Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons for Today

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with a Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I traveled to Dallas to attend and participate in Tom Ferry’s Success Summit and today, I attended the Dallas Business Journal Women in Business 2022 Awards honoring Allie Beth Allman.

It was a week of meeting and learning – my favorite thing to do. As the saying goes, once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun.

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Thoughts on Leadership: The Story of Sylvester Stallone

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel for Stronger Together, the first annual HomeServices of America top performer event. Onstage at Stronger Together, I talked about an interesting tale, which I’d like to share with all of you now.

Have you ever seen the Rocky movies? Rocky is one of the highest-grossing media franchises in the world and has inspired countless people to (cue “Eye of the Tiger”) work hard to achieve their dreams. The story is so great but there’s actually an even better story and that’s the story of Sylvester Stallone.

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Like Robert “Rocky” Balboa, Stallone knows a lot about setbacks and comebacks, and it all started at birth. There were serious complications and at the last minute, the doctor had to use forceps to save his life. Stallone was brought into this world head first, and the nerves on the left side of his face died. 

Not only did he have a tough birth, but he also had a tough childhood. His parents divorced at a young age, and he was in six foster homes and went to 11 schools. (He was also kicked out of a number of them.)

At age 15, he moved into his mother’s apartment in Philadelphia but he always felt like something was missing. He believed his destiny was to become an actor, so after attending high school in Philadelphia and studying drama at the University of Miami, Stallone moved back to New York and later to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams.

Stallone passionately auditioned, hopping from one casting call to the next, but each time the casting director would tell him the same thing: Look at your face. No, we don’t have a part for you.

They didn’t like the way he spoke. They didn’t like the way he looked. He kept striking out and took on odd jobs just to support him and his wife. A few years later, he and his wife divorced.

So now here he is, a failed would-be actor, alone and depressed. For a while, he started believing what people were saying about him. They were telling him to stay down, and he bought into every word. Then someone said to Stallone: You seem to communicate stories well. Maybe you shouldn’t be an actor. Maybe you should be a writer.

Following the advice, he put his acting dreams on hold and wrote the script for a movie called “Paradise Alley.” He sold that script for $100. It was the first money he’d really ever made in his entertainment career. Years later, he made the movie.

The next part of the story is so unbelievable, I had to do some research to validate every detail and separate the urban legend from fact. Here’s what happened next: After that initial movie, Stallone was still poor and down on himself. He was so desperate and defeated he took his only companion left in his life – his dog – and went and sold his dog for $50 just so he could eat. (True story, not a Hollywood myth.)

Two nights later, he was meeting his friend at a sports bar and the TV in the corner was showing a fight. This was before Pay-Per-View when you could actually see fights. The inspiration for Rocky was a real-life fight between the world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and a little-known club fighter named Chuck Wepner. In March 1975, Wepner went 15 rounds against Ali in a title bout in Cleveland.

Ali didn’t take the fight seriously. He came out and in the first round Wepner knocked him down, just like in Rocky. Ali gets up and punishes the guy. Round after round he is battered, bloodied, bruised and yet, he keeps on coming and coming and Stallone is watching and becomes fired up at this display of such intense courage.

He was so inspired by that fight, he wrote the script for Rocky in just three and a half days.

When he’s done, Stallone takes the screenplay to the same people he’d sold the $100 “Paradise Alley” script to, and they loved it. Just one month after he sold his dog for $50, Stallone is offered $150,000 for Rocky. (Today that’s the equivalent of about $760,000.)

But the story doesn’t end with this offer. There’s a problem. Stallone tells the studio he’s going to be the main character. They say: Not a chance. You talk funny. You have a strange mouth. You’re a good writer, be a writer.

He tells them no; I’m an actor and I want to act. They go back and forth for a while and Stallone eventually turns them down for their offer. They return to Stallone three weeks later and offer him $250,000 for the script. (That’s the equivalent of $1.3 million today for the guy who was just forced to sell his dog).

Stallone again refuses, holding firm that if he’s not in the movie as Rocky, there is no movie. He told them he is the character and lived the life that Rocky lived. He knew he was this character and if he doesn’t act in the movie, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

He believed it was his calling to be an actor and if he couldn’t pursue his calling, it simply wasn’t worth it for any amount of money.

