As a REALTOR® Association Executive, you are not only responsible for the constant improvement of your personal leadership skills, but you are also responsible for the growth and cultivation of the skills of your volunteer leaders. You are the one responsible for inculcating in the mind of the novitiate volunteer, not only the traits, characteristics and examples of effective leadership, but very importantly, what I refer to as the Three Core Principles of association management and leadership, upon which your association was built, and will continue to grow and thrive in the future:
- Associations have a perpetual life
- Associations have a continuum of leadership
- Associations have a continuum of membership
Association Executives and their staffs are the consistency and the glue, the true leaders of our REALTOR® organizations. As such, it is your duty as a leader, to ensure that leadership is part of the DNA of your organization.
Visibility is the Key
Leadership ideas and concepts should be visible to all members each and every day, and brought to consciousness whenever possible. Strive to create an environment of leadership. Keep in mind that true leaders also make the best followers.
I am a proponent of large, visible charts, graphs, and posters. Repetition is the mother of learning and seeing something day in and day out will leave a lasting impression over time. At the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the walls of Luce Hall (the Naval Science building, where I attended my first formal training in leadership) were lined with plaques with famous naval sayings. The technique was repetition. The intention was to move an idea “from the head to the heart.” Some might call this “brainwashing.” I prefer to call it learning and conditioning. The result is that ideas, concepts and philosophies become part of one’s belief system when observed, considered and weighed repetitively, over time, whether conscious or unconscious.
Written on plaques in Luce Hall, USNA, Annapolis:
“Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.” – John Paul Jones, Father of the American Navy.
This imbued in Midshipmen that one’s men and women are the true measure of success. Is that not true today?
“Don’t give up the ship.” During the War of 1812, Captain James Lawrence commanded the USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon. He is probably best known today for his dying command "Don't give up the ship!"
Leaders are called to place mission over personal interests. Since human beings are programmed to do that which is in their own best interest, it often takes time and repetition to displace old philosophies and human tendencies.
“If the mast goes, we go with it, our post is here.” -Midshipman Jarvis, USS Constellation
Dedication and perseverance are still the marks of good leaders
“He who will not risk cannot win” - John Paul Jones
Leaders are willing to take risks, calculated risks.
Looking at these, in a casual way…day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, I can attest, leaves a lasting impression…from your head, to your heart. They become part of the way you think.
Of course, this methodology is well known. Millions of dollars are spent each year on neatly framed motivational quotes, posted in conspicuous places, and for what purpose? “From the head to the heart.”
What does this have to do with association leadership you may now be asking yourself? Associations require leaders who understand, feel if you will, those cornerstones mentioned earlier in this article. Concepts required for the effective, year after year development of our REALTOR® Associations. It is imperative that these concepts be introduced and held constantly in the eyes (minds and hearts) of all members. Having these concepts integrated into the thoughts of our associations will help provide more consistent, member benefitting decision making, year after year, decade after decade.
Three basic concepts of association management that must be ever present are:
- Associations have a perpetual life
- Associations have a continuum of leadership
- Associations have a continuum of membership
Consider creating posters with these concepts prominently displayed at your association, in the lobby area and in the Board Room. They will make a difference.
Let’s examine each of these Principles and the impact an understanding of them will have upon your organization.
Associations have a perpetual life
Not only must associations serve their members today, they must be prepared to serve their members in the future. Here is an important distinction…serving your current members in the future, while at the same time preparing to serve future members. These are two different things. Associations that do not do both, place themselves in peril of becoming irrelevant, and possibly extinct. The consciousness of perpetual life will help guide your association into the future.
Associations have a continuum of leadership
Decision making at associations should always be done in context. Your association is not where it is today, in the position it is in today, based upon the actions of the current leadership. It has a history as a successful organization because of the work and dedication of many years of volunteer service by others.
Associations have a continuum of membership
Have you ever had a board of directors want to give rebates to the current members because there was a revenue surplus in a particular year? What they fail to realize is that any surplus is only a surplus because the association managed its financial affairs properly. Should new members be entitled to a refund when the reason there is a surplus is many years of work by past volunteers?
