Ellen Bathgate: collaboration over competition

Servant leadership means you focus on the needs of others before your own and, while it's been around for a while, Ellen Bathgate has recently noticed a big uptick in the leadership style. She says emerging property management leaders are focusing on serving others and it could be just the ticket to sustainability and growth.

I don’t like admitting this, but I’ve been in property management for almost 20 years.

I’ve seen leaders of all kinds in our industry.

It’s the emerging leaders in property management who are surprising and delighting me, my colleagues, their teams and their clients.

The new leaders are embracing the concept of ‘servant leadership’.

Servant leadership is a term originally coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, and it describes a leadership style that focuses on serving others rather than trying to grab power and control for yourself.

This approach to leadership seems to be more prolific in this decade compared to decades before. 

I’m excited to see the new leaders emerging in our industry.

But there are three things in particular that these new leaders are doing to take their careers, their business, their team, and our industry to a new level.

1. Embracing technology

I know we all claim to embrace technology. In fact, you might have it written in your listing presentation.

It’s one thing to auto-receipt your rent but another to allow a chatbot to answer your tenant’s inquiries.

If the idea of having a chatbot speak to your tenants makes you want to throw up a little, you’re not alone.

You might imagine that a chatbot will give your tenants the wrong advice or send them in circles with the same response over and over.

Or, you might worry that the chatbot won’t pass the inquiry to you appropriately.

These fears about using artificial intelligence (AI) and automated messaging are legitimate.

I think we’ve all been caught in a queue on a messaging platform, desperately trying to get the stupid robot to understand what we’re asking.

However, emerging leaders in property management are embracing this technology and using it to add more support to their clients and, particularly, their team, without removing the human touch.

This is especially valuable outside of general business hours.

Emerging leaders are using chatbots, AI and automation to allow their teams to switch off at the end of the day and to make sure that their clients can access information and assistance in a way that they’ve never been able to before. 

It’s not about replacing people with automation. It’s about providing a better customer experience and work-life balance for the property management team.

This approach from our property management leaders will sustain our industry and property managers’ careers.

2. Collaboration over competition

When I was growing my rent roll, there was no way my competitors would have met with me for a coffee.

The competition was fierce, and you’d never allow a competitor to know what you were up to.

The idea of collaborating and helping your competitors feels uncomfortable.

But some leaders in the property management space are bringing their competitors together to talk about how they can run their businesses better.

They are sharing what’s working in their agency with their competitors.

There’s brainstorming, strategising and planning together to make their businesses better.

Admittedly, it’s a small number of property management leaders who are bringing their competitors together to focus on how they can help each other, rather than how they can pull each other down. 

But here’s where it gets good – those businesses that collaborate are doing better than those that don’t.

Who would have thought that sharing your best ideas with your competitors would be a good idea?

I know I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do that when growing my rent roll.

But I have clients who are leaders in the property management industry who are doing exactly this, and it takes my breath away.

The focus on collaboration over competition, even within a local market (not a big conference) is a new style of leadership in our industry.

It’s a style of leadership that makes many of us uncomfortable, but I think it’s here to stay.

3. Flexible working arrangements

Two years of lockdowns did some terrible damage to our industry.

However, two years of lockdowns also taught us to be flexible in our working arrangements.

The property management leaders I work with are approaching workplace arrangements very differently.

Some leaders are moving to four-day weeks. Some are allowing work-from-home days.

Some are more flexible about personal appointment times or allowing their teams to pick up and drop off kids from school.

Some leaders have even created space in their offices for their kids to hang out during the school holidays. 

It’s these considerations for their team and for themselves that make them an influential property management leader.

Learning to focus on outcomes and results, rather than clocking 40 hours a week, is empowering our industry to be more efficient and inventive.

This flexibility will allow property managers to remain in our industry because their workplace accommodates their family, their emotional needs, their mental wellbeing and promotes a healthy balance.

Seeing these new emerging leaders in property management is exciting and refreshing.

Our industry needs to attract new recruits into property management, and having a new approach to leadership will be the thing that allows our industry to grow.

This new approach to leadership will foster more sustainability in our industry and encourage property managers to remain in their careers for longer.

And happy property managers create happy clients.

And happy clients grow rent rolls.

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Ellen Bathgate

Ellen Bathgate is the founder of Rent Roll Starter, and helps rent roll owners to start and grow their own rent rolls using affordable growth strategies. For more information visit