Shane Kempton: the chief executive officer 2.0

Fifteen years after Shane Kempton was first appointed Harcourts Western Australia chief executive officer, he's slotted into the role for a second time. Here, Shane explains the leadership lessons he's learnt in the interim, including why he now completes instead of competes with his team and why people, not profits, are always number one.

Second chances in life, especially in leadership and the corporate world, are a scarce and precious thing.

Having the opportunity to do things better, in the same role, with the advantage of hindsight and an additional decade of experience, is even rarer.

This year, I find myself with this exact opportunity, having the privilege of being appointed the chief executive officer for Harcourts Western Australia – again.

However, this time, I’ve been upgraded with 15 years of additional coaching and leadership experience, both inside and outside the industry.

So, what has changed? In summary, the top seven upgrades are:

  • Big focus on ‘winning the inner game’ – success is an inside-out job.
  • In any market, there is nothing more important than the ‘C word’.
  • Love the people more than the perks – it’s about them, not you.
  • Achieving growth requires getting the 3P’s in the right order.
  • Less competing with, and more completing your people.
  • Only learning new things is an outdated growth model.
  • Switch from ‘people pleasing’ to ‘people leading’. 

Let’s explore a few of these upgrades in detail.

What version 1.0 leadership looks like

You don’t know what you don’t know, and 15 years ago, I had a limited idea of what leadership was.

I was 37 and the newly appointed, inaugural CEO for Harcourts Western Australia.

I was fresh from selling my real estate business, which was number one in Australia for the group. I was full of confidence, bravado and displayed an unstoppable, win-at-all-cost attitude towards my personal and professional life.

Mixing my business achievements and accolades with personal pursuits like big wave jumping on my jet ski, Harley Davidsons, fast cars and even a few professional Muay Thai fights, I thrived on all things high performance.

The world certainly felt like it was revolving around my success, and I was convinced everyone would follow me based on my Instafamous lifestyle. 

What version 2.0 leadership looks like

Back then, I believed leadership was all about show. The car you drove, the watch you wore, your physical appearance, and the places and events you attended.

I believed leadership and success were measured by what was happening externally and winning the ‘outer game’.

‘Fake it until you make it’ was a common belief passed onto aspirational, 1.0 leaders back then. 

Fast forward to the current world, and your team and consumers have access to real-time property data, so if you try and bluff your way out of a situation, you will be caught out.

Version 2.0 knows it’s best to be honest and upfront every time.

In the past 15 years, I’ve witnessed organisations with ‘town hall speeches’ based on ‘growth’.

This is great! We all want growth, but talking about it doesn’t mean we get it.

That is Version 1.0 thinking.

Version 2.0 understands results are based on routines, actions and behaviours.

Further, the behaviours individuals collectively have in an organisation is just another definition for the ‘C word’, or ‘culture’.

So, if we want growth, we must align our collective behaviours or culture to growth. 

What impacts culture is the strategic intent and language of an organisation.

This is best represented in how the leaders prioritise and rank the order of the 3Ps – people, performance and profits.

This ultimately determines the experience our people have with us.

This is TX, or the team experience, which has the biggest influence on their behaviours and, therefore, performance, growth and retention.

A Version 1.0 leader might say, “We have to grow market share and profits, so let’s work on your performance because you matter to us”. 

But Version 2.0 leader states, “You matter to us, therefore let’s work on your performance, so we can gain market share and profit together”. 

Version 2.0 has a genuine people-first culture, and this subtle upgrade in language creates a massive cultural shift from profit-performance-people to people-performance-profits.

There isn’t a huge percentage difference in prioritising the three. It might only be one or two per cent.

Yet having an intent, and using language and actions that put people first, over the talk of performance, growth and profits, often results in a 10 to 20 per cent difference in success, longevity and the experience your environment creates.

Businesses prioritising profit and performance before people are less likely to have an attractive culture that retains staff. They lose money by constantly recruiting and training new starters.

Businesses with a ‘people first’ culture assist team members with their performance and this generates profits.

Honour yesterday but respect today

When I entered the CEO role in 2007, I was an avid learner, and Version 1.0 knew I must continue to learn.

This was a good belief, but not great. 

Version 2.0 is also about learning, but I also understand the importance of unlearning and relearning

Just like a mobile phone, leadership needs to operate with the most up-to-date software (beliefs) to be efficient and effective.

This process requires learning new skills and letting go of old ones.

Install new beliefs and delete redundant ones; otherwise you run the risk of running out of memory and reducing your ability to take on new ones effectively.

With so much uncertainty and change in our world, there is no promise that our best today will be good enough for tomorrow’s challenges.

Version 2.0 requires us to be satisfied with what we have achieved yet humble enough to know our best is yet to come.

Complete rather than compete

Another redundant belief was that I needed to be better than everyone else. Be the smartest person in the room. Have an answer to every question. Show no weaknesses. 

That reeked of insecurity and a lack of self-confidence.

Version 2.0 doesn’t compete with people. It’s all about completing people. One is inclusive, the other is exclusive.  

To be clear, this is not about people pleasing.

It is about challenging them and creating an environment for others to be the best version of themselves.

My flame doesn’t lose any of its light by lighting another.

We are better together

The old, bullish style of, ‘my way or the highway’ just doesn’t cut it either. Your clients and your team need to be heard.

If you are not providing regular feedback opportunities and platforms, with follow-up actions, engagement will dimmish rapidly, and so will your team and clients.

Leadership is better when it’s inclusive, and when you shift from the ‘show’ of individual success to ‘showing up’ to assist with the team’s success.

Think of business and leadership like climbing a mountain. You can be a solo competitor and race your people to the top, or you can guide them to the top.

It may take a little longer, but you can share the view with more people.

Love your people more than the perks

Leadership is not a race. It’s not about being the fastest.

You deliberately go slower to go further. Sacrifice the snack of individual short-term success (the leadership sprint) for the feast of long-term team glory.

If Version 1.0 is about sprinting ahead and always being in front for personal fame, but Version 2.0 is more about travelling with your people.  

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Shane Kempton

Shane Kempton is the CEO of Harcourts WA and the network high performance coach.