Rowing together Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Imagine the complexity of dealing with running a major hotel


Now imagine if that hotel chain also had all the problems of a

shipping company with more than 30,000 employees from 100 different countries to deal with.

Seems like Adam M. Goldstein’s job could make anyone a little

seasick. But Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean

International, the lead brand for $6.15 billion Royal Caribbean

Cruises Ltd., sees the pleasure cruise line business for what it is.

“The main reason why I think I’m here is I understand that it’s not

about me; it’s about the entire team of people extending to the

waiters and the stateroom attendants,” he says. “I’m not on the

ships, I’m not with the guests, and I’m not with the travel agents for

the most part. It’s hard enough for me to even keep up with the

biweekly progress reports, never mind interact with all the people

that are doing the work.”

Look, unless Goldstein wants to rent out Dolphin Stadium and

hire about 30 translators, there will never be an on-site, all-company meeting about Goldstein’s vision for Royal Caribbean. Instead,

he is all about starting the cascading process through his direct

reports and realizing his limitations.

“You have to cascade it downward,” he says. “If you want people

out on the water to believe they work for somebody with integrity, you need to make sure that at each level of management, from

senior level on down, you have people who actually act with

integrity because they are always watching. For me, it was about

how do you get the senior vice presidents to be that way and how

do you get the associate vice presidents and then the vice presidents and the directors and so it goes.”

The process is all about getting his direct reports behind him so

they can begin to push the company vision downward. Goldstein

has found that doing that is about consistently showing integrity,

empowering his people and keeping a constant eye on his own

words to maximize employee involvement.

Show why you are the captain

First and foremost, Goldstein doesn’t want to mince words about

the No. 1 thing a leader needs to do to get other leaders behind him

or her.

“If you accept the opportunity to be a senior leader of any

organization, but certainly this one, you have to understand

that you are being evaluated for whether you are exemplifying

the principles that you are communicating out to the work

force,” he says.

The bigger your organization gets, the more eyes you’re going to

have on you in everything that you do. If you have one slip up or

one promise that you’re going to do something that you end up just

forgetting to do, it’s going to be remembered.

“A lot of it is how you conduct yourself every day,” Goldstein

says. “If you do things people perceive as lack of integrity, you

don’t get to erase that with your next nine days of doing the right

thing. It’s irretrievable.”

Since you are the torchbearer, you are also responsible for creating a “wow” moment for your people. That moment is about

making a stance on one of your core values that can resonate

across your entire staff. Often Goldstein says these can take place

when you have to make a change in course or when you’re a new


“The first day that you’re in the new area, every person in that

area knows more about that area than you do,” Goldstein says. “All

of the sudden, you’re their supervisor and they’re all saying to

themselves, ‘Why does this person who doesn’t know even what I

know, why are they leading me now? I don’t understand this.’ Well,

the way that you combat that is by showing that you are prepared

to deal with issues that have been lingering, in some cases, for

decades in that area without ever being addressed properly or corrected, that you’re willing to take on even the hardest challenges,

and they start to think, ‘Wow, this is different. This might work better.’”

For Goldstein, one of those opportunities came about 10 years

back when he took over hotel operations for Royal Caribbean.

The company was getting ready to unveil its new ship, Voyager Of

The Seas, and was looking to update the systems around compiling guest feedback. A few people had complained that some

guests were being helped toward giving generous feedback by

staff, so Goldstein decided he would tackle that by keeping

employees away from the process entirely — by penalty of termination. The edict was clear and sent a sharp message. It also

earned him a lunch with a director on the management team who

didn’t think he’d have the daring to follow through.

“He said, ‘We don’t have the guts to do that here.’ I said, ‘Watch

me,’” Goldstein says. “And he said, ‘It won’t work,’ and I said, ‘If

you feel that way, probably this is not a good situation for you,’ and

I didn’t fire him because he actually wanted to quit.

“And we never looked back. The ratings today are what the

guests want to rate us, and we changed all kinds of protocols on

the ship to hermetically seal the ratings process. And it’s doing

those things where people say, ‘Whoa, this is really going to be


Empower the leadership

Goldstein says a big part of getting your direct reports behind

you is letting them do their jobs without looking over their

shoulder — for the most part. He spends a good bit of his time

on the big-picture portion of the business, but he checks in

with all of his direct reports via a monthly meeting and a

biweekly progress report. The progress report, which is usually around 40 pages, is a bulleted breakdown from each of his

groups listing the overview of their project and its status.

