Article Courtesy of: Inman News
By: Carl Medford

Leadership is not an inherent quality; it can be learned and constantly improved, according to PLACE's Ben Kinney and Brian Gubernick. They've identified these 8 leadership game-changers

What is the difference between a top-producing company and one that runs at the end of the pack? How is it that two companies can produce the same product or service, have an identical consumer base, comparable talent, operate off of similar budgets and yet end up with results that are drastically different from each other?

One word: Leadership.

Based on personal experience as well as insights gleaned from great leadership books such as Extreme Ownership, The 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make and How You Can Avoid Them and Engaged Leadership, Brian Gubernick, chief real estate officer at PLACE, Inc., and Ben Kinney, co-founder of PLACE, Inc., have developed a list of eight critical behaviors that separate great leaders from the rest.

Here are their 8 critical behaviors of great business leaders:

1. Accept personal accountability

Effective leaders understand that the culture and productivity of their organization begin with them. Dr. Randy Ross and David Salyers in Remarkable! explain, “The only way to help others learn and apply the maxims of value creation is to embody them yourself … If you are trying to transform an organization’s culture, then it has to start with you.”  

In other words, effective leaders model what they expect of others. They show up. They do the work. They honor their commitments and allow those around them to hold them accountable for their stated goals and performance.

John Hamm, in Unusually Excellent, uses the word “trust.” He clarifies:

To my mind there is absolutely nothing more important than a leader’s trustworthiness. As anachronistic as it may sound in the twenty-first century, men and women whose word is their honor, and who can be trusted to be fair, honest and forthright, are more likely to command the respect of others than any other type of person.

Flowing out of modeling the desired behaviors is personal accountability: They take ownership of what happens as a result of their decisions and actions. They do not make excuses or try to shift the blame to others. Jocko Willink calls this extreme ownership and states, “Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

2. Recruit, retain and develop the right people

Successful leaders surround themselves with the best team members possible. This means that talent acquisition is a fundamental part of any effective leader’s responsibility. Consequently, they are constantly recruiting.

Additionally, they are continuously nurturing and developing their team members to help them become the best that they can be. As a result, an environment is produced that captivates and retains the best of the best.

While some leaders see themselves as “quarterbacks” who are on the field and in the trenches, the best leaders see themselves as “coaches” who must effectively build the team, develop its talent, and get the most out of its individuals without being the individual who all the plays must run through.

Even though the quarterback is on the field and in the middle of the play, they cannot see everything. This is why, in American football, part of the coaching staff is seated high in the stadium with a view of the entire playing field. From this perspective, the coaching staff has a better understanding of the overall dynamics of the game.

Bill George and Zach Clayton, in a Harvard Business Review article, clarify the importance of being a coach over a player on the field:

Just as great athletes seek out great coaches, the best people want to work for leaders who coach them to reach their full potential and who will help them become better coaches themselves. What does it mean to conceptualize leadership as coaching? To answer that, we have developed the acronym COACH to describe how today’s leaders should work with people. As a coaching leader, you need to:

Care for your teammates
Organize them into their “sweet spot”
Align them around the organization’s purpose and values
Challenge them to reach their full potential
Help them reach their goals   

Even if stellar people are hired, that does not guarantee success. Gubernick explains that there are three reasons team members can be ineffective:

1. They do not know how to do their job. Their leadership does not set expectations and then provide the training required to excel.
2. They do not know what their job entails.
3. Someone or something is interfering with their ability to do their job.

Effective leadership counteracts this by modeling the desired behaviors and then coaching team members to the desired results.

3. Influence thinking instead of trying to control results

The job of the leader is to encourage and motivate individuals to think a certain way.  These thoughts lead to activities, and sustained activity creates habits.  Habits, of course, lead to results.

A great analogy would be that of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They undergo extensive training to prepare them to deal with multiple types of medical emergencies. Whether a traumatic vehicle accident or a heart attack, they have the tools and training to respond immediately and save lives.

The goal of leadership is to ensure that the EMTs have the training, tools and systems to effectively respond to any situation in real time. In other words, they teach the EMTs to think a specific way, extensively train them in the required activities and provide enough training drills so that habits are developed.

It is these engrained habits that make the difference when an actual emergency occurs. The EMTs can instinctively respond to the situation.

