Leadership in action

January/February 2018 edition

The real estate industry is at a crossroads. As we travel the pathway toward professionalism, we need strong leaders to help guide the way. But just what is the state of leadership in our industry and what do we need to do to improve?

There’s little doubt that the real estate industry’s reputation has spiralled out of control in recent years – and not in a good way. This is one of the key drivers of the movement toward recognition as a profession and John Cunningham, Chair of the REIA Professionalism Committee, said strong leadership will be at the core of changing this reputation for the better.

“As an industry, we’re generally far too self-centred,” he said. “Ego isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly detrimental when it becomes over-inflated. The concept of teamwork and working together for the common good is all too often over-shadowed by the ‘rock star’ mentality that’s overtaken our service-based industry. We’ve come to a point where the focus is on the agent and not the best outcome for the consumer.”

According to Mr Cunningham, leadership has been pushed aside in favour of the almighty dollar.

“There’s a ‘greed is good’ mentality and we’ve lacked the will and the strong leadership required to address it. As a result, over the past 10 years, the biggest egos have dominated our industry,” he said. “And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by consumers. They’ve been talking about us – and not in a flattering way!”

Mr Cunningham said the industry needs strong leadership to address the situation.

“We need leaders who are willing to stand up and be part of a movement that will change the face of real estate practice forever,” he said. “Strong leadership is what gives a change movement a direction that can be understood and followed. Without it, the movement will fall apart or become fragmented, because the purpose is lost.”

According to Mr Cunningham, the real estate industry’s pathway toward professionalism has all the right ingredients, and this has helped what started as a kernel of an idea four years ago to progress to a movement that’s gathered momentum and is now endorsed by agents across the country.

“There’s now strong, committed leadership from a core group of like-minded individuals and organisations in every state and territory,” Mr Cunningham said. “We’ve clearly identified the need for our industry to become a profession and have a common desire to change, evolve and raise standards as a result.

“Now is the time for leaders. With enough strong, effective leaders who are willing to reinvent both themselves and our industry, we can evolve into a profession and survive and thrive into the future.”

The state of LEADERSHIP

We asked real estate leaders across the country for their opinions about the state of leadership in our industry.

John Runko
CEO Independent Property Group

Years in real estate: 30 years
Team: 350+, as well as franchisees and a leadership team of 12

“You can’t make people become leaders. It’s something that comes from within. There has to be a desire to become a better leader – and that only happens when you recognise that leadership isn’t about you. It’s about your team and what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

For me, collaboration is the key and that’s my approach to leadership. By fostering a collaborative environment, people work together to generate innovative solutions. Collaborative leadership also recognises that the best ideas don’t have to come from the person at the top.
To achieve the best outcomes, you need to break down the silos that all too often occur in businesses. This allows people to work together for the greater good of both the client and the business.

The best way to empower your team is to foster a high level of trust. If they understand the big picture, are properly trained and know that you trust them to make decisions, they’ll feel empowered and in control of their environment.

And you have to walk the talk. It’s something I always try my best to do. As a leader, you have to set the standard before you can expect that standard from anyone else.

I see many inspirational leaders in our industry across the country who are doing an outstanding job. But I think if you asked the average real estate employee how they would rate the leadership of the agency they work for, the vast majority would say that there’s plenty of room for improvement. Collectively, as an industry, we can do better.”

Shannan Whitney
Director at BresicWhitney

Years in real estate: 23 years
Team: 160, as well as a leadership team of eight

“Being a leader is about being authentic and real. Leading isn’t necessarily about doing all the heavy lifting. It’s also about giving people the space to develop themselves. It’s a balance between helping them create their own path and providing direction when they need a path.
Finding the sweet spot can be a challenge.

You need to understand what a person brings to your business, where they can contribute and how they can grow and learn. And I’ve found that by taking a collaborative and supportive approach to leadership, you can bring people into the organisation and ensure they are elevated and empowered. 
I’ve always sought out mentors to help me and, over time, this has helped me adapt and improve my leadership style. Feedback is important. We can all learn from our mistakes. I provide feedback to my team and they provide feedback to me in a way that’s confident and trusted. This creates an environment where strong, healthy leadership can flourish.

