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Conrad Hilton Leadership Styles and Principles Essay

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Updated: May 26th, 2020


Conrad Nicholas Hilton entered into business at the age of 21 after taking over his father’s stores. After a life in the military during the First World War, Conrad returned to New Mexico at the age of 31 to find his late father’s businesses ailing. He decided to venture into his own business. Conrad relocated to Texas with the aim of entering into banking but ended up buying a hotel. He would purchase more hotels in Texas thereafter following remarkable success.

In 1946, he formed Hilton Hotel Corporation after expanding the hotel business in the whole of United States. However, the Second World War halted his growth shortly and rendered him bankrupt for some time. He expanded the company operations worldwide and renamed it into Hilton Hotels International Company. He ventured into other businesses such as credit cards and car rentals.

He was tremendously successful in every financial venture he entered into before his natural death in 1979. Hilton had sharp business acumen. He had a great sense of direction and was goal-oriented. He once said that successful people keep moving and that there is connection between success and action. Even during calamities and slow business, Hilton remained strong and tenacious and was dedicated to his goals. He took risks, was persistent, and incessantly ambitious.

Additionally, he was socially philanthropic and caring. This paper will take a close look at the life of Conrad Hilton to ascertain his leadership styles and connect his principles to the leadership styles (Scott-Halsell, Shumate and Blum, 2008). However, the author will analyze the two leadership styles that perfectly embody Conrad Hilton (Transformational and Transactional Leadership Styles) before connecting his life successes to them.

Transformational Leadership Style

This style touches on the higher levels of satisfaction In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self-actualization, fulfillment and esteem needs. Leaders in this category want to transcend the basic needs of a human being and to have a sense of life success. Sarros and Santora (2001) highlight four crucial characteristics that leaders in this category possess.

These are individualized attention, inspirational impetus, intellectual stimulation, and idealized influence. The leaders pass on these traits to their followers and encourage growth and realization of their goals. According to Scott-Halsell, Shumate and Blum (2008), leaders in this category have a high sense of charisma. This refutes the notion that charismatic leaders have a transformation sense because the opposite is true. Individualized attention refers to a considerable amount of interest in one’s employees.

Leaders realize that individuals are a crucial part of a success story and place considerable attention in their growth and motivation. They achieve this through delegation of tasks, encouraging two-way organizational communication, finding a way to work with different personalities, mentoring, and coaching programs (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

Inspirational motivation entails having a vision and encouraging workers to work towards achieving that vision. Leaders ensure that employees understand the importance of teamwork in realizing otherwise individually unachievable goals. Intellectual stimulation involves extending creativity and innovation to enhance rationalism. Sarros and Santora (2001) find that this is possible through a considerable self-challenge on the part of the leader.

This way, employees can follow through examples. Leaders, finally, use idealized influence to encourage their employees to meet extended goals. Leaders use ideal situations to show employees that certain goals are achievable. Additionally, leaders exemplify idealized influence through high moral standards, demonstrable determination, attracting admiration from employees and persistence. Followers do not have to be told about all these since they can easily find them in their leaders (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

Recently, Scott-Halsell, Blum, & Huffman (2008) have added the concept of emotional intelligence on the list of traits that a transformational leader possesses. This relates to understanding specific emotions and finding solutions and answers relating to those specific emotions. Additionally, emotional intelligence is a notion that tries to understand how an individual relates to the immediate environment they are.

Scott-Halsell, Blum and Huffman (2008) break down emotional intelligence into four characteristics. This domain includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. They define self-awareness as recognizing and understanding one’s own passions and the ability to use them to guide behavior. It also entails accepting one’s strengths, weaknesses, competencies, and having the self-confidence required for success according to (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

Self-management, on the other hand is the ability to manage one’s conflicting emotions during tricky satiations. Social awareness is the innate or learned ability to understand ones organizational environment such as clients, employees, suppliers, and leveraging this environment to grow a business.

Last, relational management ensures that a leader is inspirational in times of dire needs from the staff. This ensures that subordinates remain positive and enhances progress even in situations too big for them to handle (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

The concept of emotional intelligence is rather new in the overall transformational leadership. Many pundits believe that it is an interesting addition. Additionally, despite the fact that leaders acquire all the other traits naturally, individuals acquire emotional intelligence through other means such as counseling, practicing new behaviors, and positive reinforcements.

