One of the most challenging aspects of being a CEO is often getting everyone else to understand where it is you want to take the business, says James J. Saccacio.
“As a leader and as a visionary, you’re usually five steps ahead of everybody,” says Saccacio, chairman and CEO of RealtyTrac Inc. “You see the painting already crystallized on the canvas while everybody still is ust seeing components to it. You want to get it done right away. You just have to be patient and allow people to make mistakes so that they grow and they learn.”
By bringing employees along at a pace they can handle, Saccacio has led the online real estate company to $27.2 million in 2005 sales and $37.5 million in 2006 sales with more than 200 employees.
Smart Business spoke with Saccacio about why he has never experienced failure.
Q: What is the key to gaining employees’ trust?
People have to feel the reality of the dream and have to feel that the leader will be able to charge them up the hill if they are willing to follow.
I’m going to lead you up a hill.
I’m not going to ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do. You may not know how to do it, but it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know,’ and to ask for help and direction.
It’s an extremely difficult thing to convince people to do. As a leader, you have to be in tune with people and be able to read them. The way I do it is by asking a series of questions. I may ask the same question three or four times to really see if people understand.
It’s not so much having people sit there and say, ‘I don’t know,’ as much as it is acknowledging that there are other alternatives to what they are doing.
Q: How do you deal with failure?
It doesn’t exist within my vocabulary.
I view those things as opportunities. They are opportunities of lessons learned and how to do things differently.
I always look to see the light from the dark. I had to reflect back on life and say, ‘Has there ever been a time in my life that I failed?’ And there hasn’t been one. One might say, ‘Have you not challenged yourself enough?’ Or does that passion and perseverance always allow you to redirect what you may call a failure, which I call an opportunity to learn?
It clearly is an opportunity to grow. There is a way of putting things in a negative light and a positive light. At the end of the day, I think society beats down people too much and doesn’t elevate them enough. Even as parents, it’s like, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that,’ versus, ‘Why don’t we try to do it this way?’ If you touch that the wrong way, you’re going to break it. That’s a negative versus, ‘Let’s use this tool, this hammer, correctly.’
Q: How do you communicate your vision to others?
Reading their body language, knowing what motivates them and what drives them. You really need to understand your people. No two people are alike.
You have to understand the drivers of the individual. You may have one style, but you may have five or six people that report to you that have different styles, and it’s very much like a marriage.
Communicating one way to one person does not necessarily work for another. As the CEO, you have to be able to switch hats and know who you’re dealing with.
Q: How do you reach consensus?
The core is understanding your stakeholder. Your first stakeholder is your customer. If you do what is in the best interest of your customer, everything else falls underneath that and falls into alignment. You take the personalities out by focusing it on the customer.
Q: How can you get employees to care?
As a CEO, really, we need to serve others. When you have a serving mentality, that really goes a long way. Drilling down within the organization and finding out what people need to make their environment and the workplace better.
I don’t think putting in an employee suggestion box works. Going down and holding meetings in a group forum allows people to speak, and then allows the whole group to speak. It’s the law of numbers. People feel much more comfortable in those situations where they will speak up because they know they’ll get affirmation from others as to what’s needed.
The risk to that is you have to be willing as an organization to respond. If you don’t, you’ll never get that feedback again. An organization that speaks out wanting to have a serving culture needs to prepare to really serve. It can’t be lip service.
HOW TO REACH: RealtyTrac Inc., www.realtytrac.com