these traits. If you want to be resilient, surround yourself with people who are also resilient.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonia Hock.

Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center where she leads a dynamic advisory business focused on innovating the Customer Experience (CX) and Talent Experience (TX) for clients worldwide.

Antonia is a sought-after, author, thought leader and frequent global keynote featured speaker. She is considered a global expert on organizational transformation and building experience-based brands, creating a culture of customer-centricity, empowering employees and issues around diversity in the workforce, and innovating experiences for the future.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I came to terms early in my career that I was by nature driven towards chaos, turnarounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. When I came out of college, I joined an early stage dot com and that fed my desire to build and create. It also allowed me to tap into my entrepreneurial spirit while simultaneously allowing me to experience the heavy lifting and long hours required to build a business.

I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. This led me to work for fast-moving progressive companies like Microsoft, HP, and Siemens where I earned a reputation as a maverick: the one you call when you have a big challenge with high stakes attached. I also learned some important lessons about the value of culture, wellness, and genuine care in the workplace. Those are underserved areas that can break a business apart and destroy even the best financial performances.

After years of building successful business units centered on transformative technology, I was presented with the opportunity to work for The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service, culture, and wellness focus to market as a methodology that can be implemented in Fortune 500 companies to drive business results. Much of what we do focuses on changing the lives of employees and customers with a strong focus on care, empowerment, and a personalized approach to connection.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I was a young high-performing, high-potential manager, and I was invited to a very important meeting with 20 senior executives who were 95% men. The meeting room was small, with a boardroom table that fit only 10 seats, and 15 seats around the outside perimeter of the table. I arrived early to the meeting, and out of respect for the seniority of others in the meeting, I took a seat on the perimeter. After the meeting was over, I was called into my skip level boss’ office where I was told that I might not make it as a leader in the business because I could not claim my rightful place at the table. In this culture, my seat choice was signaling to all the other executives that I was deferential and not bold, aggressive or confident. I thought I was being thoughtful, but that was a wake-up call for how my actions would always signal my self-concept and my ambition. I am forever grateful to those male leaders in this situation who took the time to teach me that lesson early in my career because it jolted me from the patriarchal way I was raised, and I never made that mistake again.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The Ritz-Carlton has always been focused on values and culture that put the wellness of our employees and our guests front and center in all that we do. We have been living by values of empowerment, genuine care, personalized attention, and creating indelible memories for over 30 years. Whether we are caring for each other or caring for a guest, these values allow us to create an environment that is focused on wellbeing — emotional, physical, and mental — and that is life-changing for all. This is at the center of why we are sought after experts in designing and implementing culture that supports happy employees who in turn create very special experiences for customers and guests. In a world where wellness is not a corporate focus for most, we stand out as a business model that drives exceptional financial performance by investing in a culture of wellness and empowerment.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I had an exceptional female leader early in my career who showed me that her road to success did not require her to change her personal narrative. She had a complicated family life and a complicated upbringing, and instead of hiding that from all of us, she invited us all into her world. We all came together for a team meeting where we all stayed the weekend at her home sleeping on the floors and sharing the bathroom, and we came out of that weekend much more connected to each other. She gave me the confidence that I could be my full self and not compromise my identity to succeed. She also gave me some of my most meaningful performance reviews where she invested in the coaching and insights to help me raise my game. She modeled how a selfless leader behaves, and it changed my trajectory.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is in the same category of traits as courage and grit. For me, resilience is the ability to thrive and survive when the world is imploding around you, the circumstances are poor, you have already experienced set-backs, and many other people would be paralyzed to move forward — or move at all. Resilient people thrive on overcoming adversity by laying out plans and acting with speed and confidence. They don’t feel sorry for themselves or exhibit a victim mind-set. They don’t blame external factors and make excuses. Resilient people tap into an internal well of optimism, a problem-solving toolbox, and a practical, pragmatic outlook that enables them to take actions in the face of doubt, poor-odds, stress and emotional challenges.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resilience, I immediately think of Beck Weathers from the ill-fated Mount Everest summit attempt in 1996 that is covered in John Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. After weeks of grueling climbing under the most extreme conditions in the world and summitting, his climbing group faced terrible circumstances and weather conditions that killed many over a period of days. They were a fragmented group of climbers that were spread across the mountain on the decent. Beck Weathers, who was snow-blind and spent the night at 27,000 ft alone and exposed, then descended the mountain further before being left for dead by group of climbers based on their assessment of his condition. We knew he was near death in those conditions, and he knew that he had been left to die. His choice was to find the internal fortitude to get up and walk down the mountain or die trying. Beck is the ultimate example of resilience for me: Finding a way to tap into your inner well of strength under terrible circumstances. He found the determination and commitment to moving forward when most others could not. That’s the pinnacle of resilience.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

