Thoughts on Leadership: A Leadership Tune-up

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I attended the virtual Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Leadership Conference then departed for Minneapolis. On Wednesday and Thursday, I participated in the HomeServices of America CFO Conference and met with the Edina Realty and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices North Properties team.

Today, as we enter the final weeks of spring and anticipate the summer season, I want to discuss a few helpful leadership lessons. Let’s call this post a leadership tune-up, complete with nuggets of knowledge to help you achieve your goals:

  • Fix your roof before it rains. It’s a lesson we learned throughout the pandemic. Our businesses fundamentally changed during COVID-19 and the businesses that survived the unexpected were those with leaders who truly planned for anything. There’s no question it will rain, but it’s about having that solid roof above your head – made from the right materials, constructed the right way – so you can weather any storm. When I was a junior at San Jose State, I remember my professor, Dr. Pete Zidnak, would start his business class with the quote of the day. That Ben Franklin quote – “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail” – was among those he gave to our class. Even now, years later, it still means so much to me.
  • Be open and flexible to change. Transformational change is a big part of leadership, and it happens not just with your initiatives but also within your mind. If you have a fixed mindset, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten because you’ll do what you’ve always done. When you’re nimble and flexible and open to change, you have a growth mindset that is strengthened by focus and a commitment to complete the hard work.
  • Don’t contemplate whether you will get it done, just believe in the fact that you WILL get it done. As Yoda said, “do or do not – there is no try.” Of course, a healthy view of failure is necessary because not everything in business is going to go your way. And you don’t have to fight every battle, but the battles you choose must win the war. Also, harping on the obstacles standing in the way of getting things done will not contribute to a strong mindset. Instead, it will weaken your chances of getting the task done. The only thing that’s impossible is the thing you never do.
  • Remember that fear is a figment of your imagination. The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Fear is all in your mind. First, because we imagine all the possibilities of a situation before they even happen. Many people who fear public speaking are nervous backstage before they step foot on the stage. Second, as human beings, we tend to cling to our fears like safety blankets. We can’t do this, we can’t do that because we are afraid, and so fear becomes the excuse and nothing becomes the result. If we remove the fear and say to ourselves, “I acknowledge this feeling, but I will not let it stop me,” then we also remove the thing blocking our way. That is how we find ourselves in the realm of limitless possibilities. 
  • Discover your zone of genius. There are four zones that a given person’s professional performance can fall into: zone of incompetence, zone of competence, zone of excellence and zone of genius. Let’s focus on the last one – the zone of genius. What is it? You know it when you experience it. Your zone of genius encompasses all that you are uniquely good at, and not just good at but also love to do. Everyone’s zone of genius is different, and that’s what makes people unique. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Identify what your zone of genius is, and structure your business around using it as your competitive advantage and professional differentiator.
  • Vince Lombardi said fatigue makes cowards of us all. You must recharge. For me, when things start to fall through the cracks, I get annoyed and that’s when I know it’s time to step back, take a break and recharge, so I can be the best leader for my team and those around me. Whenever I’m feeling tired or fatigued, I know I need to do something that motivates me to come back refreshed and ready to go.

So, what’s the message? This week spend a little time to check in on yourself. Are you facing your fears? Are you operating in your zone of genius? Are you taking time to recharge? Are you putting plans in place? Are you pushing past uncertainty to make the impossible possible? The answers to these questions should be “yes,” because when you are doing all these things, you’ll be helping not only yourself as a leader but also everyone around you. 

Thoughts on Leadership: Leading Like a Dog

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting on Sunday with a flight to Orange County to attend the Mike Ferry Management Retreat in Huntington Beach taking place on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I also conducted my regular WIG calls and on Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call. On Tuesday afternoon, I met with the team to help plan the upcoming HomeServices of America top performer’s event. On Wednesday I had morning meetings in San Diego then flew home to Northern California in the afternoon. Today, I worked from home as I had a solar panel installed in my home in Los Altos. (Sustainability is key!)

For today’s post, I want to talk about dogs. Well, people really, but first, let’s talk about dogs. According to the latest survey from the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership in the U.S. rose to an all-time high – 70% of U.S. households – in 2020. Why? Because pets are the perfect companions. No matter if we’ve been away from them for five minutes, five hours or five days, they’re exuberantly excited to greet us.

But for me, it’s not just pets, it’s dogs that are the greatest pals we could ask for. One of the best feelings is coming home from a trip, pulling up to the front door in my Uber, and seeing my dog, Kona, through the window, wagging her tail as I walk up to the house and step inside.

It makes you feel so good, doesn’t it? You just feel so loved by this animal in front of you that your heart could almost burst from the joy of it all. That kind of enthusiasm got me thinking about one of my mentors, Bob Moles, who has the same ability to make you feel welcomed and happy every time he sees you. It’s why I believe one of the rarest but most incredible qualities of a leader is their ability to be like a dog.

I met Bob when I was in the third grade (we played little league together and his dad was our coach), so it’s remarkable that we ended up working together and that he played a defining role in my real estate career. They say you are the sum of everyone you meet, and I have truly been blessed to have met Bob when I did because our fortuitous friendship shaped the entirety of my professional life.

