Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating Independence Day

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then hopped on a flight to New Jersey to attend a company event for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties. On Wednesday, I was in New Jersey meeting with the team – thank you to New Jersey Properties Chairman and CEO Bill Keheler, President Chris Brown and Chief Operating Officer Steve Jannett for your amazing hospitality. The event was electric!

And speaking of sparks, this weekend marks the start of July Fourth celebrations and it’s a time of the year that makes me feel like a kid again.

As a way to get to know team members, I have a series of 18 questions that I ask team members and in turn, they ask me. One of those questions is: “What’s a memory from childhood that stands out?”

My answer is always the same: July Fourth.

Growing up, I lived on a cul-de-sac and during July Fourth, the entire cul-de-sac (about 10 neighborhood families) would gather. They’d all chip in to buy fireworks and we’d have a big potluck BBQ in the middle of the street. Each family brought their own meat to BBQ and potluck dishes – baked beans, a salad, desert – for everyone to enjoy. After we devoured a delectable summer meal, we’d set off the fireworks and celebrate the Fourth of July.

Even just writing about those childhood BBQs right now makes me smile.

But I don’t just love July Fourth for its youthful nostalgia. I also love it because it’s a celebration of teamwork coming together for the greater good.

Imagine we’re not in 2022 but in 1776. Most of the 13 colonies have been in existence for more than 150 years. There’s a strong middle-class economy in development made up of farmers, artisans, lawyers and tradespeople. Everyone travels by horse-drawn carriages. Food is prepared by the heat of a wood-burning fire. The American Revolution, which had begun in April 1775 was still raging and colonists were deeply passionate about winning their independence.

In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson sat down to pen the Declaration of Independence, and on July 2, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Great Britain. And on August 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed.

So, if the document was written in June, declared July 2nd (not 4th) and signed in August, what are we celebrating on July 4?

This.

After independence was declared, the Continental Congress needed a document to explain to the public what had happened. A smaller committee proposed the draft on July 2, and it took two days for the wording of the Declaration of Independence to be approved. With that consent, the completed document was sent to a printer named John Dunlap, who printed 200 copies of the document. When the printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed, the date on the document said July 4, 1776.

So, what’s the message? July 4th is of course a celebration of America’s independence but on another level, it’s a time to look back on what teamwork can achieve. Had the Continental Congress not been able to come to an agreement that the document was complete, had there been less synergy, less positive culture and less collaboration between them, the date of our independence might have been different – if it even happened at all. This weekend, although I’m not back on my old cul-de-sac enjoying the deliciously smoky taste of just-barbecued steaks, I will be with my family and friends, thinking about our country and the team that instilled the ideal of a nation where freedom should always ring.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thoughts on Leadership: Beyond the Good or Great

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home. 

Last week, we talked about ideas for leading through shifts in the marketplace (read the post here) and this week, let’s talk about the mindset you need to not just survive but also thrive in a market and economic environment that’s more challenging than it was a few months ago.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Ideas for Coping with a Downward-moving Market

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls then attending the NBA Finals’ Golden State Warriors game in the evening. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and had a 2023 plan working session with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, followed by the monthly CEO virtual leadership meeting. Yesterday, I had an acquisition dinner meeting; and today, I am in team meetings and sitting down to write this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leading like Duke

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Maui, spending time with my family to recharge for the busy weeks ahead. Remember, balance in your schedule is so important. I schedule myself a year out. The first things to schedule are the most critical business meetings you know you can’t miss. The next thing before you schedule anything else is to include whatever gives you balance like your vacations and days off. So, I’ve known for some time about this Maui trip and have had ample opportunity to plan for it in my schedule.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating an AREAA President

By: Gino Bleafri

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, where I conducted back-to-back WIG calls then hopped on a flight to Orange County, California. On Tuesday, I had the weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by the Gala Installation of the incoming 2022 Ventura County Chapter President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), Theresa Nguyen, in Camarilla, California. I was honored to introduce Theresa at the event, but more about that soon. On Wednesday I presented my life plan to four offices of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties and caught a few hours of Tom Ferry’s amazing Blueprint event. Nobody does it better than Tom! And today, I attended and participated in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties Leadership Meeting in Irvine, California.

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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: 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: 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.

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