The four critical qualities that every leader needs to survive in the industry are adaptability, reliability, the ability to make and own difficult decisions, and being able to engage stakeholders.
Boards of directors often gravitate towards extroverts: the popular guy who plays golf on weekends and shouts loudly in the pub when the Boks win the match. He is easy to talk to, he holds your shoulders while he listens to your complaint, and tells you that he will sort it out in the morning!
Introverts however are more likely to surpass expectations.
According to the Fortune 500 Conference Board, over 25% of CEO departures between 2000 and 2003 were involuntary. I assure you, it’s no different in the community association management industry. Clearly, many capable leaders and boards of directors don’t get it right and, in many instances, top performers leave out of free will due to a difference in vision, ideas or approach to management. It might start with the stereotype that good managers, let’s call them leaders, are charismatic, six-foot tall men, often in the golfing estate industry they hold little education but a great can-do attitude and with some past experience in security or the building arena. History shows that good managers need much more than that.
Here are four behaviours that I have identified in successful leaders in the industry.
Deciding with speed and conviction
Good leaders don’t always make the best decisions. But they do not hesitate to act when required.
Mistakes will be made; adjustments may be required. What they do, however, is carry the responsibility for their mistakes, and make earlier, faster and more decisive decisions. They are quick to review their decisions and adjust direction when required, but the company is kept moving.
Momentum is built, and change becomes an automatic occurrence as the community is literally propelled into the future of possibilities.
Slow decisions become bottlenecks. It’s important to understand that an average leader in a community association is dealing with accounting, architecture, engineering, facility maintenance, governance, environmental issues, human resources and so forth. Add one speed bump in each of the possibly 20+ portfolios on their desk and see how the company slowly comes to a grinding halt.
Great leaders understand that a wrong decision is sometimes better than no decision, as long as the leader monitors progress on a regular basis, and redirects the ship if required – never ending up stranded on a sandbank, as the other developments steam past. And by that I mean the other developments’ property values keep growing while yours come to a halt with the seventh AGM about the same agenda points.
Understanding that perfect information is only available after the fact leads to a broader vision and approach, leading to a balanced strategy that can brace for a crisis and carry the load of the company demands.
Engaging for impact
Once the leader has set a clear course, he or she must engage with stakeholders to ensure that the direction is implemented, and that the board and the whole management team buy in.
No leader can do all things and be all things. Buy-in from all stakeholders is critical, and the board must support the leader in streamlining the team if there are internal revolts grounded in past loyalty, or resistance to change and clinging to ‘how we always did it’.
In the end, the leader must hold firm, and be prepared to not alter course each time a shareholder has a different view.
In terms of the Companies Act, the majority rules, and a board is elected and must act. We cannot have an association governed by everyone who owns a property in the association. Can you imagine how long any decision, implementation or action will take? Referring to the first characteristic, the association will be doomed in disunion without action.
The ability to handle clashing viewpoints is a must. Knowing when to acknowledge a different view, and accepting that it may never align, is critical. The experience to acknowledge that a change is required, and the bravery to admit to it and action it is even more important.
This does not mean that a leader is autocratic; it merely means they are decisive, informed and dedicated. It is no surprise that the average term for a top performing CEO is in frequent lucrative two- to three-year stints, according to the latest Fortune 500 research.
Most leaders know to divide attention among short-, medium- and long-term perspectives. The adaptable leader spends more time, up to 50%, thinking long term and big picture.
This helps these leaders pick up early signals and, when required, adapt the course the company is following. In community associations it also helps them realise when the political atmosphere is reaching a point at which they should exit, or change their approach. Seeing these changes and taking decisive action will again help steer them into clear water, giving time to reflect and readjust the plan before anyone even knew there was a decision to make.
This includes acknowledging that setbacks will happen. A strong growth mindset is a key identifiable trait in a good community association leader.
This may sound mundane, but the ability to consistently deliver a result, big or small, is probably the biggest required skill set. Boards and shareholders love steady leadership, and employees trust predictable action that stays within the plan provided.
The key is setting and communicating realistic expectations. If you believe you can change the development in one year, announce it! If not, rather stick to smaller victories that will lead to long-term gains towards the big picture. Leaders should be realistic, even if the shareholders are shouting for a major project. If it cannot be achieved, the leader must have the courage to engage for impact, and stay with the plan. This will not always be popular, but repeatable and reliable results on timeframes given will build trust and understanding.
Delivering reliable results shows planning and organisational skills. Dashboards, metrics and accountability of teams, channels for clear feedback and accountability are the hidden skills that consistently keep delivering results.