Accelerate Your Career with Volunteer Leadership
When you’re working hard to develop your real estate career, the idea of taking on a leadership role in an industry organization might seem lofty, but totally impractical. After all, there’s no time, and such roles would cut into your ability to actually be a REALTOR®. While that sounds reasonable, the exact opposite is true, according many leaders, who say that industry involvement gives you the competitive edge to build your business.
Adorna Carroll’s experience was similar. Carroll, ABR, ABRM, GRI, PMN, SRES, is owner/partner of Realty3 Carroll & Agostini in Berlin, CT, as well as president of Dynamic Directions, Inc., an educational and sales training firm. She was a member of the executive committee of the Connecticut Association of REALTORS® in the mid-1990s, when discussions were underway within the industry and with regulators to change the laws to allow REALTORS® to represent buyers.
Too Much Time?
“Because I was involved in the association, I could see what was happening around the country... [Our firm] could offer agents insights to new technology. This helped us move forward.” – Sharon Millett
“I think a major benefit of taking on leadership roles for women is something we dance around a bit,” That is the “self-satisfaction at being able to do a good job as a leader.” – Pat V. Combs
|“If you wait to be asked, you’re probably not going anywhere.” – Barbara B. Lach|
One of the reasons given most often by those who decide not to seek out leadership roles is the time commitment – perceived or real – required. Some REALTORS® worry that taking on volunteer commitments, even within the industry, will cut into their ability to actually make money. That argument doesn’t hold up, according to Combs. “I’ve found that the more you gave, the more you got back.” Moreover, the industry needs people to get involved. That’s the only way to ensure a voice at the table when legislation and regulations affecting REALTORS® are under discussion.
In addition, it’s very easy to choose the level at which you want to commit, Carroll said. REALTORS® can work on everything from one-time events to longer-range projects. It’s important to have “quality at every level,” she added.
While some women may question their ability to lead, most already have been leading in some way. They may have raised a family or taken on other volunteer positions, Whatley said. However, they may not view these as leadership roles. Often, just joining an organization can be enough to change one’s perception, Whatley added. That can “be the catalyst that opens up a person’s ability to see her own strengths and capabilities in a new light,” she said.
How to Take on a Leadership Role
Once you’ve decided to take on a leadership role, you’ll need to make your wishes known, according to Lach. “If you wait to be asked, you’re probably not going anywhere,” she said. Start at the local level, so you can gain experience without the pressure that accompanies national positions. “The higher you get, the more training and skills you need to set yourself apart,” Whatley said.
Also, given the size of some national real estate organizations – NAR boasts 1.3 million members, and WCR has 18,000 members – it’s unlikely that someone who is totally new to the organization will land in a leadership post. “You have to develop, and the local board is a wonderful way to start,” Millett said.
If possible, try to participate in a committee that fits your experience and interest. “If you happen to get involved in something that doesn’t quite pique your interest, you’re not as involved and it won’t really separate you from the others,” Carroll said. “Start where your passion is and where you’re more inclined to get involved mind, body and soul.”
Combs, for instance, served on and chaired the Equal Opportunity Committees of the local, state and national associations in the 1970s after graduating from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI with a degree in sociology. “This was my baby, my passion,” Combs said. “It was a time in the country when block-busting was going on, and there were riots in cities. I felt I could make a difference.”
Similarly, Millett joined the Government Affairs Committee soon after getting her real estate license in 1990. This was a natural fit for her, given her work on local and state political campaigns. “Find those things you really care about,” she said. “That’s key to doing a good job and having a positive impact.”
As compelling as the benefits of leadership are, it doesn’t make sense to over-commit. It quickly becomes obvious if you are participating in industry associations to the exclusion of actually working as a REALTOR®, as you lose touch with the issues of greatest concern to REALTORS® out in the market each day.
Instead, you’re likely to become known as an “association junkie,” who just wants to travel and participate in meetings, Combs said. “It doesn’t take long before people realize that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Once in a position, you need to do the job to the best of your ability. However, that doesn’t mean censoring your thoughts when you disagree with others, Whatley said. Politely stating your viewpoint is necessary if an organization is going to be as effective as it can be. “To withhold input out of fear of consequences hinders ensuring the best solutions are brought forward,” she said.
In the mid-1990s, Whatley was asked to serve on NAR’s Executive Committee as WCR’s representative. Whatley was discussing WCR’s purpose and title with a recent past NAR president. He advocated changing the name to the Leadership Council of REALTORS®, reasoning that this better reflected the aim of the Council and would make both men and women more interested in the organization.
“I respectfully disagreed with him,” Whatley said. At the time, only a few women were moving into leadership roles within the industry at the state and local levels. Whatley discussed “the benefits the name gave to women who were looking to build a network of support and develop a higher degree of self-confidence as they progressed in their real estate careers.” Obviously, the name remained, and Whatley later became president of NAR.
“It takes courage to lead,” she said, “and not be in the ‘ready, aim, aim, aim’ syndrome, without ever getting confident enough to ‘fire.’”
Karen M. Kroll is a freelance writer from Chanhassen, MN.
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