Michael Kaplan learned years ago that being transparent is the best way to lead. About 15 years ago, he was having trouble generating a return on a property. Instead of keeping the problem to himself, Kaplan, the founder and CEO of The M. Kaplan Cos. LLC, asked for some help.
“I just tried it because I was almost desperate because I had exhausted everything, and I just wasn’t getting where I needed to be,” says the leader of the property management firm, which posted about $25 million in 2008 revenue.
Instead of blaming it on marketing conditions, Kaplan simply admitted he was struggling and found an accepting bunch.
“It was so well received I just did it again and again and again,” he says. “Then, what I noticed is the more I’m open and tell my clients what I am doing and what my difficulties are, if I felt it was my screwup and said that, the better the relationships got.”
Smart Business spoke with Kaplan about how to lead with an open management style.
Build a team of honest employees. First off, the leader has got to have and has got to 100 percent subscribe to that same philosophy because a smart leader is going to hire people that will follow through in the same style and fashion that the leader is trying to lead the company with.
So, assuming that’s the leader’s position when he interviews people, he is going to obviously check references and ask those types of questions in that interview and do more listening in the interview with strategic questions and listen to their answers.
He will start to get some insight if they have that in their gut, if that’s kind of their way, or are they just trying to be a corporate player and spin everything and pass the buck.
You need to be careful in the interview process. But even then, you can be really impressed in an interview and hire someone and think they are just great, and they don’t get it. When you notice it, you bring them in your office and that means a time commitment. You bring them in your office, and you sit them down and you discuss it openly. Not, ‘You’re screwing up.’ But, ‘Hey, tell me how you are thinking about this and can’t we do it this way?’ After a few of those meetings, they either get it, or if they don’t, the leader says, ‘This is the wrong guy to captain my boat or gal to captain my boat. I’ve got to find a different captain.’
Keep people involved. I have folks that work for me. I have a president of my management organization. He has regional vice president supervisors that supervise the properties, and they, in turn, have managers that run each location. … It does trickle down from the top. So, I don’t usurp their authority. I always work through them, and if I see that they aren’t making things happen, then I’ll let them go and find the right person. Sometimes you go through two or three people for a position until you find that person that fits the personality and the mindset of the company. Then, all of sudden, you start clicking. Now you’ve got all engines running and you’re cruising really well.
I was out in the field on one of my properties, and I saw three of four things and came up with a couple of marketing ideas. I said to my manager, ‘Would you do me a favor? Would you send an e-mail to Matt and Michelle Matt is the president of the management company and Michelle is the RVP for that property along with a copy to me saying, “Hey, Mike was out here, and he thought about these ideas and wants to discuss it with you and have you guys approve it before we do anything.”’
So, I can go in the field without micromanaging and come up with ideas and say, ‘I’ve got a president and I’ve got a RVP, and they’ve got to be on board and they’ve got to tell you to do it, but these are my thoughts. Would you help me send the e-mail out?’
What that does is it makes the manager committed that she’s part of that process because she is the one writing the e-mail to everybody, … and it makes everybody get together and everybody get around that idea.
The more open you are and the more you’re not afraid to show your vulnerability, … the more people like you and trust you, and your employees get motivated by it because it’s such a very safe but accountable kind of tone.
Get out of the office. I still go out in the field and say hello because it’s a huge morale booster that the owner of the company is concerned about the projects and the employees. You talk to them. But also, you lead in the corporate office with that leadership and you make sure that those people that are representing you in the corporate office lead the same way.
When they have meetings from time to time, you sit in on them and just watch them and see how they handle their employees that work for you. You make sure that standard is upheld, and then that translates into the field. That means you’re not just spending all the time on the phone or chasing new business. You’re also running your business and observing what your people are doing, and make sure that they are leading it the way that is consistent with the message of what your company is.
How to reach: The M. Kaplan Cos. LLC, (713) 977-5699 or www.kapcorp.com