Learn to Be a Leader

Jack O'Connor, a leadership coach with Prestige Leadership Group, LLC, Denver, has these suggestions on improving your leadership skills.

What are some of the skills a manager needs to become a leader?

O’Connor: Leaders are excellent communicators who understand how to influence and inspire people. They are able to create standards, recognize people's performance effectively, and focus on objectives.

How does a leader inspire people?

O’Connor: Anyone can motivate someone by fear: “If you don't do this, I'll fire you.” Fear is a way to alter a short-term behavior, but to alter long-term behavior, you need to provide inspiration and information to people.

For example, most brokers would like to see their sales associates do more prospecting and thus build more customer relationships. But if a broker leaves it up to individuals to build relationships with people outside of their comfort zone, the chance of success is pretty small.

Instead, a broker who’s a leader inspires sales associates to contact more people. To accomplish this, the manager must understand what real and/or imagined barriers prevent each associate from doing more prospecting.

Perhaps it’s fear of rejection. In such cases, the manager can inspire them with stories about how he or she successfully overcame rejection. Another technique might be to work on coaching the associate until enough confidence has been built up to overcome the fear.

Perhaps the associate doesn’t prospect because he or she feels that there is enough business without it. In such cases, the broker/leader first needs to determine what is at the base of this feeling. Is the salesperson concerned that getting more business will take to much time away from family or other pursuits? In such cases, the leader can inspire by pointing out that once sales reach a certain point, the company would provide transaction assistance or help in hiring an assistant for the associate.

Perhaps the salesperson wants to see the company expand and add new services. This salesperson might be inspired to prospect more if the manager points out that prospecting and, the clients that are gained from it, is the growth engine of the brokerage. As the brokerage generates more listings, it will have the revenue to expand and offer the services the salesperson desires.

The key to all inspirational leadership is first understanding what will inspire and motivate salespeople and then focusing on that. It probably won’t be the same for everyone, and it may not be what would have motivated the manager.

For this reason, our company doesn't recognize the top salesperson of the month or of the year. We recognize specific behavioral performance. New associates may just need a pat on the back that they completed their agreed-upon number of contacts to their sphere of influence.

With a top producer, we may say, "Would you mind sharing some of your ideas with our other salespeople; tell them how you sold 15 homes this month." The recognition is based on the individual and what his or her hot buttons are.

What communication skills does a leader need?

O’Connor: At my company, we talk about the five languages of managing people:

  1. Affirming their value to the company.
  2. Spending quality time with people one on one.
  3. Knowing how to praise people. If you're not specific about why someone did something well, people don't take the praise as being of value.
  4. Understanding the services salespeople want. We conduct surveys twice a year so we make sure we're on track in giving our salespeople what they really want. A lot of brokers come up with services that mean nothing to the salesperson because they never take the trouble to ask.
  5. Creating camaraderie within the team. Sales is a gregarious environment. People excel in a team environment versus an individual environment. Every leader needs to know how to create that camaraderie within the team.

What other skills are critical for becoming a leader?

O’Connor: You have to learn to focus on the big objectives instead of being caught up with every minor problem. Many newer managers will have a line of people outside their door waiting for them to put out the fires. Leaders help people learn how to fix the problems themselves so the broker doesn't always have to be the answer man.

Focusing on objectives is probably the hardest leadership skill to perform because it's very easy just to put the fires out yourself. If the associate comes to you and asks, “How do I fill in this form?” it's easy to say, “Here's how you fill it in.” But you've just trained that person to always come back to you. The hardest thing is to focus on objectives, and say, where would you find that information?

How do you know you're succeeding in becoming a leader?

O’Connor: You know from the number of people who are willing to join your firm. If I were going to measure the effectiveness of a company, I'd say, ‘Are you profitable and are you recruiting more people?’ If you're doing both, you're an effective leader. You've learned to master most of the skills.

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