Begin with the Fundamentals
Don’t assume that your board of Directors is conscious of good leadership. Provide short, simple, leadership tips and basics on a recurring basis, year after year.
Here are a few fundamental concepts exemplified by those we would consider good leaders...
Commend in public
Reprimand in private
Jobs of a Leader:
Perform their current job
Prepare for the next job
Train their successor
Begin with the end in mind and work projects to completion.
Leadership is not just a position. Because one is a president, officer, or director of an association does not make one a good leader. Leadership is a skill which, for most, improves with practice and experience, over time.
Make this year the year you create and build a “Culture of Leadership” at your association. Now is the time to set in motion simple leadership projects which will pay huge dividends to your organization in the future. If not you, who? If not now, when?
Saul Klein is a 1972 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and spent 6 years in on Active Duty in the US Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. He has been a licensed California Real Estate Broker for 32 years and he was the 1993 President of the San Diego Association of REALTORS® and its 1999 REALTOR® of the Year. Saul was the Real Estate Industry’s first Internet Evangelist and the creator of the NAR E-PRO online Technology Certification Program and the creator of many online communities, including AETalk and RealTalk. He is the CEO of RealTown and resides in San Diego, CA with his wife Janie, who has been his inspiration for the past 35 years.
Structural changes are taking place in every aspect of the workplace. The real estate industry is not an exception. The way our members sold real estate ten years ago is not the way they sell it today and the way they sell it today is not how they will sell it ten years from now. Their market, job description and needs are being transformed. Driving forces and concepts affecting and threatening our members and our associations as they currently function include:
- Board of Choice
- Public access to the MLS
- Agency liabilities
- Loss of MLS to outside entities, which results in loss of MLS income
- Buyer Brokerage/Broker Buyer Brokerage/Broker Compensation
- Alternative revenue sources
- Decreasing membership
- Staff driven vs. volunteers drive, the dynamics of changing leadership
- Added value, more for less
- Dealing with the "I want it all, I want it now, and I want it for nothing" syndrome
- Decrease in available volunteer time as time becomes more valuable and the membership shrinks
But in every threat, there is an opportunity, an opportunity to ride the forces of change in the direction in which it is already headed, and reaping the benefits.
A Time for Managing Change
The time to deal with all this change is now. The margin of error is slim. Association leaders, staff and volunteers, must create the Association of the future or their Association of the present will perish! Our industry is going through nothing less than a paradigm shift. As stated by Joel Barker, author of Future Edge, "When a paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero." Large associations and small, rich and poor, it matters not, all are in danger of extinction. Become the creator of your future, not the victim.
Creating a future by design instead of a future by default requires being able to deal with massive (and increasing) amounts of information in a fast-changing environment.
The problem is, few people know what to make of it. So instead of knowledge being power, random knowledge is just information, and too much information leads to confusion. And technology continues to quicken the pace. Associations across the country are talking about it. The question is what are they doing about it and is it enough, or is it too late?
We are experiencing more than change; it's a revolution of greater historical significance than the Industrial Revolution.
The world is in the midst of the greatest social, economic and technological explosion that has ever been experienced. The question each of us must ask is, "Do we want to be part of it?"
We will witness in our lifetime a greater change in the job descriptions and skills of workers that took place during the Industrial Revolution. Real estate is not an exception.
Understanding, identifying and capitalizing on change will make the difference between economic (and personal) success and failure. Remember, change does not happen all at once. It is continually taking place, unseen by most. Only by becoming an astute observer will you benefit from the opportunities created by global transformation.
Today is not the age of information, it is the age of applied knowledge. Information out of context is worthless, yet information framed in the right context can be worth millions to someone who knows how to apply it.
Congratulations on reaching the highest elected office of this association. Read this manual as early in your President-Elect year as possible. Refer and add to it as often as possible, pass it on to your successor.
Have a great year. And take advantage of the excellent learning experience in front of you.
This is a year to pay attention to the issues, decide where you would like to have an impact, learn as much as you can about the functioning of the organization from the top, and support the President. Take the time to attend as many committee meetings as you can. The more you are seen or visible to the membership, the more valuable you are to the organization. It's a great job, all the glory, none of the responsibility. A lot of the members don't know the difference between the President and the President-Elect. Sometimes it is difficult to be so close to the seat of power. Just remember, you'll get your shot at the helm. Listen to the staff.