In contrast, a poor leader focuses on the outcome without providing the habits, systems, tools and resources required to produce the results. In this scenario, instead of the EMTs on the scene being in control, the leadership would be overseeing the process.

The EMTs would have to check back in with leadership every step of the way which in turn could lead to fatalities.  

Effective training is designed to help the recipient think: Thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to activity, activity leads to habits and habits create results. This process does not happen by default: The best leaders provide environments designed to stimulate critical thinking, which leads to optimum outcomes.

4. Lead different people in different ways

The combined sum of the talents and skills of everyone on a team is what creates something extraordinary.  The best leaders understand this and coach to maximize the strengths of every individual on their team. The way a leader motivates and provides accountability and connection with their team members should be uniform in strategy but unique in application to each specific individual.

One size does not fit all: Since everyone is created differently, wise leaders take the time to:
assess the characteristics, talents, innate qualities and experience of those on their team and then
coach each person individually in a way that resonates with their personality, gifting and goals.

In a previous Inman article, I explained that:

Like it or not, we are all driven by emotional needs that fuel our subconscious behaviors and routines. As humans, we need to feel valued and confident that we are a significant part of the team. If emotional needs are not recognized and met in a team setting, members can quickly feel unappreciated which usually leads to burnout and, in many cases, the departure of a valued team member.

Resources such as The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White can be helpful in determining what style of communication might work best for individual team members. Additional resources include the DISC Assessment and other similar tools.

5. Always remember the importance of profit

Profit is the measure of the success of a business and is the reward that offsets the risk required to be a viable business. Profit drives everything: Staffing, innovation, benefits and so on. Leaders are the ones responsible for making the tough decisions needed to ensure their business can last indefinitely. Gubernick clarifies:

An effective leader will not put personal preferences ahead of the business’s ability to be profitable: to do so can negatively affect the lives of many. A leader’s decisions cannot be based on ego, brand recognition or feelings. When a business is successful, the people who are part of the business can thrive.

In contrast, when business owners make poor fiscal decisions and the business fails, they are not the only ones affected. Poor leadership decisions culminating in company losses are not just affecting those who work for the company, but include the hopes, dreams, aspirations and financial futures of all of their families as well.

6. Act as a boss and not a buddy

We all want to be viewed as a nice person by our team members. Consequently, leaders often make the mistake of thinking that by coming alongside a team member to help them in their personal lives, it will transform their performance at work. Brian Gubernick points out that help at home seldom correlates with their performance at work.

I have seen this truth in my own businesses. In contrast, by focusing on their performance on the job and holding them accountable to the company’s goals, standards and expectations, their private lives are most often improved.

While not 100 percent true, Gubernick argues that if a leader supports a team member professionally, they will have a greater impact on them personally than if they just focus on their personal challenges.

It is therefore important to act first as a boss before acting as a buddy. Many leaders, desperate to be liked and admired by their team members, fail to hold team members accountable for fear of not being liked. In fact, it is not the leader’s job to be liked: It is to lead. Leaders will sometimes be required to make tough decisions for the sake of the company as a whole which may alienate specific individuals.

Gubernick further argues, “A leader is not responsible FOR people, they are responsible TO people.” A leader’s job is to provide the environment within which their team members can grow and thrive; that is their responsibility TO their team.
Individuals on the team, however, are then responsible for themselves. I have personally seen leaders fail to provide the necessary guidance for specific team members out of fear of either alienating their “friend” or losing them altogether. Such behaviors produce a lack of focus, direction, trust and credibility within an organization.

It can even cause anger as team members, knowing that some on the team are closer to the leader than others, see those “friends” or “buddies” receive preferential treatment by not being held to the same standards as everyone else.

Gubernick further states two rules learned from years of experience: First, do not do anything with a team member or “buddy” that you would not do with your team’s No. 1 client. This includes how you act, where you go and what you do in your private lives.

Second, when with a team member or employee, it is never 100 percent social. Regardless of the surroundings, whenever you are with team members, you are still the owner of the business and the leader. This flows from the fact that, as the owner and leader, you have duties and responsibilities that no one on your team can effectively understand.

This does not mean you cannot love your team members or have fun with them. It means that at all times, you must remember your role within the organization and act accordingly.

7. Set standards and define what winning entails

The critical question here is, “Does your team have standards?” or are they suggestions, aspirations or goals?

