5 Lessons for Leadership in Difficult Times: Advice from Airbnb Advisor Chip Conley

    Published on May. 20, 2020

    Chip Conley has over 30 years of experience in hospitality. After leading global strategy at Airbnb for four years, he currently heads Joie de Vivre Hospitality, the second-largest operator of boutique hotels in the U.S., and Modern Elder Academy, a “mid-life wisdom school.” To help businesses through the current pandemic, Conley breaks down five key lessons for leadership, reflecting on his own experiences leading teams through various crises including the dotcom bust and the 2008 financial crisis.

    Be the emotional thermostat.

    A leader must set the climate control for the entire company. The more senior someone is in leadership, the more their actions and inactions stand out to others. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be transparent. However, the thing to know is a leader needs to match their vulnerability with vision. They need to be both transparent and authentic, but employees need to be reminded of the overall north star of the company.

    Clarify the metrics that define success.

    Align people around what defines success. Once those metrics are created, a leader needs to create the momentum of victory. This happens when the leaders can identify and share the progress that is happening in the company. If one can create this, they end up creating an environment that shows they are making progress. “When a company is making progress, employees feel both happiness and success,” Conley commented.

    Stay liquid.

    Be really thoughtful for the company’s cash flow and burn rate. Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb, recently had to make the painful decision to lay off 25% of his company. In order to make sure they could stay in business throughout this time, Chesky had to refocus on their core business and make this extremely tough call.

    Focus on Solving your customer’s problems.

    It is easy in a downturn to get focused on business problems--like cash flow--and forget what the customer’s problems are. A leader needs to remember the problem they are trying to solve for their customer and adapt to their changing needs.

    Make a list of lessons you have learned each week.

    “I started a wisdom book. Every week I would make a list of things I learned...a lot of them were painful lessons. For 34 years, I have kept a wisdom book--I have eight now,” Conley noted. Making a list of the things you have learned is a way to metabolize some meaning and feel a sense of progress. “When I went through the great recession, I went back to my wisdom book from the dotcom bust to look at some of my lessons there to see if some could be applicable today. And it was true they could,” said Conley.

    Watch Chip Conley’s full keynote speech from Plug and Play’s Spring Summit 2020 here.

    Follow Chip Conley on Social Media:


    LinkedIn: @chipconleysf

    Facebook: @chipconleyauthor

    Twitter: @chipconley