“Cares for agents.”
“Always helping us be our best.”
“Provides a feeling of family.”
“They are agent centric as opposed to broker centric.”
Those are just some of the comments real estate agents recently provided when Inman asked them about leadership. The subject can be a tricky one; there are a multitude of leadership styles, and researchers have come up with nearly as many metrics to study the topic. But the comments hint at a deeper, more fundamental truth: Good leadership (much as Steve Jobs used to say of his company’s products) just works.
The agent comments, which were responses to an Inman survey earlier this month on agent happiness, hint at that idea. Some respondents mentioned communication, or training. Others said leaders offered great technology. And some simply said they felt good around their leaders.
“Makes me feel like a valued member,” one person wrote.
“Provides a good work environment,” another said.
In aggregate, though, the responses make one thing clear: Real estate agents are thinking a lot, and deeply, about how leadership impacts the industry.
Ultimately, almost 700 people from every U.S. state and a handful of foreign countries provided responses. And while on other topics — such as income and benefits — the responses were decidedly mixed, when it came to leadership most of the survey-takers actually reported being quite happy.
The real estate industry may not be perfect, in other words, but for the most part agents seem to view their leaders as one of its most successful features.
Agents like their leaders
Inman’s survey mentioned a handful of characteristics, and asked respondents to rank their leaders using a five-point scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” So for example, the survey asked if senior brokerage leadership “promptly responds to all my needs.” Agents who “strongly disagreed” effectively gave their leadership one point in that category, while agents who “strongly agreed” awarded their leaders five points.
In essence then, the survey created a kind of Yelp review-like system for brokerage leadership.
The results were overall very positive — surprisingly so, in fact, if you’ve ever visited a review site like Yelp. Indeed, in every category the average score was higher than four.
The category in which respondents most frequently selected “strongly agree” was “strives to help agents succeed.” But frankly, the averages for all the categories were all very close.
The survey also provided a free response section that asked what leaders do well, and hundreds of people left comments.
One of the most common answers agents left was that their leaders communicate well. Though scores of respondents simply left it at that, others specified that their leaders communicated quickly, were especially clear in the things they were trying to get across, or focused on transparency.
Recruiting, training, providing technology, and expert knowledge were also all among the most popular answers from agents describing the things their leaders succeed at.
“Extremely informed on local real estate issues, highly responsive to agent needs,” one respondent explained.
Some people also pointed to more abstract qualities.
“Based on their exceptional strengths and focus, they inspire us to be better,” one person wrote. “And demonstrate a better way to do business in almost every sense.”
“Makes everyone feel equal,” another person responded.
“He’s there and present,” a third explained. “He really cares about his agents.”
A number of leaders themselves also responded and provided insights into their own management philosophies.
“I am the leadership at my company,” one respondent said. “I work hard to educate my agents, incorporate technology into our portfolio and keep my clients and the public well informed on our market.”
“I am the leadership at my company but my key to success is being responsive at the drop of a hat to all my clients and to other agents,” another survey-taker explained.
(Inman was able to view the survey responses, but not the identities of the people who left them.)
While the survey showed that agents have a generally favorable impression of their leaders, there were also a few responses that suggest less enthusiasm in some corners. To the question of “what does the leadership at your company do well,” more than one person wrote that leaders “take our money.” Another replied, “not much. Lots of words, not much action.” And yet another person wrote “i don tknow [sic].”
There were a handful of these responses, but the vast majority of the survey respondents instead had positive things to say about their leaders, further supporting the hypothesis that agents see their leadership as one of the more functional parts of the industry.
Good leadership produces happy and productive workers
Unsurprisingly, there is a whole host of research showing that good leadership has numerous positive impacts on workers. A 2006 study in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal, for example, found that “employees’ perception of authentic leadership serves as the strongest single predictor of employee job satisfaction.”
A 2013 study in the Journal of Business Ethics further revealed that apologies from leaders had a positive relationship with workers “psychological well-being, positive emotional health and authentic pride.”
And a 2017 study in the journal Advanced Science Letters found that “transformational leadership” — a style that focuses on trying to inspire and motivate workers — “has direct influence towards workplace happiness as well as affective commitment.”
Perhaps most relevantly here, in 2016 research in the Harvard Business Review also showed that good high-level leaders “inspire better leadership behaviors among their [mid-level] reports.” The effect also works both ways, with bad leaders inspiring bad behaviors among their subordinates.
These impacts also trickle down through an organization, meaning that a boss’ leadership style impacts even people she or he doesn’t immediately oversee.
“In plain terms, that means if you’re [a high-level] manager doing a subpar job, you erode not only the engagement of those working for you but also the engagement of the people working for them,” the researchers reported. “Happily, the converse is also true: if you’re a great boss, that engages your team and your team’s teams.”
This is just a small sampling — leadership is actually a heavily studied topic among researchers — and the findings are fairly intuitive.
But the point is that there is hard evidence that good leadership matters in business and enhances workers’ well-being. And while that’s a great objective in and of itself, there’s also a strong business case to be made for looking out for workers; last fall researchers at Oxford University found that workers were actually more productive when they were happy than when they were unhappy.
So what makes for a good leader in real estate?
For this series, Inman spoke with more than a dozen survey respondents to get a deeper understanding of the qualities that make for good leadership in real estate.
Among the agents who spoke with Inman, Stephen McCarthy said he looks for honesty, integrity and compatibility in leaders. The Boston-area agent also explained that the leaders of his company, Compass, have all of those attributes and have also excelled when it comes to following through with their ambitious plans for the company.
“I’m pretty impressed by it actually,” McCarthy said. “I knew when I came in, the company had serious growth plans. When I joined Compass they said this is what we plan to do. And they’ve done it.”
Bob Sokoler — who owns the Sokoler Medley Team at RE/MAX Properties East in Louisville, Kentucky — recalled to Inman a recent instance in which one of his agents received an award and broke down in tears because she was so happy. It was a moment, he explained, that emphasized another quality of good leadership: giving back to the team.
“If you’re a part of an organization that’s preforming well and the owners give back,” he said, “there’s nothing that can compare. There’s no better reward.”
Dan Hamilton, a Coldwell Banker agent in the Palm Springs area, didn’t mince words when asked about the leadership of his company: “Jamie Duran is the president,” he said, referring to the Southern California leader of Coldwell Banker. “And she’s amazing.”
Hamilton explained that Duran and other Coldwell Banker leaders in Southern California do a good job because they are highly responsive to agent needs and are focused on working with the parent company to create innovative programs that improve agents’ lives.
Finally, Diana Morgan, a Keller Williams agent in New Jersey, praised the local leadership of her brokerage for being “very accessible” and “having an open door policy.”
“If I text them with a question I get an answer right away,” she said.
Morgan also said that the leaders at her brokerage have continued to be generous with their time and resources, even as they have become more and more successful. That isn’t always the case with people in the real estate business, she explained, and the result is that she’s maintained her own positive outlook.
“We have amazing leadership,” she added, “and our company is great.”
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