Lessons in Leadership from Mr & Mrs Smith CEO Tamara Lohan

Marie Claire Chappet
·5-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Harper's BAZAAR

One half of the real-life couple behind discerning hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith; Tamara Lohan MBE has overseen the growth of her brand from in-the-know hotel guide to cult online travel agent over the past 18 years. She previously worked within the marketing departments of several major brands from Honda to Unilever, is also a start-up investor and, in March 2020, at the height of the pandemic that laid siege to the travel industry, she took over the helm as CEO of Mr&Mrs Smith to steer it through.

Here, she shares her key insights into successful leadership…

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

“Adaptability, courage and empathy. The only constant these days isn’t merely change, but the rate at which change is accelerating – the past year is testament to that. I’ve always embraced the notion of being agile, not only in order to stay relevant, but to successfully lead a growing business.

Courage almost goes without saying because, as an entrepreneur, I’m hard-wired to take risks. But as our business has grown, I’ve realised the importance of learning from failure and rising with a positive attitude to the next challenge.

Developing trust with my team has been incredibly important to me, which is why I think empathy is crucial. Nurturing strong and transparent relationships means I can support them when they need me and vice versa. We’re a family-run business and so strive to instil togetherness among colleagues. I’m very aware, for instance, of the mental strain that remote working is causing during the pandemic. Everyone has varying levels of tolerance for this new working environment, so being mindful of how people's feelings and stresses may differ is something I’m focusing on.”

My personal strength as a leader is…

“Resilience. I’ve realised I’m good at bouncing back from a challenge, and that’s what I’m trying to do with Mr & Mrs Smith. I’m determined to make us a more robust and compassionate company coming out of the pandemic than when we went in.”

The biggest priority for my business right now is…

“Getting prepared for the return of travel! The pent-up demand is palpable and we need to be match fit to help our members navigate the shifting landscape. The business will go from surviving to thriving mode and that transition in itself will be a challenge.”

The economic outlook may be uncertain, but I’m mitigating risk by…

“Spending this time focusing on the things that will help us be more scalable, competitive and efficient when travel returns. Looking after our members’ frustrations as they cancel and amend their bookings and being as helpful and understanding with our hotels as possible. We must go above and beyond and back again for everyone right now because, ultimately, they are the key to a successful future. This acute focus on tasks that make the difference is what is driving me right now.”

I keep my team motivated by…

“Trying to find the positives in any situation! Acknowledging the struggles and stresses but keeping that pace and drive to move forward has been an essential way of coping for us. Since I took over as CEO back in March 2020, I’ve also spent a lot of time on communication. It's been hugely important to me to be open and honest with the team, and I feel this in turn has built understanding and motivation for us to get through this together.”

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

“The toughest decision by far was the cost-cutting exercise we had to go through because of the effects of the pandemic. Losing valuable members of the team through no other reason but the virus was heart-breaking and something I’ve really struggled with.”

The worst mistake I’ve ever made as a leader (and the lessons I learnt from it)…

“The times I’ve kicked myself are when I wish I hadn’t rushed in. I’ve always been impatient and it’s a trait I know I have to keep in check as CEO. I must pause to listen and really hear what people are trying to say, and I have to think more about the decisions I make. Getting the balance right between being able to make decisions at speed but also give them due care and attention: this is where mistakes are made.”

An effective leader will always…

“Listen. I think it’s the most important skill a leader can master. Refusing to listen creates a bubble, surrounded by those with nothing to say. In the fast-paced digital lives we lead, we spend so much time overloading on information, it’s easy to forget to pause and just listen to those closest to you. The best solutions often arise from the time and space given to the team to offload. Be open, present and flexible.”

An effective leader will never…

“Dismiss someone else's concerns.”

My role model for leadership is…

“I’m a member of a small network of women on WhatsApp and LinkedIn who are also leaders of business. We’ve become close friends through sharing ideas as well as the highs and lows of running businesses. Most importantly, we’ve been supporting each other through what has been a tough year. I draw so much inspiration from them.”

The one piece of advice I’d give to a new leader is…

“Find your network: people you can turn to for advice, support or just someone who won’t mind you venting your frustrations. Don’t try and do it alone.”

mrandmrssmith.com

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more from Harper's Bazaar, straight to your inbox.

SIGN UP

You Might Also Like