I believe that everyone should find a form of movement for 30–60 minutes every single day. Ideally, this will be something that involves some resistance work or weight lifting in addition to cardiovascular engagement. Human bodies were built to move, and the healthy benefits are undisputable. Find something you love and break a sweat. Rock climb, surf, powerlift, run, hike, do yoga!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, 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 doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I came to terms early in my career that I was by nature driven towards chaos, turn-arounds, 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 the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
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 of 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.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is not a mistake per se, but an indelible lesson nonetheless: I’ve always been passionate about hiring talent and unique characteristics over strictly adhering to a job description, and I’ve followed that passion throughout my career. My experience is that this is not the norm at most companies, so I have many stories involving hiring talent for a business. The one that stands out for me is a hiring experience from many years ago. I interviewed a gentleman for an account executive role on my team. He was a call center representative in a rural part of Virginia making $21,000 per year. I knew after our interview that he was talented and had unique abilities that would make him very successful. Other interviewers felt his pedigree was not appropriate, his salary was a surrogate for his quality, and they recommended a no hire. I felt strongly he would be an excellent fit, and I moved forward with a hire recommendation anyway. I was told that I was risking my career and my reputation, and I should select a “safer” candidate. I had to go all the way to our CEO for an exception to our hiring practices because his salary and package were so disparate with our model. We hired him on a $90K base which was our standard package, and he went on to go to Platinum Sales Club four years straight- including his first year in the role. Then he left to write a best-selling book, and ultimately went on to be an EVP at a major publishing house. The lesson I always share with leaders is that talent is talent, and everyone should be evaluated on their ability, not their current circumstances. As a leader, I have always felt strongly that it is my calling to find the best characteristics and talent, and then to help each person achieve their highest potential.
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 about that?
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 perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
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.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Start the day with reflection & intention — Take 10 minutes to sit, focus only on yourself and your own mind. Reflect on what is challenging you, let feelings go from yesterday or anything that surfaced in the morning, and set your intentions for the day. This time should not be spent on to-do lists, what you need to do for others, or what projects you need to complete. This time is all about clearing your mind of clutter, reflecting on what you personally want to feel on that day, and how you intend to act throughout the day as a reflection of what you stand for and who you are.
- Make time every day to challenge your body — I believe that everyone should find a form of movement for 30–60 minutes every single day. Ideally, this will be something that involves some resistance work or weight lifting in addition to cardiovascular engagement. Human bodies were built to move, and the healthy benefits are undisputable. Find something you love and break a sweat. Rock climb, surf, powerlift, run, hike, do yoga!
- During the day, examine feelings when they happen — Don’t just experience feelings without reflection. When you feel any extreme emotion: anger, irritation, or elation, step back from that feeling for a moment, take yourself out of the experience, and think about what is driving it — get to the root by being honest with yourself. If it’s a negative feeling — do you really need to feel it for any longer? Can you just acknowledge it, release it, and move on? I love the Winston Churchill quote, “You’ll never reach your destination if you stop and throw rocks at every dog that barks.” Think about your feelings through this lens — Are they helpful? Are they getting you to what you want for yourself?
- Be intentional with food — — What you put into your body will ultimately impact everything about you: your weight, your immunity, your gym performance, your mental capability, your emotions — even things like your skin and hair. Being thoughtful about what you allow into your body can set you up for success in so many other parts of your life. We all know that food has incredible power, but many people still eat mindlessly, for pure pleasure, or out of boredom, anxiety or habit. One of the biggest ways to exert control over how you feel is to get your food right.
- Close your day out with a non-negotiable ritual — The end of the day is just as important as the beginning, and I find that an evening ritual — even small or short — can help center thoughts, prepare mind and body for restful sleep, and release the day. For me, this includes 15 minutes of meditation in a space specifically for this purpose. Sensory experiences are very tied to my mindfulness, so I also have calming a lavender nebulizer, and a cup of decaffeinated black tea with vanilla soymilk. This isn’t a big time commitment, but it forces me to slow down, focus exclusively on my own mental refresh, and ensures I am in position to sleep. In times of extreme stress, I also write down anything that bothers me as a ritual way of giving myself permission to release it, so I don’t think about it while I sleep. Guarding restful sleep is so important.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Anxiety has continued to grow across every demographic and age group in society, and COVID-19 has only accelerated trends of loneliness, fear of the future, loss, sadness, and isolation. While these are complex challenges, I would like to see more direct and specific focus on the underpinning anxiety as a mental health concern that we should all be working on every day. Companies can create specific tools and support basic practices that leaders can cascade to their teams every day. Taking time to check in on friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or volunteer to connect with high-anxiety populations — unemployed, elderly, new parents, people in isolation. At the end of the day, mental health hasn’t enjoyed very much coverage throughout COVID — not in the news, in the media, in corporate America, in communities to the extent that it should be, and I fear the long-term repercussions of the lack of support and dialogue right now.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- It’s All About People so Hire the Right Ones: It sounds simple, but so many people get this wrong every day. Every business ultimately comes down to the people and their intellectual property, creativity, and business acumen applied in the service of others. To build a phenomenal business, you must take the time to hire people who believe in the mission, are likable, and have a passion for service. They must have the intellectual horsepower, work ethic, and integrity to deliver at scale. Hiring the wrong people will destroy the business from the inside out.
- Be Highly Differentiated or Perish: I see a lot of leaders who think that their business is special simply because they run them. In any business, you must be ruthlessly honest about your position in the market. Are you offering a highly differentiated, important offering that your clients cannot get from any other company? Can you tell that story from a client point-of-view in less than 90 seconds? Be honest and think hard about the answers to those questions. If they aren’t clear, crisp, and specific, you will struggle to survive.
- You & All Employees are the Brand- Live it: In services, every interaction with a client, any public image, and any interaction big or small demonstrates your brand value and image. You cannot have a bad day where you don’t show up on-point for what your brand stands for or what you deliver in the market. I see many companies who believe if they deliver in front of customers that will be “enough”, but the culture of your company, the way everyone conducts themselves day-in-and-day-out at every interaction must be “on-brand”. You are your brand. Nothing will be stronger in the market than your constant conduct.
- Be An Authentic Leader: Don’t compromise your authenticity. It’s the best super power you have as a leader. Be visible, be tuned into your employees needs, and be committed to bringing your entire self to the work. I see so many leaders who are focused on what they “think” they should be, not who they are. It’s impossible to inspire, build, and grow a great business if you are constantly trying to blend who you really are with a persona you have constructed for work.
- Operational Excellence is Mandatory: Services businesses thrive on operational efficiency and optimization. The systems, processes, and infrastructure needed to run an effective business may not be glamorous, but they are a mandate to run a profitable services business. Invest in process optimization and grow an operations team that is passionate about wringing any inefficiency out of the system.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
All of these are big compelling topics, but mental health is far and away the dearest on this list. If you have a healthy mindset that opens up so many other opportunities for wellbeing. So first and foremost, creating opportunities, programs, and support networks to support and enrich our mental lives is top of mind for me. When I think about the work that we do every day in our business at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, I am reminded that nothing feels as good as being supported, empowered, valued, and accepted, so you can be your best self, and in-turn build the best experiences for everyone around you.
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