Bob was one of my earliest mentors and he gave me a great deal of confidence in my career. As a coach and a mentor, he had confidence in me, and we all know when your coach believes in you unequivocally, you tend to believe in yourself, too.

Let’s travel back to 1988 and recall a story that perfectly encapsulates Bob’s influence on my life. At the time, I had just become manager of a Contempo Realty office – Bob was president of Contempo Realty and his father was the chairman. I was a hard-charging manager, making all sorts of changes that I felt would have a positive impact on the culture, productivity, and profitability of the office. I got a new copy machine. I extended the office hours and announced the office would be open on Saturdays and Sundays, with a receptionist ready to greet prospective clients. I changed the way we were answering the phone. I changed the way we greeted people. I required attendance at office meetings. I established a dress code for the gentlemen to wear a tie and crisp, white shirts. Mediocrity or stagnation was not tolerated. Excellence was expected.


And while the changes were created with improving the office environment and experience in mind, change can be a tricky thing. Most people don’t like it. As you might suspect, the office was up in arms about this new manager who was making all these changes to how things used to be.

The office was so upset about the changes, they all got together and arranged a lunch with Bob Moles to explain their agitation with my new style of management. After the lunch was over, I went to Bob and asked him how it went. He said, “Well, they had some issues with your management style.”

I replied: “So, what should I do?”

Bob responded, “I don’t care if you need to change out every single agent in that office. You are the leader and I trust you’ll do a great job.”

It was that kind of support that gave me the confidence I needed to  know my decisions were solid. If a leader like Bob believed in me, I knew I could believe in myself. In fact, if I was ever having a tough day or a problem I couldn’t solve, I’d give Bob a call and immediately that problem seemed fixable or that tough day got brighter. It reminded me about what I later learned from Og Mandino, author of the bestselling book, The Greatest Salesman in the World  . Og said pain is like having a pebble in your shoe; it seems so harsh at the time, but you are surprised when you remove your shoe and find only a grain of sand.

When we sold Contempo Realty and Bob became the president of Century 21, I stayed on as the president of Contempo. I called him every single day for the next seven years at 6:30 in the morning to get his advice. His counsel was that important to me and my leadership journey.

I can still remember we’d have these monthly all-company meetings at Contempo and whenever I came into the room, Bob would be waiting to shake my hand and greet me like I was the only person there. I went on to observe him do the very same thing to every team member who joined the meeting. It made them feel special, the kind of special you experience when you walk through the door and are greeted by your beloved dog. The kind of special I feel every time I step out of the car and see Kona’s tail go crazy at the very sight of me. It’s why I say, a leader who can have that dog-like enthusiasm is a special kind of leader to admire and revere.

Bill Clinton was famous for possessing this kind of charisma. In a 2014 article, Fast Company,reporter Stephanie Vozza noted that Bill Clinton has “legendary focus and can make anyone feel like the most important person in the room.”

Clinton’s political arch-nemesis, Newt Gingrich, even commented on this distinct ability, describing the former President as “one of the most charming and effective people I’ve ever negotiated with.”

So, what’s the message? On the opposite end of this happiness spectrum, when you ignore someone, or when you make them feel small, it’s one of the most awful emotions anyone can experience. But if you can uplift them –  if, like Bob Moles, Bill Clinton and my sweet dog, Kona, you can focus on how happy you are just to see them step in your direction – then you’ve got a truly special ability to connect with your team in a way not many people can. To this day, Bob is one of the few people who regularly gets together with his high school friends; and if you stop by his house, he always makes you feel welcome. It’s not often I say leadership is for the dogs but in this one instance, it absolutely is.

P.S. If you’re reading this on Friday, it’s Bob Moles’ birthday. Happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for inspiring me all these years.

Thoughts on Leadership: Mother’s Day Celebration

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Omaha, Nebraska over the weekend for the 2022 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting. (Watch a recap of the experience here.) On Monday, I conducted my usual WIG calls from Northern California. On Tuesday, I spent the morning participating in Berkshire Hathaway Energy calls then traveled to San Antonio, Texas for the T3 Summit, an annual invite-only think tank for residential real estate industry CEOs and C-level executives. On Wednesday, I was interviewed on stage by Stefan Swanepoel, founder and executive chairman of the T3 Sixty family of companies, during the T3 Summit. Today, I’m traveling home and writing this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from New York

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I hopped on an early flight to Uncasville, Connecticut for an incredible event at the Mohegan Sun, led by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties/New York Properties/Hudson Valley Properties President and President and CEO Candace Adams. I congratulated the team on stage and was with them for a fantastic celebration, including a team dinner on Wednesday night. The energy at the event was electric. It was the first time many of those team members had seen each other in person since the pandemic began. Candace did a fantastic job as emcee, and we heard from Steven and Debbie Domber, Steven James, Brad Loe and Allan Dalton. It was amazing to see how fired up Steven James and Brad Loe are to take over the New York market. When he spoke, Steven’s passion and energy left no doubt in anyone’s mind that his prediction to be No. 1 in New York would happen soon.

