Written by Alan Froggatt, Holtby Turner
Management around the world appear obsessed with finding the ‘right type of leadership’. I’ve had many a discussion with leaders in real estate about the ‘correct’ way to lead, and whilst there is certainly no leadership style that works at all times, and in all contexts, I do sometimes wonder if leadership is fundamentally misunderstood. Leadership types, to me anyway, sometimes feel objectified, as something that can almost be owned or handed down?
There is a plethora of suggestions for good leadership, which have all had their glory moment, enjoying much hype at one time or another. You may be familiar with today’s authentic leadership, innovative leadership, e-leadership and new-genre leadership, but what about shared leadership, servant leadership or heroic leadership? And lest we forget, affiliative leadership, democratic leadership, pacesetting leadership and finally, coaching leadership?
With an army of thinkers all suggesting their take on leadership is the way to go, leadership experts and even leaders themselves can easily get lost amidst so many competing ideas.
Leadership research shows context is key. Rather than believing in the notion of a singular ‘heroic leader’ we need to be open to a multitude of leadership types, all of which may work in the right context. In real estate, we may still come across situations where the old-school, hard-nosed leader reigns supreme.
In projects with well-known parameters and a traditional team, classic leadership may work exceptionally well. But compare this to more complex projects with a global mix of financiers involved, and the situation might require a more culture-sensitive, diplomatic leader. Or, a PropTech project with a public-private partnership behind it. This may well require a leadership type that can handle both tricky millennials and the complex politics of both the City and Whitehall. Point being, if you trust only one leadership type, you’re increasingly only capable of running one type of project.
What we need is a diversity of leadership types. Not just because of the hype often ascribed to new types of leadership, but because today’s complex world requires an ever more complex array of leaders. Top players in the real estate world have already become very sensitive to this. They make sure that they’re not simply recruiting more of the same, but ensuring that they’re playing with a full pack of cards – and by cards, I mean leadership types. The way forward is thinking in ‘leadership portfolios’, ensuring that one for any project you have a suitable leader; for doesn’t everyone want to win new business?
Consider this: you’re asked to run a major new private-public partnership, run by a digital-first real estate firm from Kyrgyzstan in collaboration with the UN Development Programme, supported by the European Commission. You will need a leader who can navigate the complex machinations of the UN and the bureaucracy of the EC, whilst being able to converse fluently with post-Soviet coders as well as builders with a markedly different cultural background than you’re used to. Will you have a person up for the task, or will you trust that the same person who ran a programme in Earl’s Court and in Kashka Suu, south of Bishkek?
If the case above seems overly exotic, just consider how many new real estate projects build on digital technologies that would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago, or the number of real estate projects that can get caught up in the webs of current geo-political shifts.
I’ve always been a fan of Jim Collins’ Good To Great. Collins showed that the most successful companies long term had been run not by heroes but by thoughtful leaders who got the right people in place around them and allowed them to shine. I asked Amanda Clack what she thought today as Executive Director at CBRE, and Member of UK Board & EMEA Occupier Board.
”Leadership is really followership because what’s a leader without a great team?” she said. “Being authentic as a leader is the bottom line to me. The RISE vales of Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence are core not just to me but everyone at CBRE. Leadership starts at every level in an organisation, so it’s important to live by your core values every day. I hope colleagues would say I’m a modern leader, but with old fashioned values. No hype, no particular type, just authentic”.
Believing in the myth of the “one leader to rule them all” has become dangerous, bringing with it millions of pounds of unwanted costs for those not prepared to look beyond the hype when it comes to leadership types. My advice to real estate CEOs is this: don’t get stuck thinking that leadership development means finding those who fit in your current leadership template and develop these.
The winners will be those who develop balanced leaders with diverse capacities and diverse networks, who are prepared to take on an array of novel projects we’ll need them to in the coming years. Though obviously not all will be captured by the same leader, you still want the following skillsets in your leadership portfolio.
- Flexibility Real estate is changing, and you want leaders who are not too caught up in the past. No arguments.
- Negotiation Skills With big co’s like Apple, Google and Amazon edging into real estate – and data driving almost all decisions these days – being able to argue for the value you bring will become ever more important, if not critical!
- Strength In Decision Making We are living in precarious times. The winners will be the ones who can make the best case for their decisions, and have the gumption to stick by them.
- Emotional Intelligence The time of ‘my way or the highway’ is long gone. Neither your top team nor your customers will respond unless you engage them with intelligence and curiosity. If you can’t handle that way of thinking, then be worried.
- Creativity Look for fresh practices that you can tailor rather than adopt en masse. Be unafraid to experiment with untested ideas and notions that go against perceived wisdom in the industry.
For me, all this leadership hype simply serves as a poignant reminder for real estate boards to remain resolutely focused on the future. What you want to do today is not think of which leaders have worked but how to build the strongest leadership portfolio right now as real estate faces such tumultuous times.