Leadership: From busyness to purpose

Justin BaileyOn the Grow

If you’ve held a leadership role in 2020, then you are most likely painfully aware of two things: it is impossible to please everyone and anxiety is high, very high.


The best thing we can do as community leaders is to show up for those in our care. How we choose to show up is one of the most important aspects of how we’ve led last year, and how we will lead in 2021.

Recently I had an agent who found themselves in a dying deal, with not only the buyer and seller at odds with each other but the agents as well. As I listened to various sides of the story, it seemed that each roadblock came back to the buyer’s agent in some form or fashion and for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on,

I decided to call. I didn’t go into it with a plan or an agenda, but shortly after small talk, the words that fumbled out were, “Are you okay?”

Those three words were initially met with disdain. “Excuse me?” she said.

“I’m not talking about this contract, or even real estate. I’m just wondering if you’re doing okay?” Silence. What I heard next was the deep breaths of someone fighting back tears. “My marriage just fell apart.”

“I’m so sorry. How do you feel?” I asked.

“Angry, lost … really damn angry,” she replied.

“And here we all are expecting you to hold this transaction together when your life is falling apart. That has to be hard.”

“It is. It’s all I can do to get ready in the morning right now.”

Mostly I was proud of her willingness to enter into the vulnerability; that conversation was a lot to share with a stranger – it was certainly a lot to share with your competitor’s CEO.

I’ve thought back on that conversation countless times over the last six months, and in many ways, it helped shape the back half of the year for me. How often do we find ourselves with a coworker, employee, client or even a competitor, when we’re unaware of the stage that’s been set before we walk in stage right? How often are we in a “and here we all are expecting you to hold this thing together” moment with someone?

It would be easy to leave this story with myself as the hero, as someone who asked that question from a place of deep intellect. It was not.

It sprang from a person who has required a lot of counseling, experienced a lot of exhaustion, and had a lot of failed attempts at people-pleasing. Everything I’ve learned has come from being lost myself; I assure you I’ve gotten this wrong way more times than I’ve gotten it right.

All too often I’ve walked in and given an employee a task to perform without even making eye contact, much less asking a question. For me, busyness is the arch-nemesis of presence, which is difficult because it’s also one of the more glorified elements on the periodic table of business economics.

If you’re leading people into this new year, I would encourage you to shift your mentality from busyness to purpose, and from management to presence. Management is 90% presence and 10% strategy. If you know how your people operate and how they are doing, you’ll know exactly how to encourage them into their full potential; otherwise, you’ll spend the majority of your time guessing.

One of my favorite quotes from quite possibly the most important book I read in 2020 is out of Reboot by Jerry Colona. “The simple but hard task becomes clear: lead from the place of your truest self. Do so not merely for yourself but for those who love and entrust their careers to you.”

I believe we all have one thing in common: a desire for connection, and I would argue that mid-pandemic this desire is as visceral as it’s ever been. My encouragement to you for 2021 is to show up and connect with those you lead. Ask the questions you want to be asked. Answer the questions that take a great deal of courage. Move into the opportunities to be known. This is the essence of vulnerability (which by the way, was one of the most googled words in 2020).

Spend more time asking yourself “who do I want to be in 2021” and less time asking “what do I want to accomplish in 2021.” Who you were to someone will always outlast what you accomplished.

Justin Bailey is CEO of Realty Executives Associates.

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