Leadership in Property Management - a Contrarian's Perspective

15 years ago, Steven Sample published his well regarded and truly insightful book, 'The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership'. There is, he made clear, an important place for conventional wisdom, yet a leader must not be 'slavishly' wedded to it. Effective, competitive leadership requires always envisioning 'something better'. Property Management companies need such leaders. Sample went on to parse out the difference between a manager and a leader. There is, of course, an important role for property 'managers'. Yet, the leaders of property management companies could better serve our communities and the industry as a whole if we were more mindful about six leadership traits espoused by the author.

  • Dealing in Gray - While managers are expected to make quick 'yes or no', 'black or white' decisions within the parameters of their assigned tasks, a good leader takes what many see as a contrarian approach. He or she frequently opts to embrace 'gray'. In other words, while managers necessarily think in more binary terms, a leader takes as much time as possible to gather varied perspectives, delaying a decision as long as possible. The future long term success of a business requires careful consideration at every step along the way, not quick decisions.
  • Surrounded By Experts - That being said, in order to be willing to listen to other perspectives, a leader must first value and seek out the expertise of others. A good leader cannot himself be an expert in everything essential to the successful operation of his business, but he must be the one who knows how to synthesize the insights of varied specialists into a skillfully woven, coherent plan that his managers can then be tasked to carry out.
  • Listening Well - A leader must develop the ability to listen well. Sample wrote, 'the contrarian leader prizes and cultivates his ability to view things simultaneously from two or more perspectives.' A leader wants to see things even from opposite perspectives. He listens very carefully to what others are thinking, yet as he does so, he never 'abdicates' his responsibility to make the final decision to anyone else.
  • Jujitsu Most Decisions - Another aspect of the contrarian leader is that he encourages his managers to make decisions that are appropriate to their realm within the business. If the managers you have hired cannot make quick and appropriate decisions, they either need better training, be encouraged to either step down from their management position or pursue a different career. Clearly, if a leader is spending his valuable time micromanaging his managers, he no longer has the time to be the kind of leader the business really needs.
  • Willing to Lose - Contrary to popular thinking, Sample suggests that a good leader is also skilled at compromising. In other words, a leader knows which battles are ok to lose, because he is crystal clear on which 'hill' there will be no retreat. A leader values each hour spent in developing his ability to lead his organization with competitive, cutting edge strategies. He does not permit himself to be drawn down any of a number of possible rabbit holes always awaiting him. Rather, he yields ground in order to win the much larger war - maintaining a competitive lead in the industry.
  • A Penchant for Classics - So, how might a leader continue to develop his/her effectiveness as a leader? Sample answered that question unequivocally. His notion of a contrarian leader is that a leader is a mindful reader. Yet he added a few caveats. A leader spends little time immersed in the trade journals, the daily newspaper, or popular new books - all of which tend to narrow focus. His management team ought to be the ones who digest those items, honing in their management skills. Rather, a good leader spends his time reading and rereading great literature - the ‘supertexts' - that have the ability to expand his mind so that he may more easily imagine beyond what is conventional. This would include reading the biographies of great leaders, works of history, classic plays and poems. Examples: Machiavelli’s The Prince, The Bible, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Sophocles’ Antigone. etc.

‘Read only the best books first, lest there not be time enough to read them all.’ Henry David Thoreau.

There are several inspiring leaders in real estate and property management who exemplify these ‘contrarian’ values. Are you one of them? If not, are you ready to become a better leader in this industry?