The state of leadership in the real estate industry is not particularly inspiring. Our industry tends to be based on output. The focus is around numbers and money, and that isn’t what the industry needs. We need leadership that is focused on what is better for consumers and how we contribute to the community.

Looking ahead, we need leaders who are prepared to look at the overall message they are sending out and the behaviours it’s creating within the industry.”

Andrew Brien
National Head of Residential Sales and Branch Manager Darwin at Elders Real Estate Darwin

Years in real estate: 10 years
Team: 47, as well as franchisees and a corporate team of nine

“We have a great cross-section of real estate leaders in Australia. There are lots of forward thinkers who are challenging the norm and have the best interests of the industry in mind. But I think the biggest challenge our leaders have is how to make our industry attractive to emerging future leaders. We all have a part to play in helping to grow and nurture strong leaders.

I take a consultative approach to leadership. It’s important to me that all team members are engaged and informed. A quote I always use is: ‘It’s not my business. It’s ours. Let’s map our future together’.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been a franchise manager, a business owner, sales agent and property manager. This helps me lead by example and stay relevant to the business and the many functions it performs. I’m currently running our largest residential agency, as well as our national residential team. This keeps me up to date with what our clients and team members want and need. It also shows the team that I’m invested in the business.

Making sure the team feel empowered to make decisions is also a key focus for me. If they have the knowledge and training, they need the ability to use their skills in the workplace.

Reward and recognition is also a key factor for empowerment. Celebrating success, providing a pathway for new roles and promoting team members gives the team the incentive to improve and challenge the norm.

Looking ahead, we need more leadership forums to capture ideas across the industry and increase engagement.”

Phil Harris
Managing Director at Harris Real Estate

Years in real estate: 16 years
Team: 140

“Leadership is about serving others. People want to follow people they respect and admire, and serving others and being a great mentor and role model is an essential part of this.

As a leader, I believe you have to be authentic and let your personal light shine through. It’s about being who you really are, rather than trying to be something you’re not. For example, I have strong family values and I’ve built the culture of the company around this.
Leadership in the real estate industry is going through a shift. In the past, there wasn’t an awareness of just how much strong leadership was needed. Now there is an awareness, but we need to get it right.

The shift is being driven by innovation and disruption – and the fact that consumers are now demanding more. In the past, we could get away with unprofessional behaviour. But with the rise in technology, social media and more, that level of behaviour is no longer tolerated.

I take the time to train my team and then trust them to make the right decisions. You have to develop, grow and build people, so they can deliver a level of service that’s acceptable to the consumer.

We need stronger role models and more leadership training in our industry to provide a platform for people to be their best selves and perform at an optimum level.”

Paul Curtain
Founding Partner and Managing Director at Place Estate Agents

Years in real estate: 21 years
Team: 400

“Leadership is a word that’s used incorrectly in the real estate industry. There’s a distinction between management and leadership. Management is about making decisions. Leadership is about demonstrating behaviours.

One of the keys to strong leadership is how we act and react when we’re under the pump. Importantly, by leading by example, it shows how you would like others to operate when they’re placed under pressure.
My leadership style has changed over time. In the early part of my career, I always wanted to have the answer to every question. Now I’m more focused on empowering people. Rather than giving the answers, I ask questions so my team can come up with the answers themselves.

By doing this, they learn more and build confidence for the future. More often than not, they have the right answer, they just need to bounce ideas around to land on it.

Real estate is like any other industry. There are examples of principals who are outstanding leaders. But there is a percentage who could seek guidance in the leadership and management space and others who, on reflection, should consider if this is the correct journey for them.

Our industry is full of entrepreneurial thinkers and there’s an opportunity to create a leadership model that others will follow – but it will be an evolution, rather than a revolution.”