Today, we drove to Rye Brook, New York and spent the afternoon with Houlihan Lawrence and President and CEO Liz Nunan where we toured the Houlihan Lawrence offices and had a luncheon in the Houlihan Lawrence Agent Development Center. I gave a leadership presentation and then attended an agent networking open house.

We then drove to Manhattan, where I write this post to you now, and because the Big Apple is so inspiring to me, it’s our topic for today.

New York City has a vibe unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s palpable. You can practically reach out and touch it, as it buzzes in shades of taxi-cab yellow and skyscraper gray across the city that never sleeps. Here are a few ways I’ve been inspired by the people and places of this global metropolis:

First in, last out. In his aptly named book, “First In, Last Out,” New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Battalion Chief John Salka explains how the FDNY’s strategies can be applied to any business and any leader. By first in and last out, Salka references the idea that a leader, just like those who lead the FDNY, should always be the proverbial first one to charge into the room when it’s on fire, and the last one to leave before the fire is completely extinguished. It’s a lesson in ultimate accountability; as the leader, you are the person others follow and you also set the example, never abandoning even a burning building until the flames of challenge are extinguished and you’re treading on safer, more sustainable, more successful ground.

Gratitude unlocks endless improvement. When asked for our #LeadershipPGI social media series about the one thing she’s doing this week to become better than she was last week, Liz Nunan said this: “Practice daily gratitude. I find that it leads to a more positive mindset, helps when I need to deal with adversity, and has helped me build strong relationships, both personally and professionally.” Gratitude, as I say, is an attitude! And while it helps strengthen your mindset, as Liz explains, it also helps you on your path of perpetual improvement. With gratitude, you look forward, you think positively, and you see the potential in situations rather than whatever is holding you back.

Your team can never hear enough how much you appreciate them. When Candace Adams was asked the same question – “What are you doing to improve this week so you’re even better than you were last week?” – she said: “I am going to reach out to as many people as I can to say thank you for who they are and what they do.” And showing how much you care isn’t just good for strengthening trust, connection, and respect among your team, it also strengthens the team itself. In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, authors Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary and Joseph R. Weintraub wrote that letting your team know you appreciate them enhances productivity and the team’s ability to perform given tasks. Why? Because everyone wants to know that the hard work they’re putting in doesn’t go unnoticed.

Team members need a voice – and that voice must be heard. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, authors Bruce A. Strong and Mary Lee Kennedy documented the process of change at the New York Public Library, one of the largest public libraries worldwide. An estimated 18 million people visit the library each year. (And one of them was Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay to “Rocky” in three days at the New York Public Library.) So, when it became clear the library needed to shift its strategies amid an ever-changing digital world, what did the leaders at the New York Public Library do? They asked employees exactly what should happen next. In the spring of 2014, any of the 2,500 staff members had the chance to speak directly with senior leaders, offering their best ideas to digitize the library system. The staff was asked to propose, test and advocate solutions. The senior leaders provided guidance, support, resources and made decisions on those ideas, but it was the staff whose ideas would be carried through. “The project expanded their sense of belonging,” the authors wrote in the Harvard Business Review. And it’s a lesson any leader can take back to their teams. Sometimes problems can’t be solved unilaterally, and instead it takes a collaborative, concerted effort by all to create the change you seek, whether it’s digitizing a massive public library in NYC or providing even better service to your clients.

So, what’s the message? Artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” And I felt that this week in New York. It’s a city that constantly reminds us that sometimes leadership is a set of principles, sometimes it’s a system of execution and sometimes, it’s a feeling that guides us exactly where we want – and need – to go.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Coach K

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by our monthly CEO leadership virtual meeting. On Wednesday, I attended meetings in San Jose, California and today, I spoke and trained the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago on mindset and the West Coast Offense for running a real estate company or team. Of course, I also sat down to write this post to you.

Our topic today revolves around a key leadership figure, a college coach so influential in the world of basketball and beyond, that as the NBA playoffs continue, you can see his impact on game play. He coached a total of 68 NBA draft picks, 42 of whom went in the first round.

I’m speaking, of course, about the legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski, also known as “Coach K.” His incredible career took off in 1980 after Duke University hired him to coach the Blue Devils’ basketball program. He’d been coach at Army West Point for five seasons, and while it would be a few more years before the Blue Devils became a powerhouse college basketball team, in 1985-1986, the team won ACC regular-season and tournament titles.

Here are a few more impressive stats about Coach K: He’s coached 37 All-Americans, nine national players of the year and a total of 208 players.

“A leader has to be positive about all things that happen to his team,” he once said. “Look at nothing in the past as failure.”