“We cannot master every detail, but we can challenge our people

on some details at some times so that they really are forced to

explain what it is they’re doing and why,” he says. “And then you

can help people out because if somebody says something in their

area, you’re able to say, ‘OK, that’s interesting, you should talk to

so and so in this other area of the business because they’re dealing

with something that I think would be very relevant to what you’re

talking about.’ You can only do that if you’re pretty near the


Using a system that shows where each group is works not just as

a measuring stick for you on each group’s success, but Goldstein

says it helps to raise flags on details you may otherwise miss.

“If I see a bullet point in those pages that I don’t have any idea

what they’re talking about, I’m going to ask because I really expect

to know,” he says. “I don’t expect to know about a financing

arrangement at the same level that the treasury people do, but if

I’ve never heard of the financing and don’t know why we’re doing

it, I’m going to ask somebody, and that holds true for any of the

hundreds upon hundreds of bullet points. And it’s not because I’m

trying to micromanage — I’m not inserting myself into the vast

majority of those situations — but I want to feel the pulse of the

business enough so if I see something that either I don’t know or it

doesn’t strike me as right, that it makes sense to the people when

I talk to them or I can correct a trajectory that will lead to an

unproductive use of time. If you’re not comfortable dealing with

detail, you can’t be at the top of this business, in my opinion.”

Give a voice to your crew

Beyond trusting his people to do their everyday jobs with minimal

down-their-neck breathing, Goldstein believes that another big step in

getting your senior leaders on the same page is getting them to feel

like they have a voice in the path of the company.

“Even for senior leaders of a corporation, it’s not always easy to

voice your opinion,” he says. “Clearly one of the challenges that I

have, or that every president and CEO has, is to create an environment where your leaders are going to say what they have to


For Goldstein, the emphasis for creating an open culture for

senior leaders is to constantly think about how powerful they are

in the eyes of some.

“I have begun to appreciate the intensity of the impact on people

of what I say,” he says. “I’m not sure I fully appreciate it, but I have

told people over the years that if you’re in senior management, you

might think you are hitting somebody with a feather, but to them,

it feels like an anvil.”

No matter how welcoming you think you are, you have to realize that people are coming to you not just as a person but also as

a boss and the voice of the company — that gives every word you

use considerable weight.

“I really have to think about the words that I use,” Goldstein

says. “I would like to think that I’m a reasonably articulate person,

and I know that if I mean something to be constructive criticism,

there is, I would say, a very strong tendency of most people to forget about the constructive word and just remember the criticism.

So if I don’t really worry about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it, if I’m talking to a director or a manager or an analyst about

how they might do something differently, they are going to not

receive it well unless I go to very considerable lengths that they

would receive it well. And even still, there’s no guarantee.”

The thing to remember is that many people in your organization,

even among leadership, might not get a great deal of time with you.

So if all they hear is criticism, they are going to fear the worst.

“They will extrapolate from what I say to a whole range of situations past anything that I intended because if I speak to them one

or two or three times a year, then they may use those one or two

or three sound bites to decide how I feel about them in total — or

that what I chose to talk about was the only thing about their work

that I noticed,” Goldstein says.

To combat that, you have to create systems where people know

they are not thought of merely in terms of the constructive criticism you give them. Beyond thinking about how you phrase

something, take the time to point out to people that they are the

subject of many positive conversations or that you have high

hopes for them. Similar to the way a negative thought may resonate with them for months at a time, knowing you have positive

conversations about them will also dig its way into their brain.

“You have to try to create the conditions where they really will

perceive something as constructive suggestions to improve as well

as making people understand that I probably notice more and am

more aware of what they’re doing than what they think,” Goldstein

says. “So you try to create an environment in which people are OK

to accept commentary and act upon it.”

Once that environment is created, your people will feel better

about talking to you and be able to better internalize constructive

criticism. In turn, that will create those employees you want to go

out and start cascading your vision across your entire organization.”

HOW TO REACH: Royal Caribbean International, (305) 539-6000 or