Leader of the pack Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

For those in the real estate industry, seeing the glass as half full has been easier said than done over the past couple years, but a slow market hasn’t discouraged Pam O’Connor.

“If you don’t have optimism, I don’t care how much other talent or how many other qualities you have, it’s really hard to lead people,” says O’Connor, president and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. “You have to be somebody who always sees the silver lining, because everybody has hiccups.”

Rather than allow her team to get demoralized, O’Connor instead takes the opportunity to learn from what others might consider negative situations. LeadingRE, an organization that networks independent real estate companies from across the country, has been able to leverage its ability to quickly adapt to changing market conditions.

Smart Business spoke with O’Connor about how empowerment and recognition keep her team engaged.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

We’re not an organization of prima donnas. We’ve got a lot of really young, bright people here, and I consider myself as working for them, making sure they’ve got the resources and programs available to deliver a great experience to our member companies and the customers that they serve.

We’re empowering in that we hire people that are self-starters, and we have a well-fleshed-out business plan that they actually contribute to every year. That’s a process we go through that, all said, probably takes a couple months. They all provide the input for that, and we develop it, and that provides them the broad parameters within which they’re expected to execute. They’re held accountable.

That sort of strategy really makes people perform at a higher level because they do have some latitude.

Q: What are the benefits of making good hires?

If you hire the right people, everything else falls into place. We do behavioral testing on new hires, and we look hard at a couple of things that measure intelligence. I don’t mean that we’re looking for MENSA-types hung up on how smart they are but people who are quick studies and who can grasp concepts easily and can be creative and analytical.

We look for people who are curious and who ask questions. I’m always leery if I’m sitting with somebody and they never take down one note. I’m more interested in somebody who is curious and wants to absorb new things.

If you hire for those kinds of qualities, they’ll do the thinking for you. They’ll stay in tune with what’s happening in the marketplace and come up with suggestions. That’s the role of a great leader, to try to assemble the right people and not to be threatened by good people.

I know what my strengths and my weaknesses are. I look for people who will fill in where the weak areas are and complement what I can do. Hopefully, I can bring to them some things that I’m stronger at and help them develop.

Q: How do you motivate your staff?

One of the problems you get with younger people nowadays is that they’ve been on soccer teams and everything else where everybody gets an award, so everybody thinks they’re the same. To me, you really have to recognize achievement or there is no incentive for people to keep achieving.

We make our people feel important and make them feel that they’re part of the whole process and then take the ones that perform at a high level and use them as poster children for everyone else. Not in a way that makes the other people feel badly, but just, ‘Look what Jennifer did today that made us all look good.’

Whenever we get compliments on somebody, we pass that on so that everybody sees it. There’s a fun kind of competitiveness, but it’s not a back-stabbing kind of situation. Everybody just thrives on doing a good job and being appreciated for that.

Q: How important is flexibility in a growing company?

Nowadays, the world is changing so quickly that to try to say you have a five-year plan, I guess if you’re Motorola or IBM, maybe you have to have those kinds of disciplines. But if you look at our industry and all the analysts’ prognostications from this time last year, nobody would have anticipated that the market would be off to the degree that it was. One of my brokers said to me, ‘You know, about halfway through the year, I realized that hope was not a strategy.’ In other words, you can’t just think it’s going to get better and just keep doing what you were doing.

With technology changing and the huge changes in market demographics out there, an exploding multicultural population, the young people coming into the market in their 20s and 30s, any company in any part of business today is facing those changes. You’ve got to get inside the heads of the consumer, and companies that are setting their programs and policies for five years can’t do that very well. They’re left in the dust as the customer has gone on without them.

HOW TO REACH: Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, (800) 621-6510 or www.leadingre.com