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Leadership in Real Estate: Turning It on Its Head to Get Better Results

by Carla Cross


Leadership. We hear a lot about it, but what does it mean to your real estate business? If your office isn't as energetic, cooperative or profitable as it should be, it may be due to your leadership style. Unwittingly, many of us are still leading with one of yesterday's successful styles. Today, companies that are growing have adopted a leadership style that works better for today's real estate agent.

Styles that Worked Yesterday

Let's look at three historic styles:

1. The benevolent dictator. Perhaps you are still leading like "father knows best," the most common management style in the '60s, '70s and into the '80s. We told the agents what to do and they did it, or else.

2. Leave 'em on their own. Perhaps you provide the services and otherwise leave it up to the agents to find their way. After all, you don’t think agents need management, right? That thinking swept through the industry in the ‘80s, partly as a reaction to the “father knows best” style.

3. The social. You may be the kind of leader who brings cookies to the office and wants to keep your agents happy. That's enough when things are going great. However, when things aren't going so well, agents want to know, "Where's the meat?" (In this case, the leadership.) When a more inspiring leader comes along, your agents will leave.

People Want More from their Workplace Today

None of these leadership styles above works well because agents today are looking for more than just a place to be. They’re looking for something significant to be a part of. Just look at the number of books about finding your passion in the “best seller” lists. For further evidence, look at wildly successful companies, such as The Body Shop, where employees are drawn to the company’s inspirational values, which include a policy of no testing on animals.

Look at today's successful sports coaches. Most of the "father knows best" coaches are long gone. Today’s athletes don't just accept blind adherence to the rules, much like your agents. They won't accept embarrassment or punishment – that negative reinforcement that fathers were so great at (and some mothers, too). Note: A great book about the evolution of motivation is Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.

A Coach Who Epitomizes Visionary Leadership

A good example of today's successful leadership style is Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He and his leadership team have developed a vision, values and purpose and have helped their players believe in it and their abilities to make it real. Through finding and developing talent while respecting players' idiosyncrasies and strengths, Coach Carroll has forged an unbreakable bond with and through his players.

Each player believes his coach, along with the supporting coaches, wants him to be his best. They know they are a part of something bigger than just a place they get paid to play football (that whole "vision" thing). So, they work hard to be good enough to be part of the team. Wouldn’t it be great if your agents worked for excellence, not just for some bucks?

Wouldn't it be exceptional if you could create even some of those attributes in your real estate office? You can. However, before we can evolve our styles, we need to examine some of the principles we’ve believed in and acted on in the past.

Preconceptions about the Industry

1. No team needed, thank you. Did you buy into the idea that real estate agents are independent contractors and therefore don't need teams? If you are still "bought in," you're way behind the curve! Finally, the industry is recognizing that no one succeeds alone. Yes, we agents are in charge of our business and our destinies. But, most agents today want to feel a part of something more significant – to think that there is more out there than just selling another home.

One reason is that agents are in business longer. According to NAR, agent longevity has increased to 12 years in the business from six just a few years ago. How long was it until you had selling mastered? Two or three years? Then what?

I'll bet you got bored and wanted to wake yourself up, so you changed companies. Or you went into management. Or perhaps you really wanted to help others. You wanted to create something significant in a real estate office – to make a difference in people’s lives.

2. Agents will challenge themselves (no leadership required). Most of us aren't really self-starters. And, we don't have business plans. We certainly aren’t guided by "vision." Someone—that should be you—needs to take that leadership position and provide vision and challenge like Coach Carroll with the Seahawks. Your agents are looking to be challenged and inspired by visionary leadership. Your task is to create something so special and spectacular that your agents never want to leave.

Become that Visionary Leader

Companies that are growing with a foundation for longevity are providing this kind of visionary leadership. Their structures encourage and reward team play. The companies have a strong culture of cooperation and support along with an open book policy – no secrets of leadership or of agents.

Here are the two important steps to building this kind of strong foundation.

1. Start building a team atmosphere. Don't get up in front of your sales associates and say, "We will accomplish more together as a team. So now we're a team." That's just silly, and it's exactly why so many teamwork concepts fail. Teamwork is not an announcement. It's a process that requires skills that many managers have not mastered.

A team is not a rah-rah group of people drawn together in a power play. A team isn't a social group. A team isn't a group of people who agree to do things the manager's way. A team is two or more people working on a common task, focused on mutually agreed to and mutually beneficial results.

2. Build a vision the team can share. Start with the end in mind. What's your vision? What do you want people to say about you and your office when you retire?

Carla_components of vision

Today, teamwork will exist only when there is a common vision in the office, a vision created by leadership. Ask yourself: Do you have stated values? Is your vision inspiring, and is your team energized about it? Are they working together toward it? 

The Best Guide to Visionary Leadership

Start reading books on visionary leadership and team building. One the best is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. For a quick read, choose Ken Blanchard's High Five: The Magic of Working Together. Pay attention when successful leaders in other industries talk about how they "teamified" their associates using vision, values, participation through advisory groups and rewards for common focusing.

If you follow sports, ask yourself, "Why is that person considered a good coach? How did that person get a bunch of talented athletes to stop playing as individual stars and start playing like a team?"

By being open to examining your preconceived ideas and experiences about leadership, management, vision and teamwork, you can start the journey of creating a visionary real estate office with a great team.

Carla Cross_thumbnailCarla Cross, CRB, MA, is an international speaker, writer and coach, specializing in real estate management. A "National REALTOR® Educator of the Year," Carla was recently named one of the "50 Most Influential Women in Real Estate." Carla helps leaders flex their styles through her Leadership Mastery program. Join Carla's Community, and receive a complimentary eBook. 

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