Adrian Kelly
CEO at View

Years in real estate: 26 years
Team: 32

“There’s an old saying that ‘the fish rots from the head’. If leadership is poor at the top, it soon flows through the entire business.

I’m still working in a sales capacity, so I understand our current marketplace and what my team are experiencing at the coalface. Leading by example is a given. I always represent my vendors to the best of my ability and I expect everyone on my team to do the same. This also applies when dealing with my team. I treat every team member with respect and expect them to treat each other in the same way.
Honesty and professionalism are also important. One of the keys to better leadership is to provide a more professional service, rather than focusing on commission rates and sales volumes.

One of the strengths of our business is our size. I read a lot about high profile employees hopping from one big agency to another. In an agency of our size it’s easier to retain a small, close-knit team. I believe smaller agencies are better able to drill down through their workforces and provide stronger leadership because the ratio of employer to employee is much lower.

Most of our people also own a share in the business. This means they’re more involved because they have more of a sense of investment.”

James Connell
Director at Marshall White

Years in real estate: 38 years
Team: 300

“Over the years I’ve learnt that we need to be consistent and fair in our behaviour. People rarely respond to intimidation or aggression. Quite the opposite. To get the best out of someone, a leader needs to be with them in terms of support and direction so the they feel safe and empowered to grow and create the best possible life for themselves.

The larger an organisation grows, the more we, as leaders, need to be accountable for our own personal behaviours. Therefore, we need to lead through these behaviours, our values and beliefs – because as an organisation grows, it’s not about us being the best agent or salespersons in the company.
It’s essential to be clear about what’s required. Empower your team by giving people clear direction as to what’s expected of them and, importantly, equip them with the skills and resources to excel.

There are some remarkable leaders in our industry, but more needs to be done in terms of leadership training and mentoring. Too many people are propelled into leadership positions on the basis of their personal success and they’re not equipped to perform the functions of true leadership.”

Richard Young
CEO at Caporn Young

Years in real estate: 29 years
Team: 70

“Real estate agents are unique and it takes skill to provide effective leadership.

My leadership style is consultative. I spend a lot of time in the field with my team and this helps me to lead by example. My goal is to always empower my team by asking them what they think is the best solution to the problem and do they think that solution will deliver the best outcome for their client.
“On the whole, in the circles I move in, I think leadership in the real estate industry is very good. But we can always do better. I’m continually upskilling myself, which is something that our entire industry needs to be better at. But in order to create better leaders, we need more accessible training and a greater pool of coaches.

We also to need draw intelligence from other markets and industries. I look to our eastern seaboard markets, as well as the UK market. I also look to the stockbroking and investment banking sectors. Taking a broader view is important and it allows me to draw inspiration regarding systems, process, team management and leadership.”

New leadership research

The stereotype of the big, street smart, self-taught real estate agent is being challenged by a new breed of business educated and managerially savvy agents, according to research from CoreLogic.

The Real eState of Leadership research shows that this new breed of principals run tighter ships that have better employee engagement and are more transparent and disciplined around process and client management. These businesses are, in turn, more financially successful.

Overwhelmingly the research revealed there’s an undeniable correlation between strong performance and strong leadership. Those businesses that have mastered these skills not only deliver better financial results and staff engagement, but provide better experiences for buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants. This, in turn, offers the strongest promise for the industry for the future.

Key findings

  • Leadership standards are generally high in the real estate industry.

  • Self awareness as a key leadership trait needs to improve.

  • There’s a correlation between leadership behaviours, profitability and success.

  • Real estate is becoming a team sport and the days of the ‘rock star’ are in decline.

  • Discipline and processes around good management practices need improvement.

  •  Attitude and openness to learning are more important than educational qualifications.


  • Leadership quality needs to be escalated as an issue in the real estate industry.
  • More effort needs to be put into leadership training.
  • Leadership training needs to be more intimate and personal.
  • Training qualifications in leadership need to be formally recognised.

To download a free copy of the Real eState of Leadership report, go to store.corelogic.com.au/real-estate-of-leadership