Leading in Tough Times: The Lessons That Were Imparted
Thirty-two commercial real estate industry leaders, each offering his or her own insights. That’s the topline sum of Connect CRE’s “Leading in Tough Times” series, which ran throughout the month of August and into early September.
During that time, our audience was privy to the wisdom and experience of C-suite executives at owner/developers, services firms, finance providers, law firms, design firms and academic institutions. No two responses to Connect CRE’s questions were alike, yet there were recurring themes throughout the series.
Among these themes was the importance of team cohesion. Transwestern CEO Larry P. Heard put it this way: “It is critical to activate your entire firm, get each team member to understand the issues, and then inspire them to work hard to solve for the best results.” Both Julia Baytler, CEO of Landmark Companies, and Paul Rahimian, founder and CEO of Parkview Financial, attributed their companies’ successes to the quality of the teams they put together.
At Avison Young, CEO and chairman Mark E. Rose advised, “when people are involved, bring everyone along with you as you analyze the situation and discuss the best path forward. Your team will usually ‘follow you up the hill’ if you are transparent, open, and simply tackle the challenge.”
A related theme was the importance of communication. Robert Hart, president and CEO of TruAmerica Multifamily, had this to say: “The most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is to provide explicit direction and to have a plan because there’s no substitute for good planning in thriving or tough times.”
Communication is also a two-way street. A key component of leadership is inviting the input of other team members. “Work hard to be a better listener – hearing the ideas, concerns and input from others makes a better leader,” said Jeffey Rinkov, CEO of Lee & Associates. And Daryl Carter, CEO of Avanath Capital Management, observed, “It is a continued openness to listening and learning that can help leaders navigate virtually any difficult circumstance.”
Several leaders who participated in the series cautioned against hasty decision-making when strong headwinds blow in. “Some leaders tend to react emotionally to complex and evolving circumstances during uncertain times, often by aggressively cutting costs,” said Gil Borok, president and CEO, U.S. & LATAM at Colliers. “It is obviously better to react more rationally.”
However, decisiveness is also essential to good leadership. In an inhospitable environment, “the biggest common mistake is NOT making a decision and getting caught up in the ‘paralysis of analysis,’” advised Gary Bechtel, CEO of Red Oak Capital Partners. “You’ll never have all the information you need, but as leaders we need to make the best decisions we can with as much data as we can acquire.”
Connect CRE gave industry leaders a menu of six questions to address. Most responded to three, although a couple answered four and a few exercised the option of writing an essay on leadership.
The most commonly addressed question was, “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leading in a challenging environment?” Wendy Mann, CEO of CREW Network, responded by recalling the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. “Those years taught me to be prepared to make tough decisions, to know our members’/customers’ needs and most importantly, to be able to leverage technology to keep our business running,” said Mann.
Conversely, the question of identifying a leadership decision for which leaders would have liked a mulligan drew a surprisingly low response, with just three leaders opting to respond. One who did was Hessam Nadji, CEO of Marcus & Millichap, who recalled an episode from early in his career at another company. During the 1990-91 recession, “I wasn’t vocal enough when I saw the company make mistakes, when the company was counting on a recovery in the market right around the corner,” Nadji told Daniel Ceniceros, founder and CEO of Connect Media.
A separate but related question—what leadership advice would you like to give your younger self?—resonated with more leaders who participated in our series. Given the opportunity, “I would tell myself that being a leader does not mean doing it all yourself,” said Collete English Dixon, executive director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University. “It is about developing a team with a shared vision that is clear about its goals and invites others to help achieve it.”
For access to all of the “Leading in Tough Times” articles, click on Connect CRE’s Leadership Stories archive here.