On Becoming President
One year is not a long time. Your time as President will fly by and you will not have time to accomplish as much as you would like. Choose that which you want to achieve and accomplish, focus the bulk of your effort on it, and rely on your incredibly professional staff to carry out the day to day affairs of the Association. Do not attempt to micro-manage, that is what the E.O. gets paid to do. Always remember that there is a "body politic" and that many people will attempt to influence you, intentionally and unintentionally. Be on guard for personal agendas. Utilize the Officers, staff, and committee's (Chairs and Vice Chairs) time and expertise to accomplish your agenda for the Association for the year. Stick to the Strategic Plan.
This is the only known manual on becoming President of this organization. Even though we spend a year as President-Elect, the fact is that because there is no manual for that position, you will do a lot of on the job training as President. As early in your President-Elect year as possible, read:
- Association by-laws
- Primer on Robert's Rules of Order (don't be afraid to talk to our parliamentarian and to utilize his services)
- Committee Formats - expectations of the President sometimes appear in these documents.
This job can be extremely time-consuming, taking half of each working day (plus the seven trips a year, 35 to 40 days of travel). Even then you will not be able to keep up with everything that goes on. Try to attend all committee meetings at least quarterly. The only volunteer who has access to "everything" that is going on at the Association is you. You are also the inspirational leader, so it is necessary that you read all the minutes to all the committee meetings and correspond with the chairs and vice chairs in writing at least quarterly. Also "well done" letters to as many people as possible as often as possible. You are the association and a letter from the President is a treat for most people.
In addition to dealing with the volunteer side, you can also be very valuable to the association by taking a personal interest in the staff. Special commendations, birthdays just saying hi to as many of them as you can every day makes them a happier and therefore a more productive resource (We do spend a large portion of our budget, appropriately so on this resource.) To summarize:
- Attend each committee meeting at least once; quarterly is ideal. It shows a real interest in the work of the volunteers. Attend all Budget and Finance Committee Meetings.
- Read the minutes of all the meetings. Check at least quarterly to see that committees are accomplishing their goals as delineated by the strategic plan.
- Send letters to the committee chairs, vice chairs, directors, officers quarterly.
- Send "well done" letters to members and staff who have been brought to your attention. A commendation from the President sometimes results in an association supporter for many years.
- Be interested in the staff. Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge.
- Remember staff and directors on their birthday.
- Make as many office visits as time allows. No more than two per day, about 20 minutes to 30 minutes in duration. You may take another officer, director, or member of staff with you who may have some vital information to relay to the members. Examples would include your Government Affairs Director, Education Director, Special Events Director, MLS, etc.
- Send thank you letters to the office manager/broker/office contact that set up the appointment.
- Remember and use as many names as possible. The most critical word in anyone's vocabulary is his or her name.
- Be responsive to the press. Remember, they have deadlines and your association wants the press. Visibility is essential to the self-esteem of the members.
Office of the President
This organization needs to look at what it wants its President to be and do. Our staff is capable. If you don't have the time to perform some of the functions, they can be delegated. If during your year as President-elect you know that you will not have much time to perform a lot of the President' duties, have discussions with the current President and next years President-elect to see about spreading some of the workloads around.
How much time is feasible for a President or President-elect to spend each week on behalf of the association? Two hours a day, five days a week equal 10 hours, which is 25% of a 40-hour week. Should we expect someone to sacrifice more or less than 25% of their income when they serve in this position? Whatever that level is, any time spent above that should be compensated. (A fee should be paid.)
Set the association calendar to fit your schedule. Because I travel, I like to get all my "staying in town" in the same week. Before my year as President-elect, Executive Committee and the Board of Directors met a week apart. Orientation was on an odd week. I preferred to have all three in the same week.