As a junior in high school, like so many teenagers, I was ready to consider my college path. At this time, I was attending a public high school in Indiana with good general academics and a large vocational program designed to cater to students with a variety of post-high school plans. I worked very hard throughout high school, and I was an excellent student with strong testing scores, extra-curricular activities, sports, and civic engagement. I had always dreamed of going to a school that would challenge me, and I had quietly set my heart on an Ivy League school. I thought for sure that everyone in my life would help me dream this big dream and encourage me to “go for it”. What I encountered was much different. Instead of unwavering support, I had just the opposite reaction from almost everyone in my life. I received comments like: “You aren’t smart enough”, “You aren’t Ivy League material.”, “Why would a girl want to get an expensive education just to be a wife and pop out kids.”, “Go to a state school and find a husband — it will be cheaper.”, “You don’t have the right pedigree. Only private school kids get in.”, “Your public education will doom you to fail at that level.”, “Your academic skills aren’t even close to good enough.”, “That dream is too big for you.” “You are too sensitive and shy to handle that type of school.” I was confronted with negative feedback across the board, everywhere I looked. But in my heart, I knew that I was going for it no matter what. Scroll forward — and on the back of my own hard work, two devoted alumni interviewers, and some grit — I found myself as a freshman at Dartmouth College. The net lesson I learned as a 17-year-old is that you must believe in your own power, you must do the work required, and never let circumstances or obstacles keep you from being resilient! The calvary is not coming.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I was so fortunate to cross paths with a visionary young leader when I was ready to make my leap to be a first-time people leader. He was a superstar and considered to be one of the strongest upwardly mobile in the company. He was hiring for a sales leader to turn around a train wreck of a business. I was a young lone contributor with no formal people leadership credentials, but I competed the heck out of that interview cycle, and he decided to endorse me for the role. The other leaders in the interview process, for good reason, thought I was a high risk candidate especially with the work required to overhaul the human capital, transform the customer experience, rebalance the P&L, and deliver operational excellence with 10 months to go in the fiscal year. But he put his superstar reputation on the line to hire me, and I got the job.

As I first time leader, this was a daunting task, and it was bumpy. The learning curve was steep, and this was not a hand-holding culture, so I had to figure it out on my own. I struggled to make headway, and I came up short over and over. I was ridiculed and publicly doubted in staff meetings. People joked about my ability and betted on how long I would last. Every day, I walked into that job with hard work to be done and virtually no support. I had a C-level leader tell my boss that I would never make it, that I was a poor hire, and he should know better. I would destroy his career with my eminent failure. But he hung in there with me, and I found my sea legs. At the end of the 10 months, I moved a 200M dollars P&L from last place in the US to #2 in the US, and I overhauled everything that was asked of me. The biggest trait that I drew on was my resilience. I never bought into the haters, and I never doubted I could crack the code. I got tougher and tougher over that year — more and more determined every day. And I had a toolkit of great business experience that I drew upon to deliver exceptional results.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I have always been a passionate equestrian, and as a young girl, my love of horses extended to every kind of horse — rescues, wild, young, old, Western, English, Hunter/Jumper. You name it; I wanted to ride it. With this attitude always comes risk. I was 10 years old, and I was riding in an indoor arena on 3-year old Saddlebred that had only been under saddle for a short period of time. Something spooked him, and he wildly bucked me off. My foot got caught in the stirrup and I was dragged around the arena at top speed. I finally got free, and then I got kicked in the stomach and stepped on by a 2,000lb animal. By the time I got up, I was bloody, dirty, shocked, and crying. My father caught the equally traumatized horse and tied him up. Then he came over to me and told me I had 30 seconds to cry, collect myself, and then I was going to get back on that horse and ride him. If I didn’t, the horse would never respect me, I would be fearful of riding later, and I would doubt my skill down the road. I was horrified that my dad would ask that of me, and I wanted to be left to cry and go home. But he was right. I got back on and rode that horse, and we both felt better afterward. That day, my horse and my father taught me an important lesson about bring resilient. How you handle adversity in those moments will create patterns of resiliency and confidence that will be long-lasting. I also learned that I could do more under tough circumstances than I thought, and that created confidence. The confidence to act is also a gift.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