In the spirit of Coach K’s philosophy of looking back to build a brighter future, let’s do a full court press on his leadership skills:

Each interaction with a player on your team matters. Sports Illustrated, in a tribute article to Coach K, noted that his “success does not come from what he does with X’s and O’s. It is in his ability to shape people into a team.” It’s true. What is a team but a collection of varying personalities, cultures, backgrounds, and experiences that must somehow come together for the collective good of all? Somehow, they must make it work – or to quote a concept from last week’s Thoughts on Leadership, they must find their swing. Coach K understood the last player on the bench might play a pivotal role in the upcoming game; the person playing the best might not be the player going full out, even if the scoreboard says they are. One player who is clearly struggling might need kind words while another player struggling in the exact same way might need some tough love. He once said: “When you first assemble a group, it’s not a team right off the bat. It’s just a collection of individuals.” Coach K’s magic can be found in those small, daily interactions and the way he calculated how each one transformed his group of players into a fierce, winning team.

A good leader can adapt to changes and doesn’t fear making tough decisions. Coach K said: “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions. Not me. I don’t want to be a manager or a dictator. I want to be a leader – and leadership is ongoing, adjustable, flexible, and dynamic.”

A winning team is a tough team to beat. In 2010, Sports Illustrated described Duke’s performance as “emblematic of a team that finished 35-5 and won with toughness rather than style.” Before a pivotal game, Coach K wrote four words on the locker room’s white board: STRONG. TOGETHER. TALK. CRASH. Strong is a reference to their team strength. Together speaks to their team chemistry. Talk is about their ability to communicate among the team. Crash refers to their willingness to crash the boards. Why? Because the team is tough, willing to do whatever it takes – and not just whatever is convenient – to win.

Humility means progress. Coach K once said, “It’s perfectly fine to say you’re not good enough. The question is, what do you do to be good enough?” In other words, be humble enough to admit your mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with not being at the level you want to be, as long as you come up with a plan, the “what you do” to take actionable, measurable steps toward progress. In 2008, the day before Team USA would compete in the summer Olympics (Coach K was selected as their coach) he was asked about the team’s prospect of winning gold. His answer? “I think we’re humble enough to do it.”

Your team needs to believe in your mission, otherwise winning is impossible. Participation in the Olympics is contested by some NBA team owners because they’re afraid their star players will get injured during a game played with smaller compensation compared with their NBA salaries. (Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban did not mince words on this topic. He said: “I can’t think of anything more ridiculous and stupid than giving away the best assets from a for-profit business to somebody else to make hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.”) So, when Coach K inherited Team USA, there were already underlying challenges, and the dilemma was how to instill pride and purpose in his players when NBA owners weren’t confident they should be there. In a short amount of time, he had to get the players to trust him, and he had to be a strong enough leader to earn that trust. (He once said, “In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”) How did he do it? He didn’t just get his players to play well, he got them to believe in the reason they were there. And buoyed by that belief, Team USA defeated Spain 118-107 to win gold.

So, what’s the message? Coach K was head coach at Duke for 42 seasons and has a 1,202-367 record with five national championships and 13 Final Four appearances to his name. You’d think a coach with this kind of Hall of Fame career would say winning is everything. But here’s one final quote from Coach K that speaks to the why behind his leadership: “You have to work hard at staying in contact with your friends, so your relationships will continue and live on,” he said. “Friendships, along with love, make life worth living.”

Coach K presenting Dalton MacAfee with annual Coach K West Point student-athlete award. Dalton, an Army Ranger and former captain of West Point Hockey and varsity lacrosse player, is the son of Heisman Trophy finalist and three time Notre Dame All American Ken MacAfee, and nephew of our own Allan Dalton who was a former Boston Celtic draft choice.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from 2022 Masters Winner Scottie Scheffler

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting the work week early with a Sunday flight to Carlsbad, California, so I could conduct my Monday morning meetings from my hotel room (and not while traveling). On Monday morning, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting and completed all my WIG calls from 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At 3 p.m. I joined a session for the Zillow Industry Forum, which I attended through Wednesday. And I am back in Northern California today where I’m now sitting down to write you this post.

Like many people, I spent last weekend watching the 2022 Masters. (I’ve written before about the iconic golf tournament, read the post here.) I’ve long been fascinated with the Masters, and it’s probably because golf holds a special place in my heart. As a senior in high school, I started a job at Cherry Chase Golf and Swim Club in Sunnyvale, California, which I held through college. After graduating from San Jose State University, I was appointed General Manager of the Cherry Chase Golf and Swim Club. After a developer bought the land, I got my real estate license to sell the new homes that would be developed there. I had just $1 in my pocket, and I was determined to work harder than anyone else to find success. I look back on those formative years and realize how they’ve shaped my career and the way I approach leadership today.

But back to the Masters … No. 1 ranked PGA Tour golfer Scottie Scheffler finished in first place, three strokes ahead of second-placed Rory Mcllroy. It was Scheffler’s first major title. When asked immediately after the win how he felt about being the 2022 Masters champion, Scheffler said with humility: “Pretty tired.”

Being number one doesn’t happen by accident. It takes consistent work, a focus on your Wildly Important Goals and a strong, positive mindset of a winner. I watched on TV as Scheffler walked off the green and greeted his family and close friends, and you could just tell he’s not only a great golfer but also a great person. 

