Jul 22, 2010
Marry me: up close with leadership at Keller Williams
Getting a woman to say yes to man can be hard, confessed the happily married Tom Hughes, CEO of National Electronic Attachment, a man with the kind of character queens could fight over. Not only did he convince his wife, he's convinced hundreds of employees and investors he's a man worth committing to. As CEO of Write2Market, I was included with Tom and a cast of other founding CEOs on a panel around what leaders look like today. Turns out, they look like anything they need to look like to get the job done, as long as they keep their integrity...
My particular contribution to the panel comes from my daily experience leading intelligent, artful, willful and ambitious people to create reputations not for themselves, but for others. Write2Market is in the business of helping markets discover their industry leaders by revealing those companies with publicity, marketing and web content. We do this for companies like $5.2 B Mansfield Oil, Case-mate, SunBelt Biofuels, and even for nonprofits like Coca-Cola’s C5 Foundation.
Yesterday's Leadership Summit, a multi-state educational event orchestrated by Keller Williams for its Southeast team leaders and top executives, dug into the different aspects of leadership. While most companies are preaching protocol, Keller is engaged with what approachable CEO Mark Willis has taught it to do by heart—opening up the conversation to innovation from within and doing some benchmarking without. In a room full of silk, suits and ties, he wore a polo emblazoned with the Keller Williams logo—one of the crowd. Entrepreneur Magazine knighted Keller Williams as the top real estate franchise in the country last year
From that perspective, I had fun contributing with my fellow panelists on “the recipe for a leader.” The room was full of leaders listening, and a conversation—moderated by CEO Mark Willis in conjunction with Cliff Oxford, CEO of the opportunistically-monickered Entrepreneurial Advisors—developed between the room, the panel, Mark and Cliff. (If you’ve got an entrepreneurial bone in your body you’ll want to check out the education Cliff’s organization offers at www.entreprenuerialadvisors.com.)
What I got from the two hour session was that while KW described 10 ingredients for leadership, the resonant theme was that a real leader is a chameleon, able to synthesize the color the room needs in the moment.
1) Leaders rapidly shift gears to the needs of the moment, becoming focused, disciplined, charismatic, or visionary as the situation requires—changing from swim to bike like a triathlete, the method irrelevant, the race all that matters. Vision is the magnetic north and leaders don’t find this process of constant readjustment difficult (it’s just the process).
2) The distance between the leader and the “pack” is critical—and managed at just as small a margin as it can be. Real leaders seek consensus but aren’t ruled by it—that tiny margin of difference is the magic that differentiates a real leader from a rabble-rouser or people pleaser.
The guy with the golden recipe card on leadership seems to be Kent Gregoire, CEO of Responsibility Centered Leadership. While we didn’t speak long, he was seated to my immediate right and kept chiming in with research, results, and renovation around leadership, accountability and responsibility. I made a note to follow up with him and get a look at his company’s goodies—check out www.rcl-inc.com. They’re consultants about developing cultures of accountability and from Kent’s comments, they know what they’re doing.
At the end of the session, the conversation turned back to commitment as perhaps the most critical component of leadership—the leader’s commitment to vision, and the followers commitment to the leader. Without serious commitment, the leadership relationship doesn’t scale. In a leadership relationship just like a marriage, broken faith or broken promises erode the passion and can cause the relationship to break. I thought often about how it's that way with our clients at Write2Market too--I was just at a $50 million consumer product company after a presentation from one of our team members, when their Director of PR shook my hand on a new deal saying, "We've never done this before. It's a big step. But we trust you..." That's everything.
Because of the irreplaceable importance of trust, the panel agreed the one leadership trait all leaders share is integrity—always giving followers reasons to stay married to the cause. Cliff shared a story from his days at UPS years ago when he told people they could come in wearing shorts on Saturday. His supervisor told him that was not the way it went—UPS people wore pants. “You’re the leader of the pants people,” he was told, so go lead—and Cliff learned a lesson he still carries about how the cause becomes part of the persona of leaders. Even when followers may not agree with every detail, if they agree on the cause and principle, and find the leader full of integrity, the magic of commitment can occur and create great results in organizations.
"You're looking in a mirror," Cliff said. Leaders attract the followers they deserve. That thought made me smile when I checked in at the end of the day to hear the good news home at Write2Market about more articles landed, more speaking positions confirmed, more progress made helping other companies get the reputations they deserve. Hopefully all leaders, like me, have a lot to learn--but just for a few minutes I stopped and enjoyed the results of commitment from my team--something I'll never break faith with.