Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Hawaii

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Wailea, Maui, recharging with my family – that is, until I wasn’t.

“Let me know how I can help. Ginger chews? Gatorade? I have some ginger chews already and will send ginger ale. Our Chef is also putting together some assorted teas. Wishing you all the best and let me know how I can assist in any way.”

It was a text from an unlikely source, though not as unlikely as you’d imagine.

Well, I’ll back up a bit and tell the full story.

On Tuesday, I was walking around the beautiful grounds of the Wailea Beach Resort. If you’re ever in Maui, it’s the place to be, with 22 meticulously landscaped acres. (The former golf course superintendent in me appreciates the care taken to preserve the property.) It’s located on a perfect stretch of beach in Wailea and the staff provides impeccable service.

I also had the opportunity this week to meet Samuel Spurrier, director of group sales at the resort, who ate breakfast with my wife and I, and gave us a tour … but more about breakfast later.

Anyway, I’m strolling through the resort when I started having excruciating pain on my left side. Who do I call? Samuel. I asked him where the urgent care and hospital were located and he immediately provided me with the information.

At the hospital, nurses drew blood, doctors conducted tests and it turns out the best of the worst possible scenario had happened: I passed a kidney stone. As I write this post, I feel completely fine.

Anyway, the text above was from Samuel, who had ginger chews for nausea and tea waiting in my room. He also checked up on me during the day – if that’s not convenience, service and value, I’m not sure what is.

During that earlier breakfast with Samuel. Angela Vento, general manager at the resort, stopped in and had a cup of coffee with us. After she left, I told Samuel how impressed I was with her, and he proceeded to share her story with me.

Angela is one of the few female GMs at a major resort in Maui. As a female GM, she was deeply influenced by Queen Kapi’olani, who was one of Hawaii’s last reigning and beloved queens, known for her deep commitment to philanthropy, health and education for the Hawaiian people. In 1890, Queen Kapi’olani founded the Kapi’olani Maternity Home.

Queen Kapi’olani lived by the Hawaiian proverb, Kulia I Ka Nu’u, which was defined in a book Angela read called “Managing with Aloha” by Rosa Say:

Kūlia i ka nu‘u is the value of accomplishment and achievement. The literal translation for Kūlia i ka nu‘u is “strive to reach the summit.” Those who have this value continually pursue improvement and personal excellence. For them, the most satisfying competition is with their previous selves: They consider their life and everything within it to be a work in progress, and they enjoy the effort. ‘Hard work’ is good work when it employs the energies of striving and reaching higher.

This motto and the idea of being a constant work in progress guides Angela’s leadership style and motivates her to seek excellence in all that she does. It is also the foundation of the resort culture, which is about upholding superior service to associates and guests.

As service-oriented leaders, Angela and Samuel live and demonstrate this most important leadership value in every aspect of their roles. I witnessed first-hand the extraordinary service provided by the Wailea Beach Resort team, and it left a lasting impression on my time spent in Maui.

Sometimes, the leadership lessons for these blog posts are found in books, articles or podcasts. Sometimes, the lessons find me. This was one of those times.

So, what’s the message? Leadership lessons can come from anywhere, even a beach resort in Maui where a brief stint in the hospital is followed by the best hospitality you’ve ever seen. Leadership is about service, perpetual improvement and being open to new ideas, and when one arrives for coffee, listening to exactly what she has to say.

Thoughts on Leadership: Habits for Happiness

By: Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting with my typical Monday WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Team Meeting and on Wednesday, I joined the monthly HomeServices of America Corporate Virtual Team Gathering. Today, I presented Time Management to the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, followed by a Mindset & Leadership presentation for the team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leading through Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls, though Monday wasn’t typical at all. (More on that soon.) On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Team Meeting and on Wednesday, I presented time management to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty followed by a HomeServices of America-hosted commercial real estate market update with National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. I finished the day with a global/domestic alignment session and today, I’m writing this post for all of you.

Let’s travel back in time to Monday, which I mentioned was far from usual. In the morning, we announced that Christy Budnick, former CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty, was promoted to CEO of HSF Affiliates and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. I’ve worked with Christy over the years and have seen her lead with confidence, compassion and care. She brings experience and charisma to this role, and I look forward to supporting her growth.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Learning from the Best

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting the week with my typical Monday WIG calls with our CEOs. Next, I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Weekly Team Meeting and participated in a virtual webinar, “Lessons in Leadership” with my good friend Dermot Buffini, CEO of Buffini & Company. The session was moderated by RISMedia’s founder, president and CEO John Featherston. Finally, I finished the week with nine Q1 reviews with our CEOs, which I will continue through Friday.

