Leadership observations from the real estate industry


Don KottickBy Don Kottick

Five years have passed since I wrote the REM article Leadership: A Fish Rots from the Head Down and I continue to add to the repository on the subject of leadership. Based on my experience in the field of real estate, it has become abundantly clear to me that there is a “shortage” of good leadership models or mentors within this industry. If you find one, do not let go of them. They tend to be rare finds. Many individuals claim to have tapped into “the fountain of knowledge” only to discover that many have only tapped into their own egos.

Some of my best leadership lessons were not intentional and were not served to me by some erudite sage imparting their great wealth of knowledge and experience. Some of my best leadership lessons were derived by observing certain behaviours and actions; then realizing these were things NOT to emulate in order to be an effective leader. Often indirect education can be more powerful than intentional schooling.

If you are fortunate, you may come in contact with some exceptional business leaders who have the extraordinary gift of conveying their wisdom, experience and knowledge. These are the individuals to model and hopefully engage as your business mentors. As Bill Phillips, CEO of the William Phillips Group stated, “Most successful leaders have either an individual or a network of people that serve as their confidential sounding boards, available to provide unbiased insight into a particular problem or situation.” These mentors have the ability to view your challenge with different filters and can often provide you a different perspective or even a different path. Many leaders work in isolation, but as John Donne said back in the 1600s, “No man is an island.” To operate as an island is to remove one’s self from the collective wisdom, which only makes you weaker – not stronger.

In business, you meet many different personality types and quickly realize that many different agendas exist, often within the same company. Corporate politics, especially in dysfunctional organizations, can be massive consumers of time and resources. Great leaders must learn how to operate in highly political environments. The occurrence and intensity of politics tends to increase as you rise higher in an organization. To be effective in dealing with politics and the related organizational dynamics, you need to be a student of psychology. Incorrectly managing or dealing with a narcissist or an energy vampire can consume large quantities of your time, undermine your confidence and deplete your energy levels. The very best leaders understand different personality types and have strategies for effectively dealing with each type.

As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team, but there are two in narcissist. A good leader understands the power of a successful team. A great leader assembles a great team around themselves, which is supported and enriched by their collective experience, knowledge, trust and loyalty of the group. Always hire the best and do not accept anything less than the best. Diversity of experience and the depth of the knowledge base of the team improve the capacity of the team for both innovation and creative thinking. The foundation of a successful team is based on trust. Without trust, the team will weaken and ultimately fail.

Respect is another important attribute of great leaders. Not everyone will like you, especially if you have to make tough decisions, such as removing long-time employees to improve the bench strength of your team. The respect leaders receive from their peers and from the community speaks volumes about their actions and whether people will chose to follow them. Respect must be earned and cannot be mandated. Without respect for the leader, cracks will form within the organization and retention will be an ongoing issue.

Great leaders do not micro-manage, they empower. Micro-management results from lack of trust, personal control issues, personal insecurity or some other motive usually personally instigated. Micro-managers undermine confidence and kill the motivation of the people that have to suffer their wrath. Great leaders empower and allow their people to flourish and even fail sometimes, but the end result is almost always beneficial to the organization.

The ability to motivate is paramount. Poor leaders tend to lack empathy or understand how their actions can be demotivating or destructive to the well-being of the organization and its people. The best leaders tend to be passionate and their passion is contagious to all those they encounter.  Closely tied to passion is a positive attitude, a belief that you can accomplish anything if the intent is there.

Brad Kenny, president of Imagemaker360, one of North America’s largest virtual tour and media companies said, “You have to enjoy what you do each day as your team members feed off their leader’s energy, actions and behaviours; a highly engaged leader will fuel and set free a highly motivational team.”

As Richard Robbins, CEO of Richard Robbins International says, “Giving starts the receiving process.” Great leaders tend to give back to the community. Whether it is participating in a local charity, supporting community sports or sitting on a board for a charitable organization, great leaders always give back to the community.

Being a successful leader requires life balance.  The importance of work-life balance cannot be understated.  Make sure you build stress relief mechanisms into your routine such as regular exercise (cardio is a requirement, while weight training ensures that your body looks and feels as youthful as your mind tells you it is) and possibly meditation or yoga.  The meditation or yoga is a great way to find inner balance and rejuvenate yourself, especially when an energy vampire enters your world or the job stress starts to accumulate.

A leadership position can be rewarding both financially and personally. Leadership can be learned, but the journey involves continuous learning and development, constant self-evaluation, overcoming obstacles and consistently adapting to the changing world around you.

Don Kottick, F.R.I., is the president and broker of record of Right At Home Realty, with six office locations and more than 2,300 salespeople and brokers. According to Real Trends, Right At Home Realty is ranked 7th in units and 8th in volume for all of Canada, and is Canada’s largest independently owned brokerage.


  1. Power message for not only some candidate leaders, but also everybody who wants to be a true member of his or her community!!!!

  2. Don:
    You make three key statements in your piece, as follows, not necessarily listed in order of importance, and they are;
    1) “To be effective in dealing with politics and the related organizational dynamics, you need to be a student of psychology.”
    2) “The very best leaders understand different personality types and have strategies for effectively dealing with each type.”
    3) “Some of my best leadership lessons were derived by observing certain behaviours and actions; then realizing these were NOT to emulate in order to be an effective leader.”
    All three points deal with psychology, the study of the human psyche in all of its vagaries. But points 1 and 3 deal more specifically with one’s power of observation, and thereafter, one’s ability to learn from same and adjust one’s behaviour accordingly, vs applying the same-old, same-old, one-size-fits-all conventionally-taught theories of collective manipulation tactics ostensibly to be applied to differing situations/circumstances. The latter method is the lazy man’s/woman’s method, often bought into by same via expensive collective seminars put on by short-term hypsters who are the only ones substantially benefitting financially from these same said seminars over the long term.
    I would add two last, but not least, personality traits common to good leaders, and those traits are innate intelligence and wisdom. Many have one or the other, but few own both. The latter is the more important trait of the two.


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