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, andseeing 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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Thoughts on Leadership: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home, completing my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I had the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by a day of meetings. My Wildly Important Goal (WIG) this week was to spend 14+ hours on legal matters, so I completed that WIG and today, I’m writing this post to you now.

February is Black History Month and last week, we celebrated the leadership thoughts of Russell Wilson. This week, I’d like to highlight my good friend and former All-Pro defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams who is today president and CEO of World Class Coaches Johnnie Johnson. This spotlight is especially pertinent because Johnnie’s Rams are facing the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl this Sunday. For many years, Johnnie and I do a standing Saturday morning breakfast, where we catch up on life, family, business, books and whatever else happens in between. Currently, we are reviewing Johnnie’s new book, “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” and I’d like to share those 8 ways with you now:

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Thoughts on Leadership: What It Takes to Win

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the regular Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then traveled to Nashville. Yesterday, I had coffee with Greg Taylor, author of “Find Your Winning Edge: Lessons and Stories about How to Find Your Winning Edge in Life and Business.” Next, I virtually attended the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kee Realty Welcome Event then filmed several videos for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. Today, I traveled to Panama City, Florida and spent time with the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Beach Properties of Florida. I met with staff and agents during the orientation and gave a presentation on a system of execution and life planning.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Super Wildcard Weekend and a Tribute to Dwight Clark

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Tuesday at home with the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls (one day later due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday) and our monthly CEO meeting. There were 11 calls in total that day and I thoroughly enjoyed them all – when you love what you do and who you do it with, it never feels like work! On Wednesday, I traveled to Nevada to meet with Mark Stark, Troy Reierson and several of our HomeServices of America leaders, including HomeServices of America Chief Administrative Officer Dana Strandmo, Chief Financial Officer Alex Seavall and Chief of Staff Deitra Catalano.

Being an NFL fan, this past weekend was my favorite weekend of them all. Why? It was Super Wildcard Weekend, which meant two Wild Card games on Saturday, three games on Sunday and one game on Monday night. And they’re all games that you win, or you go home.

On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys played my San Francisco 49ers, and it marked the eighth time these two franchises have met in the postseason. That is a tie for the second-most common matchup in the Super Bowl era of the NFL. The 49ers won the game 23-17 with strong defense, rushing attacks and the ability to capitalize on the Cowboys’ mistakes.

As I watched this historic matchup, there was so much nostalgia. It made me think back to my dear friend, Dwight Clark. January 10, 2022, was actually the 40th anniversary of “The Catch,” when “Too Tall” Jones and what seemed like the entire Dallas Cowboys defense was chasing quarterback Joe Montana and Dwight was trying to lose Cowboys’ defensive back Everson Walls running across the back of Candlestick Park’s end zone. What happened next has been memorialized in sports history books forevermore: Dwight caught the winning touchdown pass thrown by Montana and the 49ers won the NFC Championship Game that year. Today, “The Catch” is known as the #1 play for the 49ers.

In analyzing the top 10 moments in the epic 49ers-Cowboys rivalry, Sports Illustrated recently named “The Catch” as No. 1. Other ranked moments included: “Roger Staubach’s rally; T.O. standing on the star in Texas Stadium; Deion Sanders and Charles Haley, swapping sides; John Madden and Pat Summerall; The Guarantee, in three-inch headlines; Brass vs. papier-mache; Tony Romo’s punctured lung; Troy Aikman’s concussion; Jimmy Johnson’s “How ‘Bout Them Cowboys?!”; Bill Walsh; Tom Landry; Joe Montana; Steve Young; Emmitt Smith; San Francisco’s Team of the 1980s; Dallas’ dynasty of the 1990s; Six NFC Championship Games, leading to five Super Bowl champions …”

… but “The Catch” remains No. 1.

This time is also especially profound because January 8 was Dwight’s birthday. (He turned 25 just two days before “The Catch.”) Dwight’s career with the NFL began in 1979; the NFL draft took place, and he went in the 10th round to Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers.  (You can read the story in Dwight’s own words here.) As my dear friend once described the experience: “[It was] the ultimate meeting between opportunity and preparation [that] resulted in the start of my pro football career. Yet, I know this tale could’ve had a very different ending if I hadn’t spent years running drills, if I hadn’t practiced all those long hours, if I hadn’t worked my hardest on the field each and every day.”

So, what’s the message? Dwight continues to inspire me and all those who knew him. We look up to the legacy he left behind as an extraordinary football player, leader and friend. Abraham Lincoln once said no man stands as tall as when he bends down to help a child in need. And for me, when I think of my friend, Dwight Clark, I don’t think of “The Catch” and how high he had to jump, I think of the many times I watched him bend down and help a child in need.

Thoughts on Leadership: Winning the New Year

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting in the morning then filmed videos for multiple HomeServices of America acquisitions we’ll be announcing very soon. Today, I spent the morning at the virtual Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Leadership Conference, themed “Building for the Future.”

It’s noteworthy that this is the very first Thoughts on Leadership post of the new year. Ah, the new year, a time for resolutions to make … or break.

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THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN MADDEN

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me in Hawaii for my Annual Dad’s & Daughters Family Holiday Vacation. It’s been a fun week but a sad one too as I learned on Tuesday about the passing of NFL legendary Hall of Fame coach John Earl Madden, who died at the age of 85. For more than three decades, his iconic presence brought brilliant color to football commentary which ESPN called “one of the most influential TV analysts of all time.”

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Thoughts on Leadership: Happy Holidays

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I had three succession calls and on Wednesday I had meetings and spent time writing this for you.

Of course, this week we celebrate the holidays and for some, that means spending time with friends and family. Each year around this time, I think about St. Nick, and what a wonderful leader he is and always will be. Wondering about the reasons why? Let’s list a few:

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Thoughts on Leadership: Dedicated to AAPI and AREAA Leaders Worldwide

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels started on Sunday when I flew to Orange County. On Monday I completed my WIG calls and attended the HSF Affiliates holiday party followed by a holiday dinner with business associates. On Tuesday, I joined the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call in the early morning followed by four succession calls. In the evening, I was honored to be at the 2022 Installation Gala for the Orange County chapter of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA). Julie Tran, friend, and REALTOR® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, was commemorated as the outgoing chapter president and helped install the 2022 president, Peter Au, also of California Properties. Today, I am writing this post between a virtual presentation at the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty Statewide Managers Meeting and various conference calls.

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