Hence, leaders in various fields can achieve this and use it to grow their organizations in refreshingly new ways. It is also important to note that leaders can apply the concepts thereof despite the innate leadership style they posses (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

Transactional Leadership Style

Transactional leadership focuses on goals with a particular attention to rewards and punishments in order to reach the goal. A transactional leader is a social exchange enabler who clarifies what the subordinates need to do to achieve those goals. This can take a passive or an active approach according to Scott-Halsell, Blum, & Huffman (2008). The active management approach looks for and fixes problems when they arise.

The leader tries to align these mistakes to the documented procedures and encourages the employees to be careful. Passive management approach does not correct mistakes in advance. Rather, the leader waits for a mistake to occur and finds a way to tackle it (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

This is not a good approach because a mistake that occurs may have spilled over to the customer and may be irredeemable. Additionally, the latter does not cure processes that are critical to the success of an organization. Hence, according to Scott-Halsell, Blum, & Huffman (2008), active management approach is the most efficient especially in the current organization since it has holistic benefits.

How Conrad Demonstrates Transactional and Transformational Leadership Styles

Having returned from war after his father’s death, Conrad found his dads fortune in tatters. He examined the situation and decided it was time to move on from his father’s shadow and build a personal fortune. He moved from New Mexico to Texas to start a banking business because of the connections he had established during his father’s days (Woopidoo, 2012). This shows that he had a strong sense of direction, and a hunger for success.

Is also shows creativity in the sense he was able to leverage past processes and connections to build a new agenda. Having arrived in Texas, however, it was immediately evident that a banking business was not viable despite the fact that there was a perfect opportunity presented by the Texas oil boom.

The reason was the fact that the banks had been rated highly because of this boom making a purchase virtually impossible (Pittaway, Carmouche and Chell, 1998). Hence, his attempt to purchase Cisco failed. Conrad decided to eat a humble pie and try luck in the hotel industry. This shows that Conrad was particularly persistent in his undertaking. He refused to allow setbacks to bring him down, a characteristic common with transformational leaders (Carlton, 2009).

Conrad purchased Mobley Hotel because of its potential and possibility of fortune. He embarked on immediate renovation. He would later focus on customer satisfaction and happiness to improve the business (Woopidoo, 2012). He would hold individual employees accountable for the satisfaction of customers.

He focused primarily in areas where he perceived the previous management had failed. This shows that Conrad was particular with details and was quickly adaptable to situations. This is demonstrable by his ability to recover from his father’s business failure and quickly reestablish himself in a radically different field and register immediate success. Conrad gained back his investment within one year.

This shows that he had understood the employees, the suppliers, and the immediate environment quite fast. As noted by Scott-Halsell, Blum and Huffman (2008) self-awareness, relational management and social awareness are key attributes of a transformational leader. These traits are quite evident in Conrad owing to his fast adaptability in Texas. In the next three years after arrival in Texas, Conrad would purchase two more hotels (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

On arrival in Texas, Conrad’s formula, as shown above, was to purchase previously owned hotels and embark on renovations. However, in 1925, he changed his investment formula by leasing a plot in Texas and building a hotel. This investment cost him more than one million dollars (Oppenheimer, 2007). From then on, Conrad decided to build a hotel from the ground each year. This shows that he was a man full of vision, goal-oriented and with an appetite for success.

He would constantly implore workers to have a keen sense of service to customers and to treat them with dignity (Pittaway, Carmouche and Chell, 1998). Additionally, he employed a formula where none of his hotels had a similar name despite the fact that this was the norm. Rather, he would use different hotel names for each facility and encourage a standardized service instead. He perceived this as a shrewd way of retaining customers who may have had a bad experience in one of his outlets (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008).

They would not find a connection between the latest outlets with a previous one if they were to shift. Characteristic of a transformational leader, Conrad encouraged his employees to employ a strategy that would specifically meet the requirements of a customer and the specific area of operation.

Scott-Halsell, Blum and Huffman (2008) outline delegation as another trait common with transformational leaders. Conrad was a shrewd leader who would delegate quite impressively at virtually all levels of operations of his hotel chain except the vision (Kirkpatrick and Locke, 1991). He embodied the company’s vision.

After registering tremendous initial success, which saw Conrad establish hotels in major cities in Texas, he was faced by a major challenge close to ten years later. The United States economy would register a massive blow from the great depression in 1933 (Oppenheimer, 2007). Conrad lost most of his property and he was rendered bankrupt. This forced him to sell most of his hotels and the board retained him only as a manager.