Here are a few facts about the newly minted Masters champion:

He started at a very young age. The Scheffler family borrowed money to allow their young son (then just age 6) to join the Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas where he began working with Randy Smith, head golf professional at Royal Oaks Country Club, who became his swing coach. Though he was just six years old, Scheffler had the focus and drive (quite literally) of a champion. Smith recalls their first meeting: “I walked down, his parents were there, and they introduced him, and he took his hat off, shook my hand then went back to hitting balls.”

His job is his passion. In high school, Scheffler played lacrosse, basketball, baseball, and football but golf was always his number one passion. “My whole life, I knew how much I loved golf,” he told Golf Digest reporter Keely Levins. “It was the one sport I always wanted to be playing, regardless of the season.”

He knows the importance of a good swing. In the offseason, Scheffler took a trip to the Scotty Cameron Putter Studio in San Marcos, California and switched one of his clubs to a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Special Select Timeless Tourtype GSS. Right after the switch, he got his first tour win. The week of the Masters, he felt like the club was off. Tour reps examined the putter and realized he was right – the loft and lie angles were off from where they should be, so the putter was adjusted the day before the Masters began. The idea that swing takes perfect synchronicity and mechanics to achieve is a sentiment echoed in one of my favorite books, “The Boys in The Boat” by Daniel James Brown:

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that not a single action by any one is out of sync with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action – each subtle turning of wrists – must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”

So, what’s the message? When he won the Masters, Sheffler became part of an exclusive club – one of only a few players to win the Masters in the start immediately following their World No. 1 status. He joins Ian Woosman, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, and Dustin Johnson in this feat, and proves to the world that with passion, perseverance, a positive mindset and a putter with the right loft and lie angles, anyone can win.

Pictured: Our CEO of Allie Beth Allman, Keith Conlon played golf on Tuesday with 2022 Masters Champion Scottie Sheffler. (Keith, you can let me know how it feels to tee off right after the No. 1 golfer in the world has striked one 308 yards right down the middle of the fairway.) Sheffler is giving the University of Texas Hook ‘em sign and in case you don’t know, Keith is with the TCU Horned Frogs. In another twist of coincidence, Allie Beth Allman agent Alex Perry was the listing agent and Allie Beth Allman agent Ashley Ferguson was the selling agent for Sheffler’s home.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home with my typical WIG calls then traveling to Atlanta, Georgia for the Realty Alliance General Membership Meeting. The conference was filled with valuable takeaways and insights from trailblazers, disruptors, and visionaries in the world of real estate and beyond. There was one keynote that had a particular impact on me, delivered by Horst Schulze, co-founder, and former president of the Ritz-Carlton Company. I’ve written about the Ritz-Carlton Gold Standard for operations before, but to refresh your memory these are a few of the Gold Standard values that guide the company and its team members to operate with impeccable service and the highest standards of performance, execution and leadership:

  1. I build strong relationships and create guests for life.
  2. I am empowered to create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests.
  3. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve customer experience.
  4. I own and immediately resolve problems.
  5. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  6. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  7. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.

In his presentation, Horst Schulze told an interesting story that is the epitome of accountability in action. He said that if there was an underperforming hotel, he would give the general manager three months to turn things around; if they didn’t, he’d go to the hotel, sit in the GM’s office, and have the GM sit in the corner and watch Schulze turn hotel operations around. Talk about accountability!

Here are a few other lessons from Schulze:

Top performers pick up the trash. What’s one trait of a top performer? They pick up the trash, says Schulze. When something isn’t taken care of, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and do it themselves. Wait around for someone else to do a job you may not want to do, and you’ll be waiting forever. And who can perform if they’re just sitting there waiting for something to happen? Make it happen yourself, Schulze explains.

Don’t ever be late. To Schulze, one of the greatest insults is tardiness. He says it doesn’t matter if you’re thirty seconds or thirty minutes late; when you’re late, you’re late and it is a sign of disrespect and a lack of care. You arranged for someone else to meet you at a particular time and place (even if it’s virtually), you have a duty to be there at that exact moment, too.

Managers push, leaders inspire. Managers control the hierarchy of an organization, says Schulze but they don’t have real buy-in when it comes to the overall success of the team or their ability to inspire their team to reach new levels of greatness; they simply care that profits are increasing and the business is growing. A leader is someone who gets that team members to want to do their job. They know an inspired employee is a passionate employee and that dedication to excellence spills out into all aspects of the company.

Excellent customer service can cost you – and that’s OK. At the Ritz-Carlton, it was common practice to spend money to keep guests happy. In fact, every employee could spend up to $2,000 per guest, per incident to right a wrong. Sometimes this meant purchasing a meal for a guest who was dissatisfied but sometimes, it was even more extensive. At the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, Mexico, for example, hotel employees used that money to buy metal detectors when a young couple on their honeymoon lost their wedding band on the beach. At another location, one guest – a mother with a two-year-old son – realized her son lost his favorite Thomas & Friends train toy while they were packing up to leave the hotel and head to the airport. Frantic, the mother mentioned the missing toy to one of the Ritz-Carlton employees and called the loss “heartbreaking.” The employees helped the mother search for the toy to no avail, so they simply went to the nearest toy store and purchased a new one for the woman’s son. They gave it to him with a note that said, ‘Thomas took a long vacation but he’s back now and included a few photos of the Thomas toy in various locations around the hotel. The mother said she would tell anyone she met that Ritz-Carlton won her business for life.

