Leading With Passion

FAST COMPANY cofounder Bill Taylor, a graduate of Princeton University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, works as a consultant to CEOs around the world.

October 1, 2011

Bill Taylor, cofounder of the award-winning business magazine Fast Company, says an era of economic uncertainty is a perfect time to turn your business on its head. In his new book Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself (William Morrow, 2011), Taylor draws lessons from more than 70 leaders who implemented radical changes. He profiles how one executive used his experience in the hospitality industry to revamp patient care at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Taylor also describes how Roseburg, Ore.–based Umpqua Bank boosted its customer base dramatically by offering a coffeehouse experience at its 184 remodeled branches, with tellers receiving barista training. Transformational thinking can apply to real estate, too, he says.

What does it take to be a great business leader?

Successful business leaders understand that what you sell is less important than what you stand for. At the heart of the great leader and entrepreneur is a deep commitment to a set of ideas and a sense of purpose. Great leaders possess a clarity that they’re trying to not just build a big business but make a difference in the industry or redefine the terms of the industry. There is always a better way—in the real estate business or any business. 

Why do you think that this is a great time for business?

In periods of great turmoil, there are huge opportunities to rethink the conventional wisdom, to look at the ways you do business and see if you could be doing it better. Hard times can be the best time for change. Often people become more conservative during a market slowdown and cut back on advertising and spending. So people who take risks have a chance to break through. In an age when customers in general are nervous, worried, and suspicious of deals, the way to stand out from the crowd is to focus not on price, commission, or the economy but rather on your passion and building a psychological connection to the customer.

How could this be applied to real estate?

Anything agents can do to ratchet up the human factor will help them to succeed. Practitioners need to think about the emotional messages they send to their clients. The goal is to seem not more competitive but more authentic. This will count for a lot when customers are anxious and suspicious. It’s not about the value proposition for them but rather the values proposition.

What advice do you have for those struggling?

The world of real estate has offered up an extreme version of what the rest of the world is going through. The highs are higher and the lows are lower, and the recovery is slower. In this environment most people are kept up at night wondering, “How am I going to make payroll?” I would suggest to agents that they focus on other questions: “What gets me up in the morning?” or “What is it about the profession that keeps me excited and creative?” To win the game you need to change the game. Success during trying times is a willingness to be determined, and that comes with a sense of passion.

One of my favorite companies is Southwest Airlines. The airline industry is also a trying industry, but Southwest celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The company has never had a money-losing year and never laid off a single employee. The message is about fun and passion. People there have a clear sense of purpose about why they get up in the morning.

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