A Business Can Only Be as Strong as Its Leader

Over the course of 40 years in the real estate industry, I have worked hard to coach, train, and provide leadership for countless sales executives. This is a job I don’t take lightly, because I learned very early in my career that a business can only be as strong as its leader.

I was still a bit green when I got my first branch manager job at 28. My manager, Bill, liked me enough to offer me the position despite my lack of experience. I was aggressive, energetic, and a workaholic, and he kept promoting me. But starting out, I was far from a perfect leader. At times, I alienated members of my team, and I learned some important lessons the hard way.

But that’s the key: I learned from my mistakes. And it made me a stronger leader. Here are some of the most important leadership lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

A strong leader insists on a strong team. Early in my career, I was known for my ability to turn around a failing branch. The way I did this was fairly simple: I was ruthless in career-adjusting sales executives who weren’t up to snuff. In other words, I would go in and fire people who were not pulling their weight. One memorable day, I fired 20 people.

It may sound extreme, but I still believe that it’s better to have a small team of workers who are passionate about their jobs than it is to have a huge group of sub-par workers. I proved this theory through the success of the branches where I integrated this approach.

Most importantly, I learned to very quickly recognize workers who were motivated and committed, and to distinguish them from those who were not. In most cases, all it took was a brief interview to assess what they were bringing to the table. This has helped me continually insist on a strong team throughout my career, and this is something I share with other successful business leaders.

A strong leader doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations. Letting go of people isn’t easy. Telling them that they need to find another job, that you’re dissatisfied with their performance—it’s never a comfortable conversation. Even for someone like me, who’s done it hundreds of times. It’s not something I enjoy, but it’s something I know needs to be done. It’s a key part of my position as a leader in this company.

Likewise, I have to be ready to sit down and talk to people who are clearly struggling, to give them the critical feedback they need in order to improve. I also have to make it clear that if they do not make the changes necessary to perform better, they don’t have a future working for me.

Sometimes people’s problems are personal. Sometimes they’re related to addiction or tragic family events. Sometimes people just have a mental roadblock that they can’t move past. Whatever the reason, it’s never fun to have tough conversations, but I do it anyway. Because I know it makes my business stronger.

A strong leader gives back. I have been in this game for a long time, and I’ve learned a thing or two. I don’t expect everyone who works for me to be perfect. I expect them to make mistakes. But I try to be there for them, to support them and teach them so they can grow in their careers—and hopefully make the whole stronger as a result.

That’s why I’ve always made a point to mentor sales executives. I’ve taken people under my wing, taught classes, and taken time to share my knowledge and advice with people who need it. Sometimes people already know what they need to do, and I just give them a gentle push. Other times, they need more guidance. If the motivation is there, I’m happy to offer the training they need.

A big part of being a leader is teaching. It’s recognizing how your own knowledge can help make others stronger, and having the confidence and commitment needed to share it.

A strong leader understands the importance of self-care. It’s easy to get so focused on the people who work for us that we forget to take care of ourselves. But before you help others, you’ve got to help yourself. It may sound a bit selfish, but the fact is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the strength to take care of others.

Self-care will give you the strength to stand up to the day-to-day challenges that happen in your business. If you’re a mess, you’ll likely react poorly to a bad event at work. If you’re on solid emotional footing, you’ll be ready to deal with any issue that comes your way and learn from it.

Get on track with a copy of my book, The Reward of Knowing.