So, what’s the message? Horst Schulze is widely regarded as an icon in the service and hospitality industry, not only because he led his company with excellence but also because he instilled the idea that excellence should not be a sometimes-endeavor; it is an always-endeavor and with perpetual improvement, impeccable service, and an empowered team, you can achieve this excellence no matter what business you’re in or what customers you serve.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Tom Ferry

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Napa, California at the Tom Ferry Team Legacy Retreat. From Sunday through Wednesday, participants networked, challenged themselves, learned and found inspiration from Tom’s words of wisdom and through collaborating and sharing stories with each other. I probably took more notes than anyone in the room because my goal for the retreat was to learn from the people in the room who have boots-on-the-ground knowledge and figure out how I could use my experience to help the group get to another level of success.

 Today, as I write this, I’m preparing to attend the Intero Honors 2021 Production Award Celebration in San Jose, California.

But for today’s post, let’s return to wine country and the teachings of Tom Ferry.

Tom has been a great friend, mentor, and coach of mine for years. We first met when Tom was 19 years old. He cold called me as a top-producing real estate agent to sell me a ticket to a Mike Ferry Superstar Retreat. We’ve been friends ever since.

There’s a reason Tom has such esteem in the industry; his leadership skills are extraordinary, and each day, maybe even each hour or each minute, he’s passing along what he knows to help others succeed. One of the things I really like about Tom is that he’s incredibly relevant. He’s not teaching old knowledge repeatedly; he’s always looking for something new, something fresh, something that will enrich people’s businesses and lives in a way nothing has before. It’s the very definition of a forward-thinking leader. Here are a few of his most recent (and valuable) takeaways:

Believe in yourself, achieve more every time. Tom recorded a podcast with therapist John Jolliffe and during the episode, Jolliffe said: “All people have as much self-confidence as everybody else. That’s the truth … but there’s two types. There’s negative self-confidence and positive self-confidence. People with negative self-confidence have trouble reaching their Wildly Important Goals because they simply don’t believe they can. Or, they’re too fearful to begin the process of making it happen because yet again, they don’t believe they can. Leaders with the exact same amount of confidence – only this time it’s positive – achieve their goals because they see nothing as impossible. Guided by optimism and their strong belief in themselves and their capabilities, they tackle tasks with confidence and get it done. Tom says one way to gain confidence is to recite daily affirmations and I agree. I’ve been reciting a passage from Og Mandino’s “The Seeds of Success” as part of my morning routine for the past three decades. Read the affirmation in full here.

Harness the power of accountability. I’m a big fan of accountability partners and Tom is, too but there are many ways to harness the power of accountability. Tom says you can: announce publicly that if you don’t do something you’ll write a check to an organization or person you wouldn’t typically support; schedule a quick touch-base call with a colleague every morning to review your commitments; hold a contest where those who are at the bottom of the scoreboard have to organize an event or dinner for those who win; share your goals with another leader and ask them to check in on you periodically to track your progress; involve your friends or family in the process, (for example, if you don’t generate X number of leads per month, you give your kids $50); or you could hire a coach.

Analyze your closest friendships. Tom says as an 18-year-old he had an epiphany after his dad came to visit his apartment and told him, “We become like the people we spend the most time with.” There are three kinds of people in the world: positive, neutral, and negative. The positive people are those who will pick you up when you’re down. They are the people committed to perpetual improvement, accomplishing their goals and forward momentum. Neutral people are just that – they won’t react in any kind of positive or negative way to the circumstances around them. “Want to go do this?” Sure, they’d say. They’re fine with whatever. They’re neutral. And finally, the negative people. Those who will drag you down or are constantly pessimistic and won’t ever elevate your state of mind. Tom says write down your close friends. Look at how many of them are positive, neutral, or negative. Make sure that you’re surrounding yourself with positive people, those who will challenge you and hold you accountable because they want to be accountable to their big goals, too. Neutral people are the ones who YOU may be able to help, whose neutral mindset may be able to shift more toward the positive because you’re in their lives. Negative people have negative mindsets. As the saying goes, being positive works most of the time, being negative works 100% of the time.

Know your why. In a recent blog, Tom asks an important question: Why do most people quit? Why do most people break their own promises and commitments? If you ask them, they often have many reasons why they couldn’t do something; it was a one-off. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t have time. I didn’t think I could. They justify these actions and move on, OK with the fact that their life is not being lived at full potential. Tom says, “I would argue that the real case for a life, a life at level 10 is to find that one reason why … that one driving force … that one thing that just aligns you.” It’s what, Tom explains, makes you a person of your word, a leader others can rely on. I’ve long believed that your word is your bond, and this includes the words you speak to yourself. You can read these words now and reflect on the calls you didn’t make, the deals you didn’t get, the appointments you didn’t book OR you can focus on your one reason why, and use that to propel you forward, to make the calls you said you would, to do the things you need to do to become the person, leader and human being you want to be. Your reason will determine your action. It will allow you to follow through and, as Tom says, have a life by design instead of a life by default.

