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What CRE Employees Want (And Don’t Want) From Leadership Right Now

When the pandemic began to affect the real estate market, everyone from the most junior to the most senior people at VTS had to pitch in, hustle to get things done and make sure that, despite the chaos, customers were being listened to. 

Some went above and beyond their roles while navigating the effects of the pandemic in their nonwork lives, according to the company’s Head of Public Relations Katie Higgins. But of course, there weren’t any members of the management team physically present to lay eyes on what they were doing and let them know they were seen. 

The team was working so hard in such an unprecedentedly challenging time, and because all team interaction was suddenly virtual, there was a risk it would all go overlooked. But despite the new virtual dynamic, leadership made it a point to take note of above-and-beyond moments and acknowledge them.

“You can never understand how much it means to an individual that the CEO really appreciates what you’re doing,” Higgins said. “Calling individuals out — whether for a mammoth task or something small — that individual recognition at times like this, when you’re not seeing people at home, you don't know how much that means to people.”

Indeed, in a recent live Twitter chat among CRE professionals — #CREChat, which takes place every Thursday evening — “giving credit where it’s due” was a popular refrain among participants as far as qualities they want to see in a leader.

As Brookfield Properties Manager of Kiosk Leasing Greg Parsons phrased it in the chat, leaders should “recognize the strengths of others and utilize those talents to move the organization forward.”

In a recent CREW Network webinar, Caddis Healthcare Real Estate Director of Development and 2020 Global President of CREW Network Christine Gorham echoed that when she called out the ability to "draw out the goodness in the people and drawing out what they know. There are some people that are so talented, skillful and knowledgeable, and they're very quiet and timid," she said. As a strong leader "you want to pull people along and try to get them to bloom."

In the same vein, TheBrokerList.com founder Linda Day Harrison added "teaching, inspiring and bringing the best out of people” to the list.

“I have worked for some amazing bosses over the years and they taught me so much. Those that rocked helped me to define what leadership is,” she said.

And when it comes to the qualities Harrison does not want to see in leadership right now, those are just as vivid: Lack of compassion, dishonesty, favoritism and burying one’s head in the sand.

Colleagues agreed: Burying one’s head in the sand — or in other words, trying to avoid negativity or being disingenuously positive — was a surefire way to erode team confidence. Rather, they wanted to see leaders face problems head on, be transparent and leave less to their teams’ imagination. 

“Let’s be real, no one knows what’s going on,” CREW Community Affairs Co-Chair and Cushman & Wakefield Associate Heather Trimble said. "I think being realistic is so important. Being positive is good, but when you get carried away and it becomes too positive, then it doesn’t seem real."

Foundry Commercial Vice President and #CREchat Co-founder Melissa Alexander told Bisnow that communication is at the heart of all these issues.

“The worst thing a leader can do right now is remain silent,” she said.

In times of uncertainty and flux more than ever, she added, employees need leaders to provide a sense of calm and direction, and that comes from consistent and open communication.

VTS co-founder and CEO Nick Romito

When the pandemic first set in, VTS CEO and Co-Founder Nick Romito's first message to his team was one of "over-communication."

“There’s no such thing as over-communication,” he told Bisnow. “If you feel like you’re annoying someone, you’re probably doing it right. For me, that means a couple things: obviously, talking to the executive team and director a couple times a day and a daily video that’s one to two minutes long. Things I learned yesterday about the market, COVID-19, customers’ ideas. … The executive team each does one per week. 

“In the absence of knowing things, you start to make things up in your head,” he said.

As a leader, he said part of his job is to keep that anxiety at bay so he and his team can keep calm and carry on.

Greg Moran, CEO of smart talent selection platform OutMatch, led a recent study to better understand what qualities make a great leader in times of crisis. Communication, resilience, innovation, strategy, influence and support topped the list. 

Just communicating is not enough, he added: "Communicating a message that really keeps people in your organization engaged" is the kind of communication employees are after.

But he realizes there is a great deal of expectation on leaders right now.

"You have leaders who have never experienced anything like this before," he said. "Nobody alive has ever really seen anything like this."

Resilience and innovation, Moran said, will help get them through.