Recently, a superhero was walking confidently down La Brea Avenue approaching Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Even in this eclectic neighborhood, the crusader cut an impressive figure with a flowing cape, daunting helmet, bright red boots and a colorful shield.
As he approached the intersection, an older Russian woman was crossing La Brea as the light changed. The superhero jumped into action, running into the street and waving the shield to block lurching cars. He then escorted her across the street. She seemed to welcome the heroism.
After a round of applause, I thought, this is the profile of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) CEO job — someone who can act like a superhero but is driven by helping others rather than self-interests.
What the largest trade association in the nation needs is not a power-drunk figurehead, but a boots-on-the-ground inspirer (boot color TBD) who uses a position of power to help others.
Leadership, of course, is the most important consideration for who gets the top NAR job. But what kind of leader should the trade group be looking for?
Servant as leader
NAR is organized as a nonprofit, meaning its duty is to provide a service to its members, which is why despite its staggering revenue, the powerful organization is tax-exempt.
So too, the NAR CEO must treat this job as one of duty and service. This individual should be super qualified to lead a powerful and sprawling trade organization but be inspired every day to make things better for its members. Not reveling in being a big shot, but digging deep and reaching high to achieve important industry changes.
Think servant as leader.
In his 1970 book Servant as Leader, Robert K Greenleaf describes the characteristics of a new type of leader who is inspired by a “servant ethic.” Greenleaf discusses the importance of awareness, foresight and listening, which he contrasts with coercive and manipulative power.
“The servant-leader is servant first — it begins with the motivation that one wants to serve, to serve first,” writes Greenleaf.
Greenleaf’s ideas did not really take hold until decades later.
Years ago when I was recruiting a CEO for Homegain, candidate after candidate rolled into my Emeryville, California, office.
One day, my associate Marie Nilsson eagerly came into my office to let me know an appointment was in the waiting area. She said, “now this guy is a CEO.”
Turns out that the Fidelity Title executive at the time — Pat Stone — was not a candidate for the job; he was a new Homegain board member visiting our office.
Why did Nilsson see “CEO” in Stone? He is humble, clear headed and quiet spoken, but a confident and very successful leader.
He fits the profile of the new leadership type; the beta leader, the servant as leader, the listening CEO, the measured but deliberate cheerleader, supporter of his team, decisive and tough if necessary.
(Stone is not a candidate for the NAR job and has no interest in it).
He fits what author and lifestyle guru Arianna Huffington speaks about — the non-toxic and non-reactive leader, the steady and calm hand who has balance in her life.
Dr. Dana Ardi, author of the book The Fall of the Alphas, writes about the decline of the traditional Alpha-model, the top-down, authoritarian, corner-office hierarchy that has ruled organizational landscapes for so long.
She argues that it is being replaced by collaboration, connectivity and the sharing of power.
In the new Beta organization, the team players and the network itself are coming to the fore, as savvy executives learn to lead through influence and through their customers, rather than authority and competition.
Who does the servant as leader NAR CEO serve?
While there are a gaggle of important stakeholders, the answer is simple. Consider the name of the organization.
It is not the National Association of Real Estate Broker-Owners; it is not the National Association of Real Estate Franchises; it is not the National Association of MLSs; it is not the National Association of Political Contributors and it is not the National Association of Real Estate Tech Vendors.
It is the National Association of Realtors. Realtors are not the customers; they are NAR.
The new CEO must be unwavering in serving their interests first, regardless of the pressure and the needs of the other stakeholders.
The power of the organization comes from the Realtors who toil every day to earn a living — no one else.
If they come first, if they grow and if they succeed, the other stakeholders win, including the new CEO. They deserve an inspired leader, someone who makes them feel confident about their profession and someone who guides them to new heights.
The right NAR leader must begin work bottom-up, not top-down, to serve and empower this ragtag group to do amazing things for the real estate industry, for the property market and for their customers.
As the transaction gets more complicated, agents must be more sophisticated. If Realtors are smarter, better qualified and more ethical, the world is a better place.
Current CEO Dale Stinton has done a good job navigating NAR through a period of rapid change, sometimes reacting, but more often positioning the organization to to be in the right place, do the right thing and to act forcefully when required to do so. He will be missed.
But now the next generation of leadership must take over. And it requires a purposeful, change-agent leader in both style and substance — a Wonder Woman who can help walk a hodgepodge group of Realtors across the street safely.