Leadership Lessons Learned from a Vegas Casino

In 1993, the MGM Grand Las Vegas hotel opened to a TON of international fanfare.  One of the first destination resorts designed to attract families to the Vegas strip, the MGM Grand was the largest hotel in the world at the time of its grand opening.  Emerald green glass plates covered the outside of the building and guests could follow a yellow-brick road to a Wizard of Oz attraction complete with cornfields, haunted forests and animatronic versions of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scare Crow and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Topping off the Wizard of Oz theme — and playing off MGM’s Leo the Lion logo — the hotel’s planners designed a main entrance of almost ridiculous proportions:  Patrons walked straight through the mouth of a multi-story golden lion upon arrival at the casino.

It wasn’t long, however, until the hotel’s owners realized that they’d made a horrible mistake:  They’d inadvertently alienated Chinese gamblers — a group that bring MILLIONS of dollars to Vegas every year during the Chinese New Year — who believe that walking through the mouth of a beast brings bad luck.  Afraid of tempting fate and losing their shirts at the hotel’s casinos, Chinese gamblers stayed away from the Grand, pushing the business to the brink of bankruptcy until they replaced their trademark “mouth of the lion” entrance in 1996.

Stew in THAT mistake for a minute, would you?

The designers of a multi-million dollar property pushed forward with their plans without thinking about the needs, wants and interests of some of their most important customers.  The hotel wasted time and money on a idea that seemed perfect on paper, but that ignored the realities of the environment that they were working in.  Instead of trying to create a hotel that satisfied customers, they created a hotel that satisfied themselves and simultaneously alienated the very people that their business depended on.  After losing social and financial capital, they were forced back to the drawing board just three short years after opening.

Can you see the leadership lesson in the story of the Grand?

Driving successful change efforts depends on developing plans that resonate with YOUR core customers, too.  Listening to students, parents, teachers and community leaders when reimagining what learning spaces are going to look like is essential simply because sustainable change inevitably depends on the support of the people that you are trying to serve.  The best change agents recognize that driving organizations forward depends on more than identifying good ideas.  Instead, driving organizations forward depends on identifying good ideas that key stakeholders are likely to embrace.

Any of this make sense?

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