So, what’s the message? For this one, it’s easy: gratitude. Thank you, Tom, for being a leader by example, someone who not only delivers sage advice but also lives by that advice every single day.

Leadership Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

By Gino Blefari:

On this blog, I want to do something different and take you on my own personal journey. When I first got into real estate, my new job was complemented by my ever-present craving for learning, and it served me well as I began my career. With a Wildly Important Goal to know as much about real estate as possible, I listened to every single real estate trainer I could think of – Mike Ferry, Floyd Wickman, Tommy Hopkins. Any sales trainer for real estate out there at the time was on my radar … and my reading list. I even memorized purchase contracts and every one of the forms there were, because I knew to succeed in the industry, I had to commit those to memory.

The next frontier in my life was an obsession with what makes people successful. I studied Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, Anthony Robbins, anyone who taught success.

Then, I was obsessed with leadership, so I read everything I could on leadership and studied all the great leaders – Presidents, Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca, Tom Peters, John Maxwell, Harvey Mackay, Warren Buffett, any of the great leaders and executives.

From there, I was moved to grow my spiritual side. I listened to everything and read everything Deepak Chopra ever published, and studied the likes of Wayne Dyer, and read the Bible from front to back.

In 2019, an article in The Wall Street Journal about the day the dinosaurs died sparked my next obsession and I became enraptured with dinosaurs, learning as much as I could about them, which led me to the cosmos and the universe and how the universe works. This search is how I ultimately came to discover Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author and science communicator, who studied at Harvard, University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University and Princeton University. He eventually became the director of the Hayden Planetarium and oversaw an extensive renovation of the famed NYC landmark. He is a prolific author, penning such bestsellers as “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” and “Letters from an Astrophysicist.”  He also rebooted the TV series “Cosmos,” which was originally hosted by his mentor, famed astronomer, Carl Sagan.

One of my favorite Neil Degrasse Tyson videos is called “What Is the Cosmic Calendar?” where Tyson explains the vastness of time by taking all of time from the birth of the Universe to this very second, compressing it into a single calendar year. On that scale, each month is more than 1 billion years, and each day is about 40 million years. 437.5 years pass by every second. January 1 is the birth of the universe, The Big Bang. January 22, the first galaxies form. March 15, the Milky Way begins to form. The sun, our star, was born on August 31. Jupiter and the other planets, including our own, followed soon after. On September 21, tiny creatures found a way to live in the ocean. Some time on December 26, the first mammals occurred. December 30, non-avian dinosaurs go extinct. (Watch the full video here. But I encourage you to read Tyson’s books and for even more fascinating insights into the Universe.)

A brilliant educator, Neil Degrasse Tyson is a leader who has inspired so many to think above and beyond, breaking limits even the sky cannot contain. Here are three leadership lessons we can learn from Tyson:

Your true impact on the world is not about what people remember you teaching them; it’s about the tools and processes you instill in your team to allow them to think in new ways. Tyson says that he wants his lasting impact on the world to be that people are empowered by his teachings in such a way that they no longer think of him when they think about how he has changed how they process ideas. Instead, they have a whole new basis of understanding how the world works. “I become irrelevant,” Tyson says. Instead of teaching with authority – do this, say that – he wants to teach with foundational values, laying the groundwork for the way his “students” approach the world. “Then they can run off and don’t even look back,” he explains. Because they now have a whole new level of hunger with the tools and methods to feed that hunger, which Tyson, even if they don’t realize it, made available to them. On his tombstone, Tyson wants his epitaph to read: “To be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.” He says he doesn’t need statues or awards; he just wants the world to be a little better off for him having lived in it. This is why Tyson says to give with no expectation, because it is not about the giving, it is about the impact you can make on others through the act of your particular, unique gift.

You have the power to add meaning to your life. Meaning is not found, it is created. Tyson says some people think that the search for meaning in life is about looking under a rock or behind a tree but he says, “You have more power than that. You have the power to create meaning in your life rather than passively look for it.” But what is meaning for Tyson? It is defined by answering the question: Do I know more about the world today than I knew yesterday? He says it’s about using the powers and capabilities available to you to add value to the lives of others, to decrease their suffering and increase their joy.

Small gestures yield big results, and it is your obligation as a leader to fulfill them when you can. As you go through your day, Tyson says to ask yourself if there is a small gesture you can do that will add value to someone’s life. Maybe it takes 10 minutes from your day but if it means bringing happiness, enlightenment, fulfillment, or easing pain in the lives of others, he calls it “irresponsible” not to do that. We describe these as “small wins,” which are exactly what they sound like and are a part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

So, what’s the message? Tyson says almost 80% of what he does as a leader to educate the public is driven by duty, and not ambition. If there’s something he can do better than others that will create positive change in society, as a leader, he has a duty to get that done. And as leaders, so do we.

