Thoughts on Leadership: Michael Phelps, NAR and Winning

This week my travels took me to Chicago and then on to Southern California but let’s talk about Chicago and the 2017 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. My conference experience actually began in a very unusual way. Let me explain …

At exactly 7:22 a.m. –5:22 a.m. my time—I headed down to Starbucks for coffee, just as I do every morning to begin my usual routine. I was just waking up and had on a t-shirt and a bit of bed head when I arrived at Starbucks. (Hey, we’re always honest on this blog.) Anyway, there I am in line to get coffee when I recognized Michael Phelps was waiting right in front of me.

As anyone who has seen my presentations might attest, I’m a big fan of the champion swimmer not only as a world-class, Olympic athlete but also as a shining paradigm for what you can achieve with a solid routine.

Still, although I’m a fan, I didn’t want to bother him and said nothing even after noticing his presence; I know these celebrities like to just have a break and he was the keynote speaker at NAR, so his schedule must have been busy. However, a moment later, someone came up behind me and said, “Oh my gosh that’s Michael Phelps!” (Well, there goes his Starbucks anonymity.)

The patron asked Michael for a picture and they started to take a selfie when I told them, “Look, let me make this easy for you, I’ll take the photo.”

In the back of my mind was the law of reciprocity. I knew if I did this favor for them, they’d be more likely to agree to do something for me. I snapped the photo and then the patron took one with me and Michael Phelps.

Now the story could’ve ended there (and it would’ve been pretty good) but it goes a bit deeper, and here I come back to that ever-present theme of serendipity, which tends to create twists and turns in life we would’ve never otherwise predicted. Upon returning to my hotel room, I received a call from a woman named Cecille Waller, who explains she had worked as an agent at Intero Real Estate Services, my former company, approximately four years ago.

“Hi Gino, this is Cecille,” she said and recounted how she moved to Tempe, Arizona because her daughter swims on the swim team at Arizona State University. Bob Bowman, Michael Phelp’s former coach, happens to be her daughter’s current coach. We chatted for a bit and after, she sent me a series of texts about Bob Bowman and Michael Phelps. Cecille told me she saw a recent photo from a keynote of mine where Michael Phelps was featured on one of my slides and had sent the photo to Bob Bowman, letting him know I detail the story of the Olympic swimmer in many keynote presentations when I talk about the power of a routine. Then she sent me this text:

So, my first day at NAR went from a random encounter at Starbucks with the 28-time Olympic medalist, (23-time Gold medalist) Michael Phelps, to a phone call from a former Intero agent to a future meeting with Bob Bowman and Michael himself! Not a bad way to kick off the conference …

While this experience was quite a highlight in Chicago, other important events at NAR included RISMedia’s Power Broker Forum, where I was grateful to moderate a panel on “New Strategies for Engaging Consumers.” I also attended RISMedia’s 22nd Annual Power Broker Reception & Dinner, which featured special guest speaker, Frank Abagnale, one of the world’s top fraud-prevention experts and author of Catch Me If You Can. I’ve attended every single Power Broker dinner since its beginning and I have to say, Frank was the best speaker I’ve seen yet.

Another memorable highlight from the conference was our Real Living Real Estate booth, manned by none other than Bob McAdams, Real Living president and by former realtor.com CEO, now COO of Real Living, the legendary Mr. Say, Allan Dalton. Across the way from the Real Living booth was the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices booth, which was not only impressive but also equipped with a 180-degrees photo booth to record “social moments.” We had almost 400 NAR attendees stop by the photo booth to experience a social moment. Here’s mine with Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®:

So, what’s the message? I’m actually going to quote an Instagram posted today by Gary Vaynerchuk, the world’s leading social media guru: “Everyone wants to hang out at the finish line without running the race.” Applied to our NAR story, we might say, “Everyone wants to hang out at the finish line without swimming the race.” In order to really win—and define win as anything that means winning to you—you have to put in the time and hard work. You have to attend the conferences, hone in on the power of a daily routine, get up early and be ready to tackle the day with your morning coffee like Michael Phelps. You also have to dig deep into difficult, complex issues like we did at our panel on consumer engagement and really make an effort to find solutions; and, perhaps most importantly, you must connect in a way that’s genuine and lasting, even if it’s just for a social moment … or a selfie.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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