Set Agenda for yourself. Some of your year will be comprised of unfinished business from the year before (and maybe before that) plus whatever other items come to the surface during your term (or whatever items you bring to the surface). Here was my agenda as formulated during November/December before I took office:
My Areas of Focus
- Existing areas:
- SANDICOR – Dealing with a new, failing regional MLS
- Examine MLS Alternatives
- Strategic Plan - Emphasis on education and technology, "Knowledge is Power"
Prepare the leadership and the membership for change, paradigm shifts. What is impossible in your business today that, if it were possible, would fundamentally change the way you do business?
- Buyer Broker's Task Force
- Examine potential outlawing of dual agency
- Employee vs. Independent Contractor
- No Association geographic boundaries
- Increasing membership
- Structural Review Task Force
- Financial Management Review Committee
- Less dependence on MLS income as it may not always be there
Buyer Broker Task Force - This entity must develop its mission statement, format, decide meeting dates and membership, before the first of December (as must any new task force).
Financial Freedom for the Realtor - individual integrated business and personal financial planning. Message from the top. Plan for yourself because the government is not planning for you. You are responsible for your financial future.
Analyze and implement a financial plan through the Financial Review Committee. This committee must develop mission statement, format, meeting dates and members before December 1.
Be visible to the members. Have a "Heard on the Street" segment in a monthly message. Make at least one office visit per week, report exciting findings in the monthly message. The best form of communication is face to face. The members appreciate a visit from the President and you will accomplish the most for the Association if you are accessible to the membership.
Complete Structural Review for decision
Review by-laws by by-laws committee
It is the leader's responsibility to train the future leaders to think in visionary terms rather than focusing on the present.|
Don't take things personally. Because of the politics of associations, you will always have someone second-guessing your decisions, actions and motivations.
Pay it little mind (it's only human to let it get to you a little). Show your anger rarely, when you do show it, it will have more impact. One of the first things I learned in Leadership 101 at the Naval Academy was:
"Commend in public, reprimand in private."
This basic management principle will be the cornerstone for a successful year. NEVER forget it. It applies to both volunteers and staff.
You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility. Always remember leadership through precept and example.
A leader's three primary tasks:
- Perform your current job and responsibilities to the best of your ability
- Prepare for your next position
- Train your replacement
On Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs
Listen to the recommendations of staff, they work with these people, your volunteers. Give yourself plenty of time by starting the selection process in August of your President-Elect year. Also, solicit input from your volunteers, give yourself time to decide.
On Executive Committee at Large Positions
It is important to appoint people who not only are qualified but who are in agreement with your goals for the year and who will support you at Executive Committee Meetings and at Board of Directors. Remember that part of your job, as a leader is to groom future leaders. The Executive Committee is an excellent place to do this.
You are an Ex-Officio member of all committees, but pay particular attention to the following:
- Budget and Finance Committee
- Attend all meetings of this committee. Remember, and make sure the committee members remember that this is not a policy-making committee. Its job is to oversee the budget process and not to decide which individual budget items should be cut in the name of prudent money management.
You are a member of this committee. You may have an interest in participating in some of the interviews. Take the time early in the year to fill this committee. Your job as President is to train the future leadership. Your interest in the nominating process is extremely important.
Be prepared for requests for interviews by either the print media or television on Christmas Eve. It might be a good idea to be proactive at milestone date (Christmas, New Year, etc. and at least have prepared statements or interviews set up on your schedule).
Committees should be just about filled no later than the week before Christmas. The sooner you find out which committees need members the sooner you can see that something is done about it. Perhaps help select some particular committee. It may be possible, in the future, to line up next year’s committees at orientation.
Have a list of all the directors and officers and their spouses.
Have a birthday list of the directors and officers.
Have a list of all staff and their spouses.
Have a birthday list of all staff and give them a card or present on their birthday. I got each one a box of 9 Nordstrom's truffles on their birthday, presented by me to them on their birthdays or the Friday before in the event it fell on a weekend or holiday. A personal note about them was included on the small card.
Always notify appropriate committee chairs and vice chairs when a staff liaison leaves the Association, be it termination or just temporary departure. Also, notify your President-elect. Keep in mind that the staff is the realm of the executive officer. While your input may be asked for, it is not necessary and always let the EVP make the staff decisions. That is something else they get paid to do.
Strategic Planning Committee
Most people do not understand the strategic planning process. The link to the budget process is very important.