Additionally, just around the same time Conrad’s personal life was in tatters. His wife of nine years with whom he had three sons, divorced him following irreconcilable differences. This was a massive blow on Conrad and had a tremendous effect on his life. However, his vision was still intact and his drive for success was still on. He was living his mantra that successful people continue moving despite failure and setbacks.

Three years after the depression and the failed marriage, Conrad had recollected (Oppenheimer, 2007). He repurchased a majority ownership of Hilton Hotel Corporation and purchased his first hotel outside Texas. Before other businesses could recover from the depression, Hilton took advantage of this opportunity to obtain hotels countrywide especially in the west coast at cheap costs. This phase in Hilton’s life shows a number of traits of a transformational leader.

According to Scott-Halsell, Blum, & Huffman (2008) emotional intelligence is central to a transformational leader. Although this trait can be acquired through counseling and learning, Conrad seems to have had this trait in him. Pundits agree that demonstrable ability to weather the challenges inherent to such a situation is imperative to employees.

This is because they do not like weak leaders who crumble in the event of challenges. They would like an inspirational leader who remains focused on the long-term goal. True to this, Conrad’s resilience, high energy, and determination were instrumental to inspiring his followers (Carlton, 2009).

The above situation also projected Conrad well in light of his organizational set up, especially employees. The survival and subsequent continuation of business idealized him as strong, flexible, and a strong believer in his ideals. According to Scott-Halsell, Blum and Huffman (2008) this plays a major role in inspiring employees and making them embrace the vision of the organization.

It also encourages the workers and all major stakeholders to want to work as a team as they believe this is the best way forward in threatening situations. Teamwork and shared goals allow the organization to spring forward and to withstand and prepare for any other challenges in future (Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer, 2008). Additionally, the above situation demonstrates that Conrad started thinking outside Texas. He expanded his empire to the entire country, which technically spread his risks.

According to Scott-Halsell, Blum and Huffman (2008) this is the same effect that the situation had on employees. It allowed them to think of innovative ways to handle day today situations. This concept is known as intellectual stimulation and it comes from employees who copy ways out of tricky situations and apply the solutions in a manner that benefits the entire organization (Carlton, 2009).

Hilton would continue expanding and purchasing other hotels in subsequent years. Later, his hotels were regarded as the best in the world. At the same time, around 1946, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company now had over 25 hotels spread across America (Conrad Hilton, 2012).

Two years later Hilton renamed his company to Hilton Hotels International Company. He had expanded to Madrid in his first step in what would become an overseas expansion odyssey. By the time he died in 1979, the Hilton Chain had over 250 hotels inside and outside United States. Conrad was a philanthropic person. He would contribute to numerous charities and he founded the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management (Conrad Hilton, 2012).

These two organizations were the major beneficiaries of his vast wealth (Conrad N. Hilton College, 2012). His son, who had been the CEO fourteen years prior to his father’s death along with other siblings, got less than 10% of the wealth. This precipitated a legal battle that would culminate in his son getting a larger share and overseeing the two organizations.

The situation above shows that Conrad was a caring person. His contributions to charity and subsequent bequeathing of a lion’s share of his wealth to a foundation he founded are evidence of his vision to make the world a better place. It also projects him as an impersonal and motivated by a better world (Scott-Halsell, Shumate and Blum, 2008).

The fact that he had delegated the CEO position to his son and had only retained the chairperson to the board position shows he wanted to see a generational change that would oversee his vision and goals achieved. It also shows he was collaborative and wanted to pass his teamwork spirit to others (Carlton, 2009).


Conrad Hilton was a remarkably successful leader. His traits span across charismatic, directive, and transformational. However, the style that aptly depicts Conrad Hilton is transformational Leadership Style. As demonstrated above, the leader had clarity of vision, direction, and purpose. He had an innate ability to articulate his goals, objectives, and align them impressively to his teams and employees. During situations that had almost brought him down, he would hold together and emerge victorious.

This would motivate employees encourage loyalty and teamwork. These two factors coupled with emotional intelligence and conscientiousness would create an idealized image of him to the employees who believed in everything he did. He was also ambitious, creative, and caring. These traits were passed on to his employees through various initiatives, including owning shares, once the company went public.

He also required employees to demonstrate a high level of empathy and consistency when dealing with customers. All these traits are evident with a transformational leader. Additionally, upon death Conrad Hilton bequeathed a major stake of his wealth to his foundation and college.

This shows the level of selflessness Hilton had and the desire he had to ensure his sons and employees imitated his ideals to amass more wealth and instill leadership principles. This legacy is true in Hilton Hotels International Company, which currently has over 500 hotels spread across the globe.


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