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Op/Ed

Learning leadership skills from other cultures will refine your own

(EDITORIAL) You can avoid a lot of confusion by understanding where your business counterparts are coming from. See where you stand regionally in regards to cultural leadership styles.

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Fluff words

I don’t believe in leadership… really!

In my experience, more often than an example of someone exhibiting a worthy strategy for advancing the goals of an individual or group, I’ve found “leadership” to be a buzzword translating roughly to a skeevy sales-pitch that sounds something along the lines of: “Concerned you lack both ideas and skills? Don’t worry! Here are social strategies you can use so no one will notice your absence of merit until it is far, far too late.”

At best, it’s a marketing term used to take advantage of insecure people who actually do have good ideas or solid skills.

At worst, and let’s be honest here; when I wrote my little screed about leadership, how many of you immediately had a face and/or name of someone in mind?

Possibly more than one, even?

It’s OK.

This is a safe space.

Not “tattling” to incompetent, but powerful authority figures is just one of the services we offer here at The Real Daily.

Egalitarianism and hierarchy

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to come across a piece on leadership with real value.

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Over at the Harvard Business Review, Erin Meyer has built a useful metric for leadership styles. Her purpose is to establish the different expectations that exist for business leaders in multiple cultures (though the metric is applicable as a trans-cultural concept as well).

The two axis of her graph are “egalitarianism” and “hierarchy.” “Egalitarianism” tracks the degree to which employees expect involvement in the decision-making process.

“Hierarchy” reflects the degree to which employees defer judgment (and responsibility) to their organizational superiors: think top-down vs. bottom-up.

The intersection of the two creates four strong categories, all of which need to be in a good leader’s repertoire, which I’ve listed for you below:

High egalitarianism: top-down

I start with this one because I’m from the USA, and this is us. American employees on the whole expect to be involved in decision-making, especially when the decisions involve them.

That said, for all our open plan offices and open-door policies, let’s be real: we’re a top-down bunch. Ultimate responsibility still rests with El Jefe, who makes the call and takes the consequences thereof.

In that environment, employees (should) get input, but once the call is made, they’re expected to go along with the decision and adjust to its consequences.

A good leader in this setting makes sure everyone is involved in the process.

The cutoff in responsibility that occurs when the decision is made can lead to discontent if an employee feels insufficiently involved, since they’re expected to live with consequences of a decision they don’t feel they were part of t. Conversely, depending too much on employee input can give employees an impression of “weakness” on the part of the leader.

Low egalitarianism: top-down

By the heading, this probably sounds like the widely admired “Do What I Say, peon…” approach to leadership.

It isn’t, really.

Rather, it reflects a different distribution of responsibility, one that places a distinction between decision making, which is seen as the sole responsibility of the designated leader, and implementation, which is what the employees are for.

Meyer memorably cites an American company working with a Chinese one in which the management was shocked to learn their egalitarian management style had led to them being perceived as not just incompetent, but arrogant, since what they saw as open-minded suggestion-box management, their Chinese employees perceived them as failing to do their jobs, then acting as if they’d done their employees a favor. Meyer also sorts major business cultures like Russia and Brazil into this category.

Obviously, in a setting like this, a responsible leader has to make clarity a priority. Process is vital: here’s where your responsibilities fall, here’s where my responsibilities fall. In addition, obviously, no leader can function without input.

Incorporating contributory opportunities into a rigorous decision making process avoids misplaced egalitarianism while still involving workers with the changes that will affect their lives.

High egalitarianism: bottom-up

It’s decision by debate, more or less. In this environment, the leader does less “leading” in the “buzzword” sense and more facilitating, encouraging everyone involved with the decision and likely to deal with its consequences to make their voice heard.

Meyer notes that this tends to be the decision-making process that takes longest (go figure), but also one that can lead to high employee morale and a clear sense of involvement.

A successful leader in this setting does their best work making sure every view is heard and, as decision-making time nears, everyone is on board.

Good news for would be leaders: this business culture is characterized by the least pushback after a decision is made.

Low egalitarianism: bottom-up

This is characteristic of business cultures where a high regard for formal authority interacts with an involved, informed, worker culture.

Authority still rests with the person at the top of the perceived structure, but the decision itself is made in groups, with the authority figure implementing and taking responsibility for the decision reached by consensus.

This can be a tough environment for would-be leaders, combining as it does a high degree of responsibility with comparatively little control. The best leadership strategy in this setting is a “first among equals” approach, guiding discussion without dominating it and taking responsibility, and exerting influence, when making the decision and managing its consequences.

Erin Meyer’s work is a masterclass in serious assessment of leadership in the workplace. It’s an analysis as well as a how-to, and repays a close look by anyone who is less interested in “being a leader” and more interested in actually leading.

#leadership

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Op/Ed

Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

When a doctor’s hands get shaky, they can kill a patient. But when a Realtor’s mind gets shaky, a client can lose thousands of dollars. Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

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cloris leachman

I was on the phone yesterday with a lawyer who has aged considerably since we last hired him. I spent nearly 30 minutes explaining how a school calendar works, and that children have three day weekends nearly every month. It took three of us 30 seconds to understand, but nearly 30 minutes for a seasoned lawyer to grasp.

In another instance, I watched an elderly doctor with hands so shaky, he could barely take my family member’s blood pressure, yet they would be performing open heart surgery in under an hour on this same patient under these same circumstances.

