Management Vs. Leadership: The Traits Of True Real Estate Leaders


Great leaders must be like the honey badger. They are widely known for their persistent nature, tenacity and ability to evolve with their environment. These are the qualities of a great leader.

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It’s been said that “You manage things; you lead people.”

I have been part of both camps in my time as an agent and a broker, and I have discovered there is actually quite a difference.

In their simplest forms, the definition of a manager is a person who directs, while the definition of a leader is someone who has influence. Which sounds better and more inviting to work with?

Notice, I did say work with, not for. You either work for a manager or with a leader. And in real estate, leaders work with agents in guiding, training and coaching those who want to hone their skills and improve on what they do. 

I previously worked in an environment where fellow staff members would laughingly repeat (with way too much truth behind it) the old adage, “the beatings will continue until morale improves!”

It sounds harsh, and yet I would reason that many of us have worked under such “management,” where there is a total disconnect on what employees actually need to be successful.

Change your perspective

For brokers who may be grimacing at this and thinking, my agents work for me, it may be time to change your perspective.

Whether you work at a large franchise or an independent brokerage, we all must find the flexibility to meet agents where they are in their process. Gone are the days of running offices where it is all about “the brokerage.”

Today’s leaders must view themselves as part of the team, and more specifically, the team’s figurehead.

Think of it in the context of rowing. We are all in the same boat with a common direction, but we all have different roles to play in making sure the boat reaches its destination. The coxswain steers the boat, clearly providing directions to the crew but with the understanding that it is a team effort; we all win or lose together. 

Author Ken Blanchard once said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

Let that sink in for a second.

Follow the honey badger example

Managers are often viewed and even introduced as “the authority.” Is that really someone an agent wants to work with?

Think about one of the greatest perks of being an independent contractor — you are your own boss. You have the freedom to work in a way that best accommodates you and are not constantly being told what to do.

Successful leaders understand this mindset and are able to provide agents with the support they need to succeed, without simply directing them on what to do. Leaders are looked to for guidance, and the manner in which that guidance is provided can make all the difference.

Great leaders must be relentless — like the honey badger. Honey badgers are widely known for their persistent nature, tenacity and ability to evolve with their environment. These are the qualities of a great leader.

Help agents reach their potential

The world has changed for us all the past few years, often rapidly, and we have all had to adapt and find new ways to be successful. As leaders, we must find ways to persevere and continue to facilitate an environment that allows agents to find the best path forward.

Managers are often too busy worrying about meeting quotas and deadlines, which can result in failing to help agents reach their full potential. Pressure, red tape, and old-fashioned management styles can limit the approach of the traditional manager and as a consequence, the whole team suffers.

Conversely, great leaders are people who repeatedly demonstrate that they are:

  • Authentic: Being authentic allows those who follow you to believe in you. Agents will follow a great leader into the fire out of loyalty and trust. Come off disingenuous, and trust will be lost. If a leader doesn’t earn trust, they’ll be leading a group of one; themselves.
  • Transparent: Share your professional goals with those that are responsible for helping you achieve them. Something amazing happens when you genuinely open up and share your vision and goals with your team — they see you as a leader and will fight for that vision. Stay closed off, and you appear unapproachable (much like that manager mentality). Humanize yourself, take the time to connect, and respect will follow.
  • Educators: Jumping into the trenches and educating agents (not barking out orders) will demonstrate that you value your team members and are committed to their success. After all, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Even if you are training on a well-known topic, if the material is valuable, your agents will appreciate your commitment to furthering their education.
  • Empathetic: It’s difficult for an agent to share business roadblocks or personal hardships if they feel like you can’t relate to them. Remember that your agents are more than just members of your team; they are people first, and seeing them in this light will not only help them connect with you on a deeper level, but ultimately build a culture where they feel valued and heard.

Connecting is key

Spend some time connecting with those you have the privilege to lead. It will be the most important time you spend at work. Invest in them as a leader, and they will honor your vision by proudly following you.

Let’s ditch the manager mentality and transition into leadership. As someone who has spent years in both roles, working with leaders is empowering, rewarding and, honestly, a lot more fun.

B.J. Sonderman is director of agent success at RedKey Realty Leaders St. Louis. Connect with him on Facebook and LinkedIn.





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