Mark Hoplamazian jumps in with both feet.

When the Philadelphia-area native was asked to lead Hyatt Hotels Corp. as interim president in 2006, he said yes, even though he didn’t have any experience in the industry.

“I didn’t know anything about the hotel business. Well, I knew a little bit—like I stayed in a lot of hotels,” he told Wharton students at the first Leadership Lecture of the 2012-13 academic year.

Hoplamazian, who graduated from Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 1989 and had previously worked in private equity, dedicated himself to learning as much as he could about his employees, Hyatt and hotel management. He spent this intense learning period asking questions and listening to colleagues.  This experience, in addition to his experiences before Hyatt, brought Hoplamazian to a conclusion about a fundamental virtue of leadership.

“One key essential element in being in a position to lead is being a great listener, and applying yourself to it in a very sincere way,” he said.

Mark Hoplamazian talks with attendees after his Wharton Leadership Lecture.

After listening, a good leader is able to articulate the “big picture” and motivate employees. Hoplamazian illustrated this second virtue—clarity of purpose—with a story.

“In the early days of NASA, a news crew … was doing a documentary on the race to space. In the course of that they [asked a custodian], ‘What do you do here?’ Without missing a beat, he turned around and said, ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon,’” Hoplamazian said.

This popular teamwork parable paints an interesting picture of how an organization can function with a clear purpose.

As CEO, Hoplamazian tries to ensure that everyone in the Hyatt organization has that same clarity of purpose. To his employees, Hyatt emphasizes the unifying mission of the organization: that they can make a difference in the lives of the people they touch every day.

“If people do get it, and it’s simple and powerful, then they’ll know how to apply themselves in order to deliver that,” he said.

This clarity of purpose can’t be lip service. Leaders must, too, believe in this unifying mission. The third and final essential element of leadership is authenticity, Hoplamazian said.

“You can’t really bring people along unless you have credibility with them and unless they trust you,” he explained.

Hoplamazian spoke on campus on Sept. 20 as part of the Wharton Leadership Lecture series.

Editor’s note: For more photos from the Leadership Lecture by Hyatt Hotels President and CEO Mark Hoplamazian, visit the Wharton Flickr stream.