Over 20 senior-level executives in the home building and real-estate development industries answer the question: What does leadership look like and how do you recognize it in people?
This article was updated on Aug. 21, 2020
There's no shortage of books and articles on leadership. The field is populated with a range of recognizable names, from Ken Blanchard, Jim Collins, Stephen Covey, Peter Drucker, Simon Sinek, Jack Welch, and John Wooden to Rudy Guiliani, Colin Powell, and Bill Walsh, to name a few. And, like a Baskin Robbins ice cream, you can order a subject in a variety of flavors:
- Heroic Leadership: Best Practices From a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World, by Chris Lowney. (Gee, didn't know they had best practices back then.)
- Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach, by Dandridge M. Malone. (Might come in handy following downsizing.)
- The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching Adapted for A New Age, by John Heider. (For the Zen Master in us all. Green tea not included.)
Leadership in Home Building
With so many choices, one would think that by now someone in our industry would have penned something on building-industry leadership. If something's out there, it isn't easy to find. A search on Amazon's website produces almost zilch, as does the NAHB website. What to do?
We decided to go to the source: more than 20 senior level executives in the home building and real-estate development industries. From owners of single-market building companies to executives with the national players in the $4 billion-plus a year category, we posed the following question: What does leadership look like and how do you recognize it in people? Granted, our informal email survey was more grass roots than Gallup, but you get the idea.
- What Is the Role of the Leader?
- Lennon, Lincoln, and Leadership
- Leadership and Management—Not One and the Same
- A First Job's Leadership Lessons With Real Staying Power
As you might guess, responses fell across the board. No two were alike. However, some common threads began to stand out, along with a few surprises. We were certain "vision" would be one the top two attributes. Wrong. Turns out the ability to inspire/influence was the top-ranked attribute by almost 3 to 1 over the ability to communicate/direct, which came in a distant second. That was followed by vision, strategic planning/analysis, and teaching/mentoring.
Another thing we noticed was how often "inspire" and "communicate" were joined at the hip in many answers and surfaced as the top two attributes. And what about vision? It makes sense that without the ability to communicate and inspire, even the best vision will die on the vine. Here's what some of you told us.
What Is Leadership?
- "Leadership at its core consists of two interdependent components: listening and learning from those being led, while simultaneously teaching and guiding. It bears the distinct mark of confident curiosity. To the observer, leadership appears effortless and feels inspiring. Leadership that must be overtly stated is not authentic."
- "Leadership is a relationship between someone who says 'follow me' and someone else who says 'I will.' It looks like people following. If there is no following, no one is leading."
- "Leadership is establishing a direction, aligning people and keeping them motivated. It is influencing people to make productive choices of their own free will. ... Leaders inspire people to do more than they thought possible. When I look for the leader in a group, I look for the person who is teaching others, encouraging others, helping each group member to get to the next level. I look for the person who is appealing to the heart, who is arousing passion and emotion in others. I look for the person who is focused not only on winning, but who is trying to get the whole team across the finish line."
- "Effective leadership is the catalyst for achieving results. It's not only doing the right things, it's doing them well—consistently executing a plan over time."
- "Leadership is piecing together a complete car in the middle of a salvage yard."
- "Leadership is always value-driven. It is about gaining commitment from others who buy into the values and goals and want to support the leadership. Just as important and often missed is the leader's role in empowering and trusting those around him/her. Most often, we have managers and not leaders. It's not the same."
- "Leadership is the art of asking questions rather than giving direction. Greatness in business is sustainable only when the leader is humble enough to understand he/she cannot command results. Truly significant results occur when the leader behaves with consistent values and knows that they must inspire the results via the actions of others."
- "Leadership, to me, is the ability to get others to do what you want them to do, but they believe that they are the ones that are in fact deciding what to do on their own. It is the ability to paint a common picture of what needs to be done and under what conditions and standards should be accomplished. The ability to relate to a broad spectrum of people and paint that common picture so that all understand where 'north' is can be seen in how individuals comport themselves around others. If a person can be comfortable with a laborer, a customer, a banker and an owner at the same time and have the confidence and ability to communicate that common direction and have the courage to stand up and defend that direction openly, you have found a leader."
What Does Good Leadership Look Like?
- "I recognize [a leader] when I see the following characteristics: they are always trying to improve the organization as well as themselves on a daily basis; they are able to communicate their ideas in such a way that others understand and buy into their ideas 100 percent; they have the ability to evaluate an individual's talents so that the best person is in place to implement the ideas and have the greatest chance for success."
- "Leaders have vision, can articulate that vision, galvanize support for it, and inspire stakeholders to make 'their' contribution to the realization of the vision. Sometimes out in front, sometimes from behind, leaders are always moving their organizations forward in a positive manner. Leaders always possess humility. They have high moral and ethical standards and the organization embraces and reflects those standards."
- "Leadership looks cultural; it's not just one person's vision but the ability to communicate a vision that allows and causes their group to succeed. I believe it's only recognizable in positive results. Anything short of positive results is philosophical rather than true leadership."
- "Leadership is the ability to keep everyone energized and on course even as the business and marketplace changes. Leaders can be recognized by their seemingly eternal optimism and drive. They are people who not only have great results but can articulate those results to others."
- "When I see an organization excited about a common goal and people working together to achieve it, then I know I'm looking at leadership. I recognize my leaders when I see people that lead by example and inspire others to find new ways to grow and improve. My formula is to set a compelling vision, confirm shared values, establish a coherent strategy, set aggressive goals and execute with inspired, bright people. The challenge is to bring all these elements together so that your customers, shareholders and associates are happy with the results."
- "Leadership consists of the ability to enroll people into a vision or plan; the ability to engage them in purposeful action toward common goals; the ability to build morale and overcome resistance to change and possessing the ability to communicate through problems and possible breakdowns."
There you have it — leadership, as defined by leaders in the construction industry.
Rodney Hall, principal at Rodney Hall Executive Search, has more than 30 years' experience in the home building, community development, and multifamily industries.