As an example, if your team has a standard of two open houses a week for all agents, what happens if team members do not show up? Does it matter? What are the repercussions if they fail to meet the standard?

One of the fiduciary responsibilities of a leader is to articulate the team’s recipe for success and then define, clearly, how that success is being measured. Gubernick states, “Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.”

Quoting Jock Willink again, “When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable — if there are no consequences — that poor performance becomes the new standard.”
If the team standard is for each member of the team to do one or two transactions a month, what happens to those team members who do none? Are they escorted off the team? If you state that your standard is one or two closes a month but you allow zero, then in reality, the “one or two” is a suggestion or a goal and your standard is actually zero.

A second question is, “Have you defined what winning looks like for your team and team members?” If questioned at the end of any given day, can any member of your organization state, clearly and without any subjectivity, whether or not they won or lost the day? Not by how they feel about the day, but based on the scoreboard?

This brings up yet another question: “Does your team have a scoreboard that accurately tracks the standards and expectations you have for your organization?”

Using a sports analogy, no team ever wins 100 percent of the time. In fact, in baseball, players who get on base one out of every three at-bats are considered highly successful.

The real question is will the activities of the team get you to the playoffs? Everyone this past year was rooting for Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers. After the first two quarterbacks were sidelined by injuries, Purdy stepped in and, in an unprecedented series of wins for a rookie quarterback, led the team to the NFC championship game.

As all eyes watched in anticipation, Purdy himself was injured, and his remarkable run came to an end. Bottom line, there are uncontrollable events that may take you out of the game, however, as long as you remain in the game, the goal is to play to the highest standards possible.

It is also important to note that not everyone in an organization has the same talent and goals. Some may be happy with a net income of $100,000 while others can produce dramatically more. This goes back to point No. 4: Effective leaders know their team members and work with them individually to help them reach their potential, all the while understanding that not all will reach the same level of performance.

No team is comprised of 100 percent performers. Professional sports teams have starters and bench warmers. Wins must be clearly defined for each person on the team on an individual basis.  

8. Remove incompetence and mediocrity

Great leaders set the bar. If you think in terms of a bell curve, 20 percent will be at the top, 60 percent will be in the middle and the remaining 20 percent will be on the bottom.

In keeping with the Pareto principle, Leaders need to make sure they are focusing on the right 20 percent. In most organizations, the top 20 percent are focused, have their heads down and are producing at such a level that the leader is often lulled into thinking they do not need active coaching and accountability.

In contrast, the bottom 20 percent are the ones who make the most noise, are the most dysfunctional and demand the most input from the leader.

It is tempting for a leader to spend their time with this bottom group at the cost of the top 20 percent. This is a serious mistake. The leader needs to pour into the top 20 percent on an individual basis and deal with the bottom group in a single group session with specific time limitations.

As for the middle 60 percent, the role of the leader is to provide them with the systems, support and encouragement required to move them into the top 20 percent. In the analogy of Office Space, the bottom 20 percent get relegated to the basement — not necessarily off the team, but in a place where they do not have unbridled access to the leader.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great states,

Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.

Settling is the behavior that leads to mediocrity. Effective leaders are those who understand that the goal is to constantly elevate behaviors and never settle for anything less than exceptional performance from yourself and the people you influence. In this type of environment, mediocrity does not stand a chance.

If you are a business owner, I’d challenge you to go through the eight critical components again and rate yourself against each of the eight statements ( with 1 being “completely failing” and 10 being “I’ve mastered this facet of leadership”). Chances are, if you are honest with yourself, you will discover some areas where improvement would be in order.

Once you have rated yourself, ask yourself the following questions:

1. In what area(s) do you feel you have the opportunity for the greatest improvement(s)?
2. What action steps do you believe you need to take over the next 90 days to increase your score by two levels (e.g. go from a 6 to an 8)?
3. What support do you need to make these improvements?
4. Who can hold you accountable for taking these steps?
5. How will those you lead — your team, your friends, your family — benefit from you making these improvements?

Contrary to the belief of some that leadership is an inherent quality found in a rare few, effective leadership can be learned and constantly improved. Greatness is a choice.

By seeking out competent guidance (coaching, mentoring, training), effective leadership can be developed. Once again quoting Jim Collins:

“Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

I totally agree. 

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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