Five Lessons for Leaders in a World of Seismic Shifts

Recently, I attended my fifth Wharton Leadership Conference. The Wharton Leadership Program was founded in 1992 and re-examines traditional leadership education and teamwork turning out global leaders who know how to make a positive difference.

I am re-energized every time I attend this annual program, consisting of one jam-packed day of speakers from a variety of backgrounds. In past years, speakers have included CEOS for major brands, senior editors of famous newspapers (oh, the stories they told!), and others to compose an eclectic amalgamation of leadership ranging from the arts and photography, national forest rangers, world health organizations, military generals, and my all-time favorite, the senior project manager for the town of Copiapo during the Chilean mine disaster of 2010.

This year’s conference theme was “Leading in a World of Seismic Shifts” and as I listened intently for snippets of wisdom it occurred to me that today’s real estate industry, with its sharp elbows in the boardroom and added pressure to reach and exceed growth strategies, is not immune. In fact, “disruption” (another way of phrasing “seismic shifts”) has become the new normal in RE and the industry has become more daunting than ever. These seismic shifts require true leadership. Leadership that is bold, impactful, and measurable.

While this year’s speaker line-up was a strong as ever there was one speaker who stood out from the pack and has had an impact on my leadership methods. That speaker is Kat Cole, Chief Operating Officer and President of Focus Brands. 

In the session, Ms. Kole offered several valuable nuggets like “Seek venues in day-to-day leadership where you are different” or “Feel discomfort – courage only happens when you are in new situations” but let me share five lessons I took from Ms. Kole’s presentation. I hope they have a similar impact on you. 

1.    Leverage Influence Management.
Leading through command and control is no longer in vogue and the impact “people skills” have on morale and productivity should never be underestimated. Good leaders influence by identifying the “coalition of the willing” to navigate imminent and difficult change. These key team members will advocate for change on your behalf.

2.    Insert yourself on the front line.
No blinders. EVER. Know the truth about your organization. This will likely require working in the field and the boardroom. The front line means late nights, early mornings, and taking some blows from your people. Commitment is everything and this is where value meets revenue recognition.

3.    Don’t be afraid to say “no”.
All good leaders need this word in their vocabulary. Always address the reality honestly with stakeholders, employees, and customers alike. When was the last time you dared to be unpopular? Do that!

4.    Present alternatives.
There are always alternatives. Keep in mind, while important to share alternatives, conveying them requires finesse or you can easily muddy your message. Always be decisive and present the most compelling alternative.

5.    H.C.C.C.
Humility, Curiosity, Courage, and Confidence are the four most critical attributes of a leader. Leadership is about balance. Don’t be afraid to rebalance and reflect periodically. It will make you a better leader and a better person. Also, be open to unexpected alliances to help you reach your goals.

If inclined, I recommend reading up on Ms. Kole’s career. In her session, she conveyed her remarkable leadership experience with incredible energy and passion. Powerful stuff.

Robert Hess
Vice Chairman, Global Strategy Team Lead

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