When I discuss building resiliency, I like to take people through my CARVE principle:

Coach:

If you routinely find that you are struggling to move through challenges or find yourself in negative self-talk, I would recommend finding someone you admire for their resiliency and spending time with them. How did they become resilient? What do they do that helps them build confidence? How do they stay positive and move forward? Often sharing experiences and talking with someone about these skills can help them become a bigger part of your own personal arsenal. I also think moving towards a positive action-orientation can be accelerated by surrounding yourself with people who exhibit these traits. If you want to be resilient, surround yourself with people who are also resilient.

Activity:

Pick an activity where you know you will struggle, and then commit to that effort. This might be a new sport, a new language, or a new craft. I like this approach because you are working on your resiliency in a safe environment, but the skills can apply across your entire life. Set a goal, and then put a plan in place to work towards that goal. When you experience a set-back, practice the positive mindset, action plan, act with speed and confidence, and keep going! When I was learning to deadlift, I was the absolute worst in the gym. I couldn’t lift even the lightest weight off the floor. I couldn’t make my body adapt to the movement. My form was terrible. I was so frustrated with myself. So I watched videos, practiced in front of the mirror over and over, sought out others to watch and correct my form, and I never gave up. In the end, I was able to conquer the skill — but the road wasn’t easy, and I drew on my resiliency to get me through.

Resources:

Having a resource pool is an important feature of resiliency. We all need to build up our resources, skills, and network of people who can help us solve problems, provide support, or guidance. Resilient people know when and how to apply skills or reach through to others who can be useful and meaningful in challenging circumstances. Actively cultivating this environment for yourself will help accelerate your success!

Visualize:

I really love the concepts used in sports psychology for building resilience. Athletes face setbacks all the time, and often they have to respond immediately, so this is a great area to study that model. One technique I really like is to visualize yourself being resilient. Pick a challenging real-world scenario and sit quietly and step yourself through every step you would take to overcome the challenge. How would you act? What tools would you use? When you accomplish your goal at the end of the visualization, how would you feel? Secondly, I would recommend that you reflect on scenarios from the past where you may not have acted decisively, where you felt paralyzed, unsure, or maybe you chose to do nothing, and the outcome was not positive. Spend some time thinking about how someone you perceive as resilient would have handled the same scenarios. What would you do today? Often building resilience is about focusing on self-awareness, expanding your problem-solving skills, and building confidence to act.

Engagement:

When you experience a set-back in your life, and you feel a sense of fear or paralysis, I recommend practicing three immediate steps. First, you should stay engaged, so the moment to act doesn’t pass. Then quickly: 1.) Find something positive in your mind that relates to this set-back. What have you done before that you could draw on? What skill could you apply? The goal is to build your confidence and find some positivity to bring focus. 2.) Make an immediate mental plan that is tactical — what can you do right now to start moving in a different direction? I find some action, big or small, unsticks a scenario before it becomes overwhelming in your mind. Do something! 3.) Think about one or two things you will do in the near term to solve, improve, or change the situation, and make a deadline to act. This ensures that you will keep moving forward. Building resilience is also about perseverance! Sometimes, it’s just about working a plan one-step at a time. You don’t have to solve it all, but resilient people keep moving!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Investing in young adults has the potential to create such change and momentum for all of us and the world we live in. I see so many teenagers and young adults struggling with tough circumstances, difficult home challenges, and social and economic adversity. The infrastructure to help make change is so limited for this group of young people. I would like to see more programs like YearUp that are exclusively focused on opportunities and support for young adults. Giving this group real life skills, career support, mentors, and hope that the future can and will be different makes a real difference to an entire generation. I would love to see more major corporations come out in support of this program, and I would love to see more people give their time, skills, and leadership in the service of our young adults. https://www.yearup.org/

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to connect with Kim Ng. I admire the drive, commitment, and patience that she has exhibited throughout her career, and I’d love to congratulate her on her new GM role!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/antonia-hock/
https://www.instagram.com/antoniahock/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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