Let’s jump back to the RISMedia webinar because it was a virtual chance to brainstorm and collaborate with two fantastic industry leaders. In case you missed the session, here are a few takeaways we discussed: 

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Thoughts on Leadership: The Value of Meeting

By Gino Blefari

This week, for the first time in more than a year, my travels find me in Austin, Texas, kicking off Monday as a presenter for The Realty Alliance General Membership Meeting at the JW Marriott Hotel. I spoke on three specific aspects of the West Coast offense for running a real estate company: philosophy, accountability partners and the importance of having a system. On Tuesday, I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Weekly Executive Team Meeting and today, I participated (virtually) in the exciting launch of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Atlantic Portugal, a fantastic brokerage that will help expand Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ ever-expanding footprint throughout Portugal.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Setbacks and Success

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting off Monday with a Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting then my typical Monday WIG calls. On Tuesday, I attended the HomeServices of America monthly CEO leadership meeting and on Wednesday through tomorrow, I hosted (and will continue to host) nine Q1 company reviews with CEOs and CFOs.

Speaking with companies about their progress made me think about success and setbacks, and whether the two are really all that different. In theory, success is what we’re striving for but the relationship between success and a setback is not dichotomous; setbacks are just opportunities to refocus our efforts on our way to success.

Let’s examine famous examples from history. In every one of the below true tales, leaders experienced a major setback that eventually led to a major breakthrough and ultimately, extraordinary success.

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By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical Monday WIG calls. On Wednesday and Thursday, I participated in the HomeServices of America Belonging Summit, led by Teresa Palacios Smith, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, HomeServices of America.

To recharge after a busy but fulfilling week, I plan this weekend to watch the last two rounds of the Masters, which takes place at Augusta National Golf Course.

I’ve written before about the Masters, and if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll know I often draw references between sports and leadership. Golf, to me, is so much like leadership because for the most part, it’s a solitary sport – the work you put in shows in your results, just like it does when you lead a team. Here are a few more lessons we can learn from the Masters:

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Thoughts on Leadership: More on What Mentally Strong Leaders DON’T Do

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, kicking off the week with my typical Monday WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy weekly executive team meeting and HomeServices of America monthly team gathering. And today, while in Microsoft Teams meetings and taking calls, I thought about our post from last week, and the feedback it received.

As it turns out, while providing insights into what to do as leaders is helpful, it’s just as effective to discuss what not to do. In the spirit of continuing this productive conversation, here are a few more things mentally strong leaders don’t do:

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Thoughts on Leadership: This Is What People with a Strong Mindset DON’T Do

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, attending the virtual Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. It was an incredible conference, filled with interactive virtual experiences, General Sessions, Sunshine Kids fundraising and awards celebrations, where we commemorated the efforts of the top-producing brokerages, offices, teams and agents in our network. Kudos to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO Chris Stuart for putting on an amazing show and delivering an information-packed keynote speech. (If you haven’t picked up a copy of Chris’s new book, Real Estate Influence, written in collaboration with HSF Affiliates SVP of Research & Development Allan Dalton, click here to order.)

To be on top requires not only the hard, physical grind of doing the work but also the mental fortitude to withstand any challenge that comes your way. Every award winner we honored during Sales Convention embodies this mindset—it’s why we themed the event UNSTOPPABLE—and uses their mental strength to achieve every one of their Wildly Important Goals.

It’s interesting to think about mental strength because the topic was front and center for me today. I encountered a problem that I allowed to annoy me and as I left my house to go visit my friend Jeff Sposito, I was still vexed by the situation. But then I thought about it; Jeff is battling cancer and I was going to visit him for his birthday. What would Jeff think if the problem I had was the only problem in his life right now? He’d laugh it off, most likely. In the context of everything he’s going through, it wouldn’t even be a problem at all.   

Mindset is everything. Zig Ziglar once said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” And while we talk a lot about all those things you should do to maintain a positive mindset, let’s run through a list of five things you shouldn’t do if you want to stay mentally fit and strong:

  1. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Everyone has a bad moment. Everyone has a time in their life where they take a proverbial fall and aren’t sure how to get back up. But if you pity yourself and mire in your own obstacles, you’ll get no closer to overcoming them. Instead, choose gratitude. Be grateful for the weaker times because those are the ones that will strengthen your mindset and resolve. When you practice gratitude your entire demeanor changes. You start to see the bright in dark situations. You are motivated to move—both in mind and body. You get your tasks done faster; you emphasize the good. Dwelling on negativity or setbacks will only hold you back. It’s not a characteristic of what mentally strong people do.
  2. Don’t let someone else control your personal power. Your thoughts become your actions, so monitor what you’re thinking and how you frame your ideas. If you tell yourself, for instance, “this person is causing me to feel angry,” you’re framing the situation in a way that takes power away from you and gives it to someone else. Nobody can affect your feelings. You are in complete control of how you react to a situation. You are in charge of how you feel about the circumstances unfolding all around you. How can someone upset you if you don’t feel upset? If you do feel upset, you’ve let that person have all the power. They’re now in control of your mind. Outside of a few sci-fi novels, mind control isn’t something we focus on in everyday life. We control our minds. Our mindset is ours entirely. So, if you can choose your mindset, choose positivity. Think about all the stories of successful leaders who took bad situations and turned them around, never allowing anyone else to take control of the power in their lives. When Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, Apple, he went on to launch Pixar Animation Studios and finally, returned to Apple and introduced the world to the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. In 1919, Walt Disney was fired from his job at the Kansas City Star when his editor allegedly told him his creations “lacked imagination” and that Disney “had no good ideas.” Oprah Winfrey was let go from her job as a news reporter at WJZ-TV, a Baltimore-area station when a producer purportedly told her she was “unfit for television news.” All these leaders were seemingly robbed of their power and each time used it as an opportunity to show the world just how powerful they could be.
  3. Don’t reject something just because it represents change. As I’ve often said, smugness comes before arrogance and arrogance is the precursor to disaster. Once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun. There’s a certain pitfall of a mentally weak leader and it’s that they are change-averse. When a new process or system comes into their organization, they shun it simply because it’s not how things are done. But doing things the way they’ve always done doesn’t allow for growth, and a mentally strong leader sees change, prepares for change, embraces change and moves forward toward increased progress.
  4. Don’t focus on things beyond your control. You can’t control the rain; you can simply buy an umbrella and avoid the puddles. If you spend time worrying about what is beyond your control, you’ll leave no room in your day for transforming what you can control. Part of focusing on what you can control also means putting things into perspective. Yes, problems arise and when they do, they’ll sometimes seem monumental, changing your mood and causing you to think negatively. But just like my friend who is battling cancer, problems that seem big to you when put in perspective, are probably very small. (Thank you, Jeff, for the paradigm shift you’ve given me today.)
  5. Don’t do everything yourself. There’s an old saying that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, but mentally strong people understand that they simply can’t do it all. Delegation and accountability have to come into play to create mentally sound systems that build positivity and support for all.

So, what’s the message? The more you can push past failures, the more mentally resilient you will become. The more setbacks you encounter, the more you’ll cherish your successes. The more you can identify the things you shouldn’t do, the more will focus on what you should do, which will help you build the strongest possible mindset to lead your team with commitment, courage and conviction—just like the award winners we recognized during the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention this week.

Thoughts on Leadership: Acknowledge Your Team

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting my week with my typical Monday W.I.G. calls. On Tuesday, I attended the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Team Meeting and filmed in our Los Altos, California studio for various company awards events and for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. On Thursday, I attended the launch event (via Zoom) for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox Cities Realty and I was thrilled to help welcome them to the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network.

All in all, it was a week of celebration and acknowledgement, and it’s the latter topic I want to talk about for our blog post this week. (And yes, our blog post. Thoughts on Leadership is as much yours as it is mine.)

For leaders, it’s important to acknowledge team accomplishments. Proper acknowledgement is the method of support that will show your team members their work is seen and heard as a significant contribution toward the achievement of collective company goals. Gallup polls show employee recognition is the key factor influencing not only employee engagement but also overall organizational performance.

Translation: To create—and retain—extraordinary performers, you have to acknowledge just how extraordinary they are!

Consider Zappos, for example, which was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for a deal worth about $1.2 billion. Zappos has a peer-to-peer acknowledgement program where employees earn rewards via recommendations from other members of the team. The rewards differ by location because each office has its own unique perks. At the Las Vegas office, covered parking is an issue, and an employee can nominate a colleague for a special, covered parking spot as a “reward.” The takeaway? Acknowledgement comes in all forms, but it shouldn’t just be a plaque or a ribbon. Think about ways you can acknowledge employees that will be meaningful to them.

GE, famously once run by one of my favorite business mentors, Jack Welch, is also well-known for an amazing recognition program. (Side note: Welch joined GE in 1960 where he actually worked as a junior chemical engineer at my place of birth, Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the heart of the Berkshires, so I feel a particular kinship to him and his leadership philosophies.) When the company restructured between 2010 and 2014, employee acknowledgement took center stage as a way to bridge the gap between organizational change and sustainable growth. During weekly meetings between employees and managers, a wall-mounted dashboard displayed an employee’s performance and achievements. As I like to say, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” The takeaway? A simple, visual, personal example of success and approval can go a long way. Like the videos I filmed for award presentations, I make it a point to speak each of the award winners’ names and discuss directly what they did to achieve an award.

In 2020 at Apple, CEO Tim Cook gave every employee the entire week of Thanksgiving off. (The memo also instructed managers in other countries to find an appropriate holiday and give employees a week off then.) In addition, he added three paid vacation days to every employee’s calendar and told retail teams that had to work over Thanksgiving—one of the busiest shopping times of the year—they’d get a week off at an alternate date. The takeaway? Acknowledgment should surprise and delight all team members in some way. Every member of your team should feel proud, honored and above all, recognized. Because if they’re on your team, it means they’re dedicated to personal and professional growth, continual learning, focus, commitment, dedication and all the important facets you’ve instilled in them as any great leader should.

So, what’s the message? In real estate, late winter and early spring tends to be “awards season.” And this awards season, make your recognition personal. Make it visible. Make it universal. Make it creative and make sure it motivates your employees to keep doing what they’re doing, so they feel supported to achieve even more.

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