Samantha McLean: The habits of highly effective agents

Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a standout work when it comes to the business/self-help genre. But does it apply to real estate and, more importantly, agents? In this thought-provoking piece, Elite Agent Managing Editor Samantha McLean analyses Covey’s work in conjunction with our top traits of top performers survey, Insights. What Samantha discovers is a plethora of correlations between the two - essentially creating a checklist of must-do habits that will see you succeed in your market.

There’s been a lot written about habits in the past few years thanks to authors like James Clear with his book Atomic Habits and BJ Fogg with his book Tiny Habits.

But the OG of habits might still be Stephen Covey with his legendary The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Over the years, we have heavily referenced Covey’s work in our Transform and Accelerate programs and each time we do we see many improvements in the productivity and confidence of participants – simply by encouraging them to make small changes over a period of time. 

But what really works when it comes to being successful in real estate?

Last year we completed a survey on the habits of highly effective agents – specifically the agents that came out on top in’s AREAs. 

We consider The AREAs to be the most current and wide-ranging data-driven awards system in the land when it comes to determining the top agents across the country. 

You can still find and download a full copy of the survey results here.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is there a correlation between these results and Covey’s legendary work? 

You be the judge.

Habit 1: Be proactive

Covey’s habits 1, 2 and 3 are pretty tied together and the first one is about proactivity – which he defines as being about taking responsibility for oneself and the way we go through life. 

Highly proactive people do not blame their circumstances or other people but recognise that their behaviour comes from a conscious choice based on their own personal values.

Proactive people realise it’s their responsibility to make things happen and take a personal leadership position in doing so, realising “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”. 

Insights takeaway(s): 

  • 64 per cent of the top agents have a non-negotiable morning routine
  • 69.5 per cent on average work six days per week
  • Even though a large percentage of the top 100 agents in each state has been in the business for more than 16 years, they still spend a non-negotiable 1-2 hours per day, every day on prospecting activities

Further reading: Here are five ways to keep your mind on the job, by Caroline Bolderston. 

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

This habit is about knowing where you want to end up, and planning for it. Conversely, if you don’t know what that is, Covey puts it pretty succinctly: “it’s really easy to get caught up in the busyness of life”. 

If you’re working hard on the wrong things, no matter how much you work, it won’t move the needle. I’ve written a fair bit in the past about how sales is a chain-link system and you will always be held back by your weakest link.

Remember: An unimportant job done well doesn’t make it important.

Insights takeaway(s): 

  • 92 per cent of the top agents set goals
  • 84.7 per cent plan 1-5 years ahead
  • 58 per cent of the top agents have an ideal day they adhere to

Further reading: Check out this piece from Matt Lahood on how to stay productive whether you are in or out of the office

Habit 3 – Put first things first

Here is where the old urgent/important matrix you might remember from Eisenhower comes into play. 

I think this matrix needs an upgrade (maybe another article coming soon!) but it is based on prioritising based on urgency and importance.

Many tasks and activities in our lives can be urgent. Many can also be important. 

But not all. 

Urgent means it requires immediate attention.

If something is important, it contributes to our mission, our values and our goals, and gets you to ‘the end’ you have in mind. 

It is really easy to let urgent trump important (but don’t let that happen to you)!

Insights takeaway(s):

  • 43 per cent of the top agents make calls on the way to work, making sure that the important follow-ups get done before anything else gets in the way.

Further reading: Deep dive into 2021 AREA winner Josh Tesolin’s key strategies for over-communicating with clients, prioritising tasks and roles, and making sure every task is done.

Habit 4 – Think win-win

Win-win is not just some throwaway line (you know, when someone nods and says 100 per cent, even though they don’t understand a word you’ve said…) 

Covey says that win-win is not a technique; it’s a philosophy of human interaction and is driven by integrity, maturity and an abundance mentality – the belief there is plenty out there for everyone.

Insights takeaway(s): Alex Jordan, who was the top agent for Queensland in 2020, says his success comes down to human-to-human interactions. 

“Playing the long game in this industry will pay dividends, so rather than focus on the ‘now’ money and be transactional, just think about the longer-term outcome.”

Further reading: Check out Leanne Pilkington’s Lessons from 25 years in franchising where win-win appears to be a recurring theme!

Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

According to Covey, when another person speaks, we listen at one of four levels: 

  • We may be ignoring another person, not really listening at all
  • We may practise pretending to listen
  • We may practise selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation
  • We may even practise attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.

But there is a fifth level that very few of us ever practise, which is the highest form of listening, empathic listening – listening with the intent to understand.

Empathic listening is powerful because instead of projecting our own perspective and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, we’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. 

Insights takeaway(s): 

The top agents rated their leadership on average – as 8 out of 10 or above, and rated the support from the business they work in an average of 8.2 out of 10 or above.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have a group of top agents who rate their leaders highly.

“True leadership lies in guiding others to success – in ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do, and doing it well.” – Bill Owens 

Further reading: 

But how many times in our careers have we been (or known) Iceman, not seeing what might be in front of us – at times because we don’t want to, and other times because we’re just too busy in the day-to-day to consider other possibilities around us.”

Empathetic listening in leadership is explained differently within the topic of the OODA loop and the orientation step. When it comes to leading your team try to think of your team member as a customer and see things from their perspective.

Habit 6 – Synergise

Covey defines ‘synergy’ as something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 

When we communicate synergistically, we are opening our mind and heart to new possibilities, new alternatives and new options. 

Valuing the mental, emotional and psychological differences between people is the essence of synergy. 

The key to valuing those differences is to realise that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.

Insights takeaway(s): 

  • Teamwork really does make the the dreamwork with 90 per cent of our agents surveyed working in teams
  • Top agents rated the culture of their workplace an average of 8.4/10

Further reading: Check out Hannah Gill’s two-part series on creating a culture playbook, designed to create synergy between the many different people and personalities in your business. Check out part one and part two here. 

Habit 7 – ‘Sharpen the saw’ principles

Habit 7 is all about personal professional development. It’s all about enhancing the greatest asset we have – ourselves and working on all four dimensions (physical, spiritual, mental and social) of our beings regularly and consistently. 

Insights takeaway(s):

  • 53 per cent of the top agents have used a coach at some point
  • Even though they are at the very top of their field, 40 per cent of the top agents spend more than 20 – 40 hours on education per year.

So there it is; seven habits for highly effective real estate agents – and yes there is a correlation between our survey findings and the Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

I trust you’ll find some of your own aha moments in this, and remember it all starts with Habit 1 – if it’s going to be it’s up to me…

Further reading: 

Elite Agent has a heap of resources available to help you learn from the best, which you can find on our App here and through subscribing to Elite Agent Pro here.


Want to upgrade your leadership skills to support top agents on your team? 

Join us at Elite Retreat in August. Download a program and book here.

Want more Elite Agent tips and resources?

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5. Check out our stories on this year’s AREAs winners

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.