Finally, they caved and said they’d give Stallone $35,000 for the script and $23,000 for acting in it.

Stallone said OK if he could have 10% of the box office gross.

The studio spent $985,000 to make the movie. To put that number in perspective, it cost $15 million to make a James Bond movie that same year.

Anyway, you know what happened next. Rocky grossed $200 million. It went on to become a billion-dollar franchise. There were six Rocky movies made.

At the 1977 Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated for no fewer than 10 categories. And the $20 million Stallone made is the equivalent of $100 million today.

So, what’s the message? If you’re following your calling and stick to your dreams, the money will always come.

P.S. As soon as he got the money for the script, Stallone was able to buy his dog back for $3,000 and a part in the Rocky movie.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Bud Winter

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. Next, I traveled to Orange County to provide a “State of the Market” during the Asian Real Estate Association of America O.C. Chapter Luxury Redefined event, where I had the chance to share the stage with Sharon Tay of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. (Read more about that here.) On Wednesday, I worked from the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HQ office in Irvine and attended the virtual leadership meeting at California Properties led by President Martha Mosier where I provided the team with an economic update on the market.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from ‘Ted Lasso’

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls and the Berkshire Hathaway Energy morning call. On Tuesday, I had a one-day turnaround business trip. On Wednesday, I traveled to Tampa, Florida to attend the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) National Convention and earlier today, I delivered a keynote speech to the attendees. NAREB is doing important work to urge Black Americans not to defer their dream of homeownership and I was grateful to lend my voice to this profound – and ongoing – mission.

As many of you know, I love to listen to books but sometimes while resting and recharging, I tune into movies or TV shows that provide inspiration in unconventional ways. One of those shows is “Ted Lasso,” about an American football coach who finds himself coaching a British soccer team, even though he knows next to nothing about the sport. As we watch Ted deal with the challenges of coaching, we realize this show is basically a master class in leadership. Here are just a few lessons from Ted Lasso:

  • Relationships are in the details.
  • Make it a point to know the names and birthdays of every member on your team.
  • Create a cadence of accountability. (Ted does this with daily “biscuits with the boss” morning check-ins.)
  • Don’t harp on the losses; use the progress of the people around you as a benchmark for success in what Ted calls “the infinite game.”
  • Live like a goldfish. They have a 10-second memory; if you mess up, learn from it then quickly move on.
  • Know that tackling a challenge is just like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable when you’re doing something difficult, you are probably doing it wrong.
  • Leaders empower leaders, just like Ted does with often-overlooked “kit man” Nate Shelley who eventually becomes a member of the coaching team.
  • Treat everyone with kindness. (Nate was not treated well by anyone before Ted’s arrival.)
  • Optimism over everything.
  • You must always believe in yourself.
  • Even when the odds are stacked against you, find positivity in the situation and keep moving forward.

So, what’s the message? Leadership can – and should – be fun. There’s humor to be found in any situation. There’s positivity to be found in even the most negative of circumstances. There are insights to be gleaned from every member of your team, and there are advantages to gain from truly getting to know who you work with and showing them, like Ted does, just how much you care.

P.S. If you watch this show and there’s anything you’ve learned from Ted Lasso that I’ve left out, please let me know!

Thoughts on Leadership: Leading through Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical Monday morning WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then traveled to Virginia. On Wednesday, I spent the day with the team at Long & Foster, including filming “The CEO Is In The House” with Long & Foster President and CEO Jeff Detwiler and Johnnie Johnson, former All-Pro defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams, president/CEO of World Class Coaches and author of “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for All.” Now I’m traveling home, writing this post to you.

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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: 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: 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: 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: A Tribute to Willie Mays

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I traveled to Dallas and had dinner with the Prosperity Home Mortgage team. (Yes, it is record cold here). On Wednesday, I attended the Prosperity Home Mortgage National Sales Summit and had lunch with Allie Beth Allman at the Dallas Country Club. I then returned for an evening of events with the Prosperity Home Mortgage team. Today, I attended the Ebby Halliday Companies leadership meeting and the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention virtual creative review. This afternoon, I’m up in my hotel room (still shivering) writing this very enjoyable piece on my hero, Willie Mays. 

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