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In This Complicated Time to be a Leader, Here’s What Can Make It Simpler:

September 16, 2023

Last modified on November 10th, 2022

There’s never been a more complicated time to be a leader. After two years of “rolling with the punches” and making decisions on the fly with imperfect data, the apartment industry is approaching something resembling normalcy. But change may be once again on the horizon, according to industry leaders who led “The New Rules for Leading and Managing” session during the National Multifamily Housing Council’s OPTECH Conference in Las Vegas on November 3.

Stacy Holden, Industry Principal and Senior Director at AppFolio, led a discussion with Margette Hepfner, Chief Operating Officer at Lincoln Property Company; Melody King, Vice President of Property Operations at BH; Elaine Delude, Vice President at LIVEbe Communities; and Dr. Jacinta Jiménez, Vice President and Innovation Coach at BetterUp. The panel shared introspective thoughts on leadership, company culture, learning, employee relations, recruiting, and how their companies are addressing these as the world resets after the pandemic.

“Overall, our society remains a bit on the cautious side,” Jiménez said. She shared perspectives on human nature — the one thing that remains constant in today’s uncertain world:

“Given the choice, humans would prefer predictable lesser outcomes over potentially better unknown outcomes. It makes them feel safer. They don’t like uncertainty. But today, we’re living in an ever-changing, uncertain world. We ask ourselves, given everything around us, what won’t change? Human nature.”

Being a ‘good human’ is a great start

Melody King of BH explained that leadership, and as a result, culture, comes from those at the top of the organizational chart “walking the walk,” “being a good human” as employees, and always asking “what if?” Being a good human means always making the right choice, “even if it’s not the most popular or the easiest option,” King said.

Not every employee wants to be a leader, and that’s okay.

Stacy Holden shared an example that illustrates how leadership roles are not for everyone. A property management company had instances of tenured maintenance supervisors who did not enjoy conducting performance reviews, an integral part of leadership. “I don’t want to deal with the feelings” was a common sentiment. In response, the company’s decision-makers allowed those maintenance supervisors who felt uncomfortable with people management to simply be the best maintenance supervisors they could be, and another set of employees would handle administrative tasks such as job reviews.

The tenured staff wound up much happier and more relaxed, and their productivity increased when it came to performing their core duties.  

Dr. Jiménez added that good leaders “own the why” in their companies and roles.

“Good leaders are not there to necessarily motivate their employees, but to find the spark that is already in their staff members that motivates.” 

“At the same time,” King said, “it’s important to ask your employees how they are doing – and not just about a project. Helping them to solve their personal challenges is as important, and even more important, than any work challenges they have.”

Growing into a career

Leadership plays a crucial role in forming a company culture.

Elaine DeLude said LIVEbe’s employees all serve the role of brand ambassadors: “You can feel it when you walk onto our properties or visit our websites. They are the [embodiment] of our culture. Our goal as a company is to get a little bit better every day. Other than that, we don’t have an agenda.”

She said it’s also important to maintain an open feedback loop between workers and supervisors:

“We realized how important that is when recently, we met with our maintenance team and asked how we could help them do their jobs better and found out they didn’t like the fabric used for their work shirts. We wished they had spoken up earlier!”

King said BH provides career paths and encourages progression through various, and even mixed, departments. Examples include employees going from maintenance to HR to marketing to central services.

“This brings more opportunities,” she said. “We want to offer this because if our employees are looking for something different in their careers — or just want to explore their options — we don’t want them going to another company that offers this.”

Holden pointed out that the average tenure in property management is just 2.5 years. Offering opportunities for career growth can extend an employee’s stay with the company.

Dr. Jiménez shared a key pillar of WD-40 and its CEO Garry Ridge that can help employees determined to grow within their positions or as leaders. Ridge is so serious about the company’s commitment to learning that he insists all team members take the “WD-40 Maniac Pledge,” a solemn vow to become, in his words, a “learning maniac.” The vow is as follows:

“I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t ‘get this sooner.’ If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.”

Happiness and sadness

DeLude’s son, offering a teen’s perspective, told DeLude about work: “When I grow up, I don’t want to be that sad man working for that sad man.”

Dr. Jiménez described two popular conceptions of happiness: hedonic and eudaemonic. Hedonic happiness is achieved through experiences of pleasure and enjoyment, while eudaemonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose. Both kinds of happiness contribute to overall well-being in different ways. Employees who are happy and centered are better, more productive employees.

“Companies should aim to provide a eudaemonic experience,” she said.

In a recent survey, 63% of respondents said work–life balance is their highest priority, followed by compensation (60%) and company culture (40%).

On company culture, King said that during recruitment, BH emphasizes who they are as a company and why they do what they do.

Hepfner said Lincoln Property Company finds success through referrals. She said she’s received 2,000 employee referrals, and those are applicable to about 75% of the company’s openings, an acknowledgement that her employees enjoy the company they work for.

DeLude said her company invites employees to write their own job descriptions. “It can sometimes take a while (two years) to work through the process, when it makes sense, but we feel these workers are at the site level, and they understand what’s needed and how we can achieve it.”

Check out our recent hiring and retention report for more insights on how property management leaders can drive employee satisfaction and better retain talent.

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