Be an Authentic Leader

Every leader has tough moments in business and who you are in the toughest moments indicates what kind of leader you really are. If you have experienced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic in your property management business, you may or may not have responded as well as you could have. Stress takes a toll on every single one of us, but who we are in moments of trial can cause an even stronger bond with the clients we serve. I personally have witnessed business owners who have seemingly changed their personalities when they have gone through stressful moments. While stress and challenges happen to all of us, how we respond to difficulties is a big indicator of how successful we’ll be.

A book I’ve been reading by David Novak entitled Taking People with You details how you can stay true to who you are and stay authentic (so you remain yourself even if the toughest situations). David is the leader and CEO of Yum! Brands which operates in more than 117 countries and employees 1.4 million people. All three of the company’s restaurant chains—KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell—are global leaders in fast food and I think there is a lot you can learn from such a leader and apply to your property management business.

David explains why authenticity is so important for a leader and how it has impacted him and his company.  He says:

“To inspire as a leader, you need to know your stuff, but you also need to be able to admit when you don’t know stuff. You need to be both confident and vulnerable at the same time. I struggled with that paradox myself when, in 1996, at the age of forty-three, I was given the job of president of KFC. It was the first time I’d been the president of anything, and because it had been a career long goal to be in charge of running a business, I was excited to get started. I really wanted to be good at it, to have a positive impact on the brand and the people working with me, and I wanted to turn around what had been a business in decline and have some fun along the way. But like many people with the best of intentions, I learned the hard way what I wasn’t good at.” –Taking People With You, p. 31.

In Novak’s case, he tried to make a video with him telling jokes to all of two thousand of the company’s restaurant general managers. The video bombed badly and no one laughed at his jokes. He appeared stiff and completely out of his element. He still shows the video today when he conducts one of his leadership seminars to show that it is okay to point out your weaknesses, because it makes you more real.

One of the challenges that we all face is being more consistent at follow through and being more accountable for results. When you make a mistake or aren’t following through as well as you should (and you’re willing to admit it), you’ll get more buy in from tenants and owners that they should make improvements as well. It takes daily discipline to do the little things that will help your business get to the next level. Being open with your reasons why everyone must be committed to follow up and being willing to admit you’ve made a mistake when you haven’t is a big key to being a better leader.

Too often in our society, it is easier to blame someone else or something else instead of taking personal responsibility for your mistakes. We see this everyday in politics and have seen it recently in the news media. One of the reasons why skepticism is so high today is because people are sick and tired of people not taking responsibility for what they have agreed to do.

When something happens that isn’t supposed to, it is easy to get mad and place blame. But, if we can recognize our own failings and set goals to improve (and let everyone else know of our desire to get it right), we become much better and more valuable leaders.

David Novak makes this point in his book Taking People with You:

“To get the results you want, you’re going to have to follow through with daily intensity. Jack Welch talked to me about ‘the relentless drumbeat for performance.’ A constant awareness of what needs to be done and the energy to make it happen are essential for any leader. What’s also essential is that you hold people accountable for their part.” –p. 167.

One of the best parts of the book is something Novak learned from Larry Senn called the accountability ladder. Novak describes it as follows:

“Larry Senn taught us something called the accountability ladder to drive a sense of personal responsibility. At the bottom of the ladder is the person suffering from complete obliviousness; he or she doesn’t even know what’s going wrong or what needs to happen. You move up from there to blaming others for what’s not working. The ideal rungs are at the top, where a person takes responsibility for finding solutions to a problem and then gets on with executing those solutions. You always want to be moving yourself and your people up that ladder.” –p. 169.

Novak then shared a great example of how he learned how to let others take responsibility for their actions when he worked at Pepsi. One day, he went to one of their bottling plants in Baltimore. The plant was in a tough neighborhood and when he arrived he could see bullet holes in the Pepsi sign in front. Novak shares this experience about how he dealt with the challenges of the plant. He said:

“I went in and had my usual meeting with the crew. I started off by asking what was going well there. ‘Nothing,’ they said. ‘Ok,’ I responded, ‘then how can this place be more effective?’ Well, the floodgates opened after that. Some guys said they didn’t have all the equipment they needed; others said it took too long to get the route trucks out in the morning. They just went on and on, until one finally piped up: ‘You seem like a pretty good guy. What are you going to do about all this?’ That shut everybody up.  They all turned to me and waited. ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Absolutely nothing. You’re the ones who are going to fix all this. I’m going to bring the plant manager in here and together we’re going to make a list of all of the things that you talked about. In fact, I’ve already started.’  Then I showed them the pages of notes I had taken. ‘The only thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to come back, in six months, and you all are going to show me what sort of progress you’ve made when I get here.’

“Six months later, I did go back, and it was as though I had entered a whole new plant. They were waiting for me at the door and led me around, showing me all the various improvements and talking about their plans. They still had more work ahead, but they had done a lot. And what’s more, they were darn proud of themselves for doing it. You could just see it on their faces.” –pp. 169-170.

He continues:

“Sometimes the worst thing you can do as a leader is to solve all the problems yourself. You’ve got to assign responsibility where it really belongs. Even if I had known everything there was to know about operations, I still wouldn’t have been around that one plant long enough to fix everything that needed fixing. But those guys could. And they did. Follow-through, like a lot of things I’ve talked about, is leader led. You have to keep people climbing up that accountability ladder, and don’t let them stop until you’ve accomplished all that needs to be done.” –p. 170.

I once had a similar conversation with the manager of one of our businesses that was located four hours south of where I lived. She told me of some of the challenges they were facing. I asked her for some numbers and statistics and for her to provide a plan of how the challenges could be overcome. She emailed me the numbers I requested and I had my own thoughts about what should be done as I reviewed them. When we talked again, I listened to her plan and it was exactly in line with what I thought. She then led the team to overcome the challenge we discussed and the team hit the monthly goal. She is a great leader and by giving her the opportunity to make decisions and be accountable for those decisions, she has consistently accomplished great things.

I would encourage you to be more vulnerable when you make mistakes and be more willing to admit them. We all need to be a little more transparent and authentic as leaders. We also can lead better by helping those on our teams climb the accountability ladder. I encourage you to get and read this book so that you can move each member of your business up to the top where they are powerful instead of powerless.

A great system can help you do this even better. If you would like to discuss how proven business systems can help you be more powerful in your property management business, schedule a time to visit with one of our franchise developers here.


James Butler

James Butler is Director of Franchise Development at Property Management, Inc. He has built four companies from the start-up phase to over a million dollars in revenue. He is the author of the best-selling book The System is the Secret and helps entrepreneurs take action in their businesses. He and his wife Heather are the parents of five children.