Thoughts on Leadership: An InvalYOUable Trip to Louisville

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Louisville, Kentucky for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. Each year, our outstanding events team – led by Vice President of Global Conference & Meeting Services Denise Doyle and the team at Corporate Magic, including the incomparable CEO Jim Kirk – selects a theme, and for 2022 the theme was InvalYOUable. Yes, spelled just like that because at the end of the day, the value you bring to your organization, your clients, your colleagues, and the people in your life is highly individualized, a reflection of your unique experiences, skills, talent, determination and ability to inspire others to achieve their goals faster than they would in your absence. In my life plan, under my role, I have the affirmation: I am a highly disciplined focused leader. I understand my income is a measure of the value I bring to the marketplace.

As I sat in General Sessions, attended networking events, and met with attendees, there are three leaders whose InvalYOUable characteristics shined so bright, I just have to highlight them in our blog post today.

Let’s start with Christy Budnick, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. From Christy, we learn the power of optimism. Spend 30 seconds around Christy and you’ll understand how infectious her positivity truly is; she lights up a room and when she delivered her keynote at General Session for the first time this year as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO, her optimism took center stage. Christy is also coachable, she learned from the best: her mother, Linda Sherrer. Linda is founder and chair of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty. She has been an iconic force in real estate for decades and still is today. From Christy, we also learn the importance of being in the trenches, comprehending the complexities of an industry before you lead it to even bigger and better ways of operating. Christy has been there. A seasoned agent, manager, CEO, she gets real estate because she’s one of us. And that’s a trait we can all learn from and admire.

From keynote speaker Jade Simmons, we learn the power of your personal journey to create breakthroughs in your life. Jade began her presentation playing (no slaying) on a grand piano, as only a professional concert pianist (who played renowned halls including those at the White House and U.S. Supreme Court) could. Jade’s original vision was to be a classical pianist, a life of Rachmaninoff, and said it would sound something like this. On cue, her hands flew across the piano keys in perfect rhythm and mesmerizing crescendos, and we were moved not only by her words but also by the messages she conveyed through her music. Jade explained that she finally came to realize life didn’t have to be one thing or the other, all classics, all day. She played another tune that skillfully combined classical with modern, rhythmic beats, and she told us there is great power in embracing the things we cannot change because those are the things that make you, YOU. Jade understood being a Black female made her distinctive in the classical music world. She also understood that her profound love of rhythm was another opportunity for a breakthrough. Somewhere between her classical journey and combining it with rhythmic excellence, Jade found a photo of herself as a little girl, sitting in diapers playing the African bongos. It was this nostalgic visual that reminded her why she kept coming back to drum lines and beats; rhythm had been a part of her all along. Instead of trying to go the purely classical route, she instead embraced this unique facet of her passions and expanded the once-tight vision she had of how she must succeed. Immediately, everything changed. She did not, as she says, compartmentalize her brilliance, she instead took every extraordinary part of her and used that to find her next breakthrough.

Finally, last but certainly not least, from keynote speaker Magie Cook we learn about perseverance, forgiveness, and mindful success, and even learned the day she delivered her keynote was also her birthday. (The crowd of course sang to her.) It’s funny when I first read the description of Magie Cook before I had the opportunity to hear her speak, I imagined she might be very tall. In high school, Magie had an opportunity to play basketball for the Mexican National Team, until a broken collarbone left her sidelined. Next, she got a scholarship to play for the University of Charleston. So, was Magie a towering 6’3”? Nope. When I saw her in person, she was actually 5’2”, and once you hear her speak, it all makes sense. Magie is fierce. She’s got incredible grit. She grew up one of 68 children in a Mexican orphanage, doing construction work, gathering soil and hunting for her own food at a very early age. She practiced basketball with another orphan (found in a dumpster as a baby). She ran drills blindfolded and was so good her orphan brother thought she could surely see where she was going. Not even something fundamental like height could stop Magie from basketball greatness. She was unstoppable because she had the mindset of a champion. Either life controls you, or you take control of your life, she says. Even when she was homeless after college, living in the streets and in the woods, it didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams. (She says she didn’t even notice she was homeless because she had grown up much the same way.) As a gift, some friends gave her $800 and she entered a salsa competition, unanimously winning. That one win would turn into an idea for a salsa business that would eventually see her product available in 38 states, major supermarkets and sold to Campbell’s in a multi-million-dollar deal. When she came out to her father, he told her she’d never amount to anything. That she’d wind up in jail with AIDS. She took his cruel words and used them as fuel. (As she says, “If anything can stop you, nothing can stop you.”) She wanted to show her father she would make it, she would succeed and even read a letter her father wrote her years after those terrible words were spoken, where he expressed how proud he was of her. When she read the letter, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Sales Convention house. We were moved by the acceptance in his words, and by the fact that we all know the ending to her story – she did it, she found success despite everything and in her determination to succeed against prejudice, bias, homelessness, poverty and insurmountable odds, we realized that we can do it, too.

So, what’s the message? Christy, Jade and Magie all share one thing in common: their success is the result of their unique attributes, those special traits that make them the incredible leaders they are today. They know their value with absolute conviction and use it to show others just how InvalYOUable they can be.

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