The context for the year is developed here. I believe that it is important enough to always budget for a facilitator. Do not be "penny-wise and pound-foolish." Schedule a 2-day (minimum) retreat each year.
If any of your projects for your year need to be funded, your input is required here. Always have a good number of directors on the strategic planning committee. When presenting the Strategic Plan (and the budget) to the Board of Directors, the following process is suggested:
- Three weeks before Board of Directors Meeting send Strategic Plan and Budget to Directors with a cover letter. Letter to indicate: Importance of documents and that supplemental material is available at the Association office. Request directors submit all questions in writing one week before BOD meeting.
- Two weeks before the meeting, President (and President-Elect) call all directors and officers to remind them of the deadline.
- You may even consider that the only items on the Director's meeting agenda that month are the Budget and the Strategic Plan.
Strategic Planning - General
The strategic planning process is more important than the planning document your committee creates. Leadership should encourage "strategic thinking" which is a necessity for the future success of the organization. The strategic planning process must be designed to develop a permanent, dynamic planning attitude. It must become part of the Association culture. Strategic planning is a state of mind, not a destination.
The strategic planning questions:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to go?
- What are our strengths?
- What are our weaknesses?
- What are the threats to the association and the membership?
- What are the opportunities?
- What are the outside forces and threats that we will encounter as we implement the plan (social, economic, governmental, industry and consumer trends)?
- What is currently impossible (possible) to do in this business, that if it were possible (impossible), it would fundamentally change the way in which you do business?
You must analyze the internal and external forces that will influence the organization as it moves to accomplish its mission.
Don't get lost in the details, or choose people for the committees who do. This is all about the "Big Picture."
Include radical thinkers and innovators.
Make sure all the people appointed to committees understand the commitment that will be required, especially the time.
Always bring in an outside facilitator for your strategic planning process.
Chairs and vice chairs must develop plans of action to implement the strategic plan (possibly at a workshop that will help them write and build their POA's (Plans of Action). This should be done in November and before the annual leadership meeting.
Participants in the process will gain experience and information that they can take back to their companies and daily life.
It is an educational process. Only people who are interested in being part of the future, acting instead of reacting should be made part of the team.
Strategic leadership is in the follow through. How is it carried out and monitored?
The budget process should be integrated into the strategic planning process. Members of B & F should be on the strategic planning committee.
This person must be able to work with you or your scheduling entity to coordinate your time. He/she should confirm all your travel arrangements three weeks from the scheduled event, even if you make the reservations yourself. There are so many people flying to CAR/NAR if you don't make your reservation early enough, you may not get departure and arrival times you desire.
Keep notes and even make recorded voice memos using your phone. You must discipline yourself to do this. It will create a valuable record not only for you but also for the Association. Often we need to recall decisions of past leadership and it is always nice to hear from someone who was there and in the proper context.
Call in at least three times a day and check your messages. If possible, be reachable by cell phone (call or text).
Accessing Member's Needs
Must be done at least semiannually, and the organization must respond to the needs of the members in a timely manner.
Your association must be a resource to its members, a partner, indispensable to their business. Have a great year and feel free to add to this.
What if you're working with a client who is buying or selling a piece of property and its use is outside of the current zoning guidelines? Can you ask for an exception to the rule, or maybe the property is grandfathered for this use?
The intelligent real estate agent understands the lingo of the trade and delivers the value of their knowledge to their clients. Do you understand the difference between these often confused terms? Variance vs. Nonconforming Use, each represents an exception to the current zoning code, but in very different ways.
Understanding a Variance
Getting permission from governmental zoning authorities to build a structure or conduct a use that is expressly prohibited by the current zoning laws or an exception from the zoning laws represents a variance. A variance gives some measure of elasticity to the zoning game.
The use of variances can have many forms. Many variances are granted conditioned upon the commencement of construction within a certain time period (for example, 12 months). This helps to eliminate land speculation.
There are also use variances such as for apartment use in a single-family residential area. There is also an area or building variance where the owner attempts to get permission to build a structure larger than permitted.
To be granted a variance, the applicant usually must:
- Describe how they would be deprived of the reasonable use of the land or building if it were used only for the purpose allowed in that zone.
