Leading in Tough Times: Wendy Mann, CREW Network

Throughout the month of August, Connect CRE is running a series titled “Leading in Tough Times.” We’ve asked leaders around the U.S. and across the commercial real estate spectrum to share their wisdom and discuss lessons learned. In this installment, you’ll hear from Wendy Mann, CEO of CREW Network.

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leading in a challenging environment?

A: The pandemic was an unexpected and impactful teacher. The challenges of 2020-2021 remain the most critical I’ve ever faced. Leading in uncertainty is a lesson that will remain with me always. Making decision after decision based only on what we knew in any given moment was not only difficult but also exhausting. 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. I felt confident in the content we delivered and the way in which we addressed our members needs throughout the pandemic. I would say that it was our most resilient and determined time as an organization. The constant pivoting taught us vigilance and flexibility. We never know how much we can accomplish until we are in a dire situation—then our best work comes forward. It was a collaborative effort bringing staff and leadership together to ensure that our members received what they needed in any given moment as circumstances changed. It was knowing that while everyone was in the same boat, we were all having a unique experience. So, yes, resilience, flexibility, grace under pressure, go with what you know in the moment and be ready to pivot swiftly. 

Q: What leadership advice would you like to give your younger self?

A: Well, I would first tell myself that I need to know who I am before I can become who I am meant to be.  I was always eager and pushing forward—direct and intentional about my career growth. Like many leaders, my lack of self-awareness early in my career impeded my ability to lead effectively. I grew up in the workforce during the “command and control” 1980s. My leadership was shaped by leaders who embodied that way of being. It wasn’t until I had my third boss that I finally found a different style of leadership that would slowly impact and change me. He was an excellent leader that empowered his leadership team, encouraged risk-taking and always had our back. I was 24 when I had my first managerial role—still a kid myself. I was terrible at leadership. I would tell my younger self to focus on listening and learning. I would suggest that my younger self explore and understand what it means to lead people. It always befuddles me that we promote people into roles of leadership without providing the training to be good leaders. I would tell my younger self to be sure to get that training early and often.  Leadership evolves over time with experience and failures.  I would tell my younger self to always be willing to self-reflect and grow.    

Q: What’s the most valuable leadership advice you’ve ever been given?

A: There have been several leaders who I have worked with that have given me advice that stays with me even today. I will always remember the new CEO who took over at an organization I was working for and held her first all staff meeting. She began by sharing information about herself then segued into her philosophy about work. She said, “we all work for ourselves…” I remember thinking “the old bat is crazy, we work for her.” Many years and experiences later, I understood what she was saying. She meant that we all are driven by our own desire to do well, accomplish goals and help move the organization forward. We work for our own sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It truly changed the way I thought about work and leadership. Leadership is about helping people find their purpose in the work while celebrating achievements. It is understanding the way others need to shine and feel their own pride in results delivered.

Q: What decision as a leader do you wish you could have a mulligan on and why?

A: While working for an telecom organization, we were undertaking a public relations campaign directed at Congress and federal agencies to help them understand challenges faced by providers while at the same time ensuring that our industry was viewed as the good guys (it was an industry of mostly men at that time). My team engaged an outside consultant to help design and create a video that would speak to our goals. We had many meetings with them, discussed the message, the desired impact, and goals. They came back with a stick figure video that used old-school cowboy music to tell the story. The team thought it was interesting and would capture the attention of those we were targeting and at the same time it was funny and a bit irreverent. The team was very excited about it, and we moved forward with this as the centerpiece of our campaign. The rollout started and was moving along when we finally showed it to our industry leaders. They were not happy with it. They did not feel it showed them in a positive light.  When I think back on this initiative and the decision I made to move forward, I am truly disappointed in myself as a leader. I would take a mulligan on this one—definitely a do-over for me as the decision-maker. 

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