In both of these cases, these intelligent professionals should find an exit plan – write a book and go on tour, begin consulting or educating, or retire. What they’re handling is so life-altering, that one slip can change so many lives.

In both cases, their own livelihood is at stake, as is their pride, and stepping down can be crushing not only financially, but emotionally.

Also in both cases, neither party was aware that they’re slipping, and as we all age, it is difficult to tell that we aren’t as sharp as we once were. I’m only 32, but I sure as hell can’t sprint up three flights of stairs like I could at 22, just a decade ago, but that’s so obvious – what is slipping that I can’t even grasp because I’m experiencing it first hand?

This brings me to the practice of real estate

In considering the plight of the lawyer and the doctor, I got to thinking – can’t an aging real estate practitioner slip and cause their client thousands of dollars, just as easily as the doctor can slip and knick an artery? Can’t a loss of faculties cause damage to a transaction, sometimes without the client ever even knowing? Can’t a slowdown cause frustration when communications break down over basic concepts like how to use a fax machine?

I wondered to myself, should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate? Perhaps it should be like drivers’ licenses where at a certain age, basic testing is required. Sure, continuing education is required to keep a license active, but anyone can have their assistant take the internet-based test for them.

Shouldn’t consumers be protected?

There is no real success metric in real estate that can be measured – with lawyers, cases are won or lost, and with doctors, patients survive, or they don’t. In real estate, a transaction can be damaged in immeasurable and typically unseen ways.

Then I thought about Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman is 87. If you’ve ever watched Raising Hope, you know that she plays Maw Maw, the senile old bat who is always up to some crazy antic. The show pokes fun at a topic that is painful and not at all funny – aging and senility.

Her character affirms all of our fears of the aging process, that at a certain point, we lose it. All of it.

But then, you must remember that Cloris Leachman is 87. She isn’t actually Maw Maw. She is a wildly successful actor who goes on press junkets, films the show, does sketch shows when invited, answers email interviews and fan mail, and tweets, on top of managing her personal life.

She remembers every line flawlessly, she delivers them perfectly, and she brings Maw Maw to life.

What would Cloris think?

Leachman brings up the dichotomy of the aging process – the elderly person who can barely dress themselves (Maw Maw) versus the same aged person who performs brilliantly year after year.

What would she think of my lawyer and that doctor? I’m guessing that because she has full control of her 87-year old faculties, she’d tell them to retire because they suck, not because they’re aging. She’d tell them to not put people at risk because they’re scared to step down.

Ability has nothing to do with age. This 87 year old can act circles around an aspiring 20 year old actress. Ability has everything to do with ability. Period. There are plenty of 25 and 45 year old coke-head Realtors that put clients’ transactions at risk, and there are many more lazy agents who can’t negotiate, take crap deals, make a mess of paperwork, and expect a paycheck.

Ability has nothing to do with age

Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Bingo.

So no, there should be no age limit on the practice of real estate, but there should be a stupidity limit. I’m pondering ways to impose such a limit, so stay tuned.

Originally published April 2014.

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Op/Ed

Compete by using data ruthlessly, but note this often forgotten ingredient

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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Risk and predictive analytics

Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

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The power of prediction in business

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

Consider: We are human

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

Your impact, your challenge

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

A small lesson

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

Data doesn’t equal heart

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

#BuildRelationships

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Op/Ed

4 ways to avert common pitfalls and close your next deal

Every deal has potential pitfalls, but what are the best ways to avert these obstacles and keep your deal on track?

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The other day I was listening to a veteran real estate agent as he spoke about his experiences over the last 40 years. What he really loved about real estate, he said, was that it was always an adventure and always a challenge.

That’s the thing about selling real estate: in order to continually be on top of your game, you need to master the market of the moment—which means exactly what this experienced agent was talking about. You always face new and different challenges and pitfalls to get to the closing table.

The other thing that makes real estate such an adventure is that there is always a problem to overcome in the course of the transaction. Just as each snowflake is unique, so is each problem. There could be trouble with pest infestations, loan qualification, errors on title policies, or issues with easements and encroachments. Whatever the case, even if the problem wasn’t yours in the making, it is yours to resolve if you want to get the deal to the closing table.

Here are four strategies to help you avert crisis and close your next deal:

  1. When trouble is brewing, always keep your broker or office manager involved. In most cases, your broker or office manager should be your first line of support. Generally, they’ve done lots more transactions than you have and can advise based on a wealth of experience. They can also consult corporate counsel when appropriate.
  2. Take advantage of the risk management team. Most errors and omissions policies come with a number of complimentary risk management phone calls to attorneys and risk management staff. Don’t hesitate to give that number a jingle and confer with a professional on the best course of action.
  3. Use your state association’s legal hotline, if available. Many of the state associations provide a free legal hotline for their members. That’s a number you can call anytime to speak with an attorney and get some solid advice free of charge.
  4. Dial up the chain of command. If your problem relates to lending or settlement services and your local liaison or lender cannot get the job done, dial up the chain of command. Speak to supervisors (and supervisors of supervisors) until you can get your message heard and your job done.

Sometimes you will get multiple suggestions for ways to solve your problem. I often speak with multiple parties. Then, when I get two or three answers that concur, I know that I am probably on the right path to solving my problem. Even with 40 years of experience as an agent, my friend still believes that real estate is an adventure. For this reason and more, it’s a good idea to always have a few ways to avert crisis if you want to get to the closing table.

This editorial was originally featured in August 2014.

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