Leadership in action

19 April 2021

By HELEN HULL

International Women’s Day in 2021 celebrates the tremendous efforts by female leaders around the world in shaping a more equal future. We asked some of our industry’s most inspirational women to share their views about stepping up and how they’ve embraced their role as leaders.

As Managing Director of Laing+Simmons and only the second woman to be appointed as REINSW President, Leanne Pilkington knows what it takes to be a strong leader and role model.

“Whether male or female, leaders need to be good listeners, ask great questions, have empathy and lead by example,” she said. “Good leaders are people who demonstrate their willingness to help others climb the career ladder. And having women in leadership roles is important for diversity, because it enables everyone to learn from each other.

“I believe that you lead by behaviour. It’s the things that you do when you don’t realise people are watching that demonstrate character and leadership.”

Central to Leanne’s leadership style is that she always does what she says she’s going to do and is available whenever her team need her for advice and support.

“It’s a key value for me,” she said. “If someone is uncomfortable doing something, I do it with them. I do what’s necessary and I’m prepared to have the difficult conversations with team members. It’s essential to also be supportive of your team and don’t let anyone speak badly of them.

“Importantly, I don’t micromanage my team at all. Rather, I manage outcomes. I’m always available, so if someone is struggling with something, all they have to do is ask. My approach is that if something goes wrong, the first thing they should do is call me and offer some solutions, and then we can fix the problem.

“My leadership style is collaborative and direct – and I like to have fun! I take what I do seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously, and I feel that this makes me very approachable.”

Leanne believes that sometimes women can care too much about what people think of them.

“Some women who aspire to leadership roles suffer from imposter syndrome,” she said. “That voice in your head that can be constantly questioning and second guessing when it comes to hard decisions. But, as a leader, you have to make hard – and sometimes unpopular – decisions.

“You have to believe in yourself.”

“My leadership style is collaborative and direct – and I like to have fun! I take what I do seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously, and I feel that this makes me very approachable.”

Leah Jay, Founder and Director of her namesake property management agency Leah Jay, points to approachability as a key leadership attribute, adding that she’s learnt that she has to be prepared to let people see her foibles and inner self.

“For me, this has allowed people to feel more comfortable with me and share what’s on their mind,” she said. “I believe that leaders need to be genuine and vulnerable. If you want someone to give of themselves and follow your lead, then you need to be as open as possible and always mean what you say.

“Resilience is also important, because you need to be able to endure, keep fronting up to lead the way, and maintain the focus needed to push through adversity.”

Leah said that there are many women who are natural leaders, but are not ‘alphas’ in the traditional sense and therefore tend to be overlooked.

“As in other sectors, bias creates blind spots in the real estate industry,” she said. “However, we can encourage more women to take on leadership roles by supporting those who bring different styles of leadership to the table.”

According to Leah, natural leaders will often automatically rise to the top, however it’s also important to identify those who share our values and show potential.

“By providing mentorship and guidance, others come to the fore,” she said. “We need to identify people with the necessary traits and ensure they have the opportunity to progress. They must be given responsibility and support in equal measures.

“People at all levels can lead by example. Consistently living out the values and principles of the business is a great start. Being there for others, volunteering to take on difficult tasks, putting aside your own goals to help someone else achieve theirs – that’s leadership in action.”

Like any industry, Leah believes the real estate industry has good and bad leaders.

“Overall, though, we’ve made good progress,” she said. “My sense is that, comparatively, the real estate industry is not on the lower rungs in terms of leadership standards, but there’s still a long way to go. And moving towards equality in leadership will only be beneficial – not only for the real estate industry itself, but also our wider society.”

“Being there for others, volunteering to take on difficult tasks, putting aside your own goals to help someone else achieve theirs – that’s leadership in action.”

Lisa Novak, Sales Agent at Novak Properties, said there’s a difference between people who are ordinary and people who are extraordinary.

“It’s the people who roll their sleeves up and continually help others who are the ones who stand out. I’m always saying to my team ‘just turn up and work hard’.”

According to Lisa, innovation is central to good leadership.

“The industry was stuck in a time warp for a long time and we need to make sure we’re keeping up with society and their needs and demands,” she said. “We should be continually innovating and listening to what people want. People want pioneers who think outside the square.

“Many agents like to sit within their comfort zone, but we need to ensure that what’s happening on the outside of the industry is also happening on the inside.”