- The request should be due to unique circumstances and not the general conditions in the neighborhood.
- Detail how the use sought will not alter the essential character of the locality or be contrary to the intent and purpose of the zoning code.
Understanding Nonconforming Use
This exception is a permitted use of real property that was lawfully established and maintained at the time of its original construction but that no longer conforms to the current zoning law.
The nonconforming use might include:
- The structure itself
- The lot size
- Use of the land or use of the structure
The use will eventually be eliminated, although the nonconforming use status does not necessarily have to be discontinued upon the sale or lease of the property.
By allowing the use to continue for a reasonable time, the government can assure itself that the use will not continue indefinitely and, at the same time, avoid having to pay just compensation for taking the property through condemnation.
When purchasing a nonconforming structure, a buyer should be made aware that in case of substantial destruction by fire or otherwise, the zoning statutes may prohibit reconstruction of the structure. In such a case, a buyer should discuss the possibilities of purchasing demolition insurance from an insurance agent. A nonconforming use can also terminate upon abandonment of the property.
So in the simplest terms, a variance is an exception to the existing zoning, whereas a nonconforming use (also known as a grandfather clause) arises when there is a change to the zoning, but an existing use is still permitted to continue.
What is your experience with Variance vs. Nonconforming Uses? Have you ever had to deal with one? And if so what was your experience with the process?
Technology companies often make the mistake of developing products for the real estate professional without understanding the many ins and outs of working with the technology that runs real estate and the associations that control that technology. Long-time real estate expert Saul Klein dives deep in this video to explore the world real estate tech development and what issues must be considered before diving into real estate tech.
Communication Plan for Associations - What's Your Plan of Action? - In our decades of working for and with real estate associations across the United States, we've found the most common complaint coming from association staff and membership is regarding executive directed, organization-wide communication.
Communicating effectively at all levels of the organization seems to be a challenge for many associations. Great communication requires the creation of a communication plan and commitment to its implementation.
We've encountered this exact issue so often we've developed a communication implementation plan. Use these guidelines for enacting a new communication plan for your association. Or review these guidelines to ensure your current communication plan is robust and thorough.
Communication Plans Require the Following Considerations
ONE. Identifying the different channels of communication at your association. Some examples could include:
- Leadership to Staff
- Staff to Leadership
- Staff to Staff
- Staff to Member
- Member to Staff
- Member to Member
- Association to Public
- Committee Chairs to Committee Members
- Committee Chairs to Committee Chairs
- Committee Chairs to BOD
TWO. Identify benefits derived from effective communications and which of those benefits you wish to experience.
- Cost Savings
- More Participation
- Greater Understanding of the Workings of the Association by Everyone (Members, Staff, Public, etc.)
THREE. Identify current communication means used by your association and other tools you are not using.
- Social Media - Facebook/Twitter/RealTown Communities
FOUR. Identify sources of content to communicate besides the "as needed" communications.
FIVE. Decide which communication tools will be employed for each communication channel.
SIX. Determine the frequency of current communications down the channels identified.
- President to Board of Directors - Monthly by Meeting and Weekly by E-mail, Supplemented by Website
- Committee Chairs to Committees - Monthly by Meeting, Weekly by E-mail
SEVEN. Determine person responsible for ensuring the implementation of the communication plan.
EIGHT. Monitor results.
If you feel you need better communications at your association, what are you doing differently to accomplish your desired results?
We've heard insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think Albert Einstein said this, or maybe it was Ben Franklin, actually, it's probably a Chinese Proverb. But getting serious about communicating with your membership and the other people within your association is no laughing matter.
Too often Association Executives delegate communication plans to others, rubber stamp the entire process, or leave out disciplined communication entirely. But building, implementing and monitoring an organization-wide communication plan is one of the most important tasks an AE can endeavor.
What's your experience with communication within your organization? How did you overcome obstacles set in your path to deliver a great communication plan? We'd love to hear from you!
Schedule a Free Discovery Consultation
JOIN US AT REALTOWN®
Learn About the Fundamentals & Tech of Real Estate
Participate in our free online communities and get on the cutting edge of real estate education by following us on Facebook today.