According to Lisa, being a woman has helped her in her real estate career.

“I’ve never lost a listing, in fact I feel that I’ve gained listings because I’m a woman,” she said. “Women have an eye for detail, and look into a property and redesign it.

“We’re extremely powerful multitaskers, we’re fierce salespeople and property managers, and we can juggle everything from running businesses and teams, as well as children and family life.”

To encourage even more women to take on leadership roles in the real estate industry, Lisa believes women need to empower other women and be good role models for each other.

“When I look around and see a lot of women in leadership roles, in an industry that’s been perceived a man’s world in the past, I’m super proud of what women bring to the table,” she said.

“I thought it would be a lot harder to come into a man’s industry, but I’ve found it’s really become an equal world with strong collaboration between men and women.

“When women push themselves, they show that it can be done in a different way.”

“It’s the people who roll their sleeves up and continually help others who are the ones who stand out. I’m always saying to my team ‘just turn up and work hard’.”

Caroline Bolderston, real estate performance coach, trainer and speaker at Being Bold, said great leaders are direct, provide clarity and effectively communicate their vision.

“The more flexible you are as a leader, the harder it is for the people you lead to know how to perform,” she said. “If you’re constantly letting go of standards, people become confused and some will put in more than others. Their view becomes one of ‘there’s no benefit to rising to certain standards, if everyone around me isn’t’. So it is about being black and white around expectations.

“My team have always said that is what they’ve enjoyed about working with me. There’s no confusion because I’m always being clear, firm and consistent. And I back this up by having development meetings with each team member around their performance goals, and support them with clarity and by being specific about what needs to be done to achieve those goals.”

Caroline feels leadership training is the missing factor for the real estate industry to put its foot forward on its path to professionalism.

“When you look at all the training, coaching and mentoring available, the majority is for sales and property management performance,” she said. “While someone can be a good salesperson or property manager, they’re often thrust into the role of business owner with little to no training and development on how to be a leader. It’s often a case of ‘here is your office, your team – good luck!’ There’s not enough guidance and support from an industry level and that has to change.”

According to Caroline, one of the biggest challenges faced by women in leadership roles is the social stereotypes about women being emotional.

“The terminology is very different for men and women,” she said. “Women get labelled as a ‘bitch’ when they are firm, while a male counterpart is labelled as ‘strong’.

“The throw away comment ‘she is just emotional today’ is simply not truthful.”

“While someone can be a good salesperson, they’re often thrust into the role of business owner with no training and development on how to be a leader. It’s often a case of ‘here is your office, your team – good luck!’ There’s not enough guidance and support from an industry level and that has to change.”

Cathy Baker, Principal at Belle Property Central Coast, suggested that leaders within the real estate industry need to become focused on nurturing long-term relationships with both teams and clients.

“The old transactional way of doing real estate is fast becoming obsolete, with the need for agents to become focused on service and long-term relationships in order to become relevant and success in the next decade.

“To have a sustainable business, leaders need to shift their focus to providing customised services,while embracing new technology and improved systems to do business in a more meaningful and personalised way with each and every client.

“Great leaders need to have exceptional people skills to get the best out of their team. They should inspire their employees to achieve their goals by leading by example and being a great team player.

“They need to be able to provide a clear direction and vision, so their team understand their goals and what they’re working towards. Leaders should embrace the team’s ideas to create a business plan and then set clear KPI’s to ensure that everyone succeeds.”

According to Cathy, celebrating success, and providing rewards and recognition for her team, as well as regular performance reviews, is central to ensuring continual improvement.

“I employ people who are a cultural fit for our team and train them how to do real estate my way, which is different to the traditional system. I take the time to help my team create vision boards, life plans and ensure I help them achieve their personal goals, as well as company goals,” she said. “We value culture and don’t employ anyone who doesn’t fit our culture.

“I don’t view my challenges to be different due to gender. I think anyone can succeed in business if they understand what they want to achieve and how to get it

“If women work hard in this industry, there is nothing to stop them from achieving their goals. You just need to understand how to get over any obstacle that arises.

“Empowering people in every position of your business to be a leader is essential. If employees understand the core values of the business, they should be able to make most decisions on their own, knowing and understanding what the agency standards are.

“Great leaders need to have exceptional people skills to get the best out of their team. They should inspire their employees to achieve their goals by leading from the front by example and being a great team player.”

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