EPMEPM: Leadership

What I learned as a self taught leader: Kylie Maxwell

Business owner and leader Kylie Maxwell finished her last year of secondary school not knowing what she wanted to do. From the reception desk to business owner, she shares the top takeaways from her journey to leadership.

With no ambition and possibly no ability, I wasn’t planning on being a leader. Twenty-seven years later, I’m a business owner and frontline property manager and I seem to have filled those leadership boots quite well.

Taking the steps from receptionist to property manager to business owner, and naturally to leader, has been quite a learning curve. Here are my takeaway lessons.

Lesson One: It’s not about the glory

I remember, not too long ago, sitting in an awards night where a lot of my team had received awards and rightly so – they deserved every bit of recognition. I was not eligible for anything.

In my office these days I am a Jack of all trades and wear numerous hats. However, I had a moment of emotion come over me and had to excuse myself from the table to go and have a little cry in the ladies’ toilets. I was the one who had supported them, advised them what to do and at times had done a lot of the hard work for them, which in turn allowed them to reach their goals and targets, be in the spotlight and get recognition for their jobs.

It took me a long time and a lot of coaching to realise that as a leader your reward is personal satisfaction, seeing your team grow and get their chance to shine. I am now at the point where I can give myself a silent high-five and say, ‘I helped get them there’. I’m happy not to get the beautiful glass dust collector with my name on it.

Lesson Two: You need to let your team fall

Let’s face it, property management can be hard at times and, with little to choose from in the talent pool these days, you want to do what you can to retain staff. I thought that by taking on the hard stuff, putting out bushfires and protecting my staff from stress I was doing the right thing by them. Boy, did I have that wrong.

All I was doing was stunting their growth and not allowing them to feel the satisfaction of providing a solution to a complex issue. I didn’t realise until a trainer advised me I was being selfish, not to mention burning myself out. I now look at this in a whole different light. Sure, I still help, but the pile of ‘too hard to handle’ work no longer sits on my desk.

The empowerment and growth in my team has been incredible. I now allow them to tackle the hard stuff and we brainstorm solutions, with most answers coming from them, and just a few tweaks and support from me. This gives the team confidence in their ability and allows them to grow into efficient and capable property managers. Guess what? They are also happy to stick around and I no longer micro-manage… Weight lifted, sigh of relief!

Lesson Three: Not everyone is going to like you

Steve Jobs once said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; sell ice cream”. There has never been a statement that rings so true.

Our job as leaders is to constructively listen to our team, look at the facts and the business vision and then make an informed decision on the best direction or path to follow. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to agree with or like that decision. Don’t jump from one answer to another; just make it and stick with it. As a leader you’re not there to win friends and make people happy all the time. Don’t sugar-coat it; people will soon lose respect in you if you try to be a people-pleaser. Nothing will be achieved, and the business and team will not be working in a uniformed direction.

It took me a long time to realise that as a leader your reward is personal satisfaction, seeing your team get their chance to shine.

Lesson Four: It’s your ship and you need to step up and steer it

Several years back I walked into an office which had lost their senior property manager. Two sales-based directors were doing the best they could to ensure everything was running smoothly, but nobody was really steering the ship in that area of the business. The directors were putting out little bushfires here and there, but they also had their sales department to run and they were both excellent selling principals. The property management team were struggling on a foundation of mixed procedures and processes. The department was stressed, staff morale was low and business was walking out the door. Someone had to step up and steer the ship and turn it around.

I made the decision to wipe the blackboard clean and we started from scratch. As a team we worked on what was working and what wasn’t. We developed a procedures manual that everyone could work with and started to row the boat in the right direction instead of going around in circles. Staff morale picked up, things were done more efficiently and the stress levels went down. The team had direction and leadership.

Lesson Five: You need to bring the energy

A great saying is, ‘A fish always rots from the head down.’ If you walk into your office and the team seem stressed, the energy levels are low and work productivity is not great, then as a leader you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

Your team’s energy is only going to be as good as the energy that comes from the top. As leaders we set the tone and the example in the work environment. If I was continually moody, snappy, stressed, late and not treating clients with respect, what type of atmosphere and example do you think I would be setting for my team and the office environment? Does the term ‘walking on eggshells’ ring a bell?

On the other hand, if I’m upbeat, vibrant, supportive and bring the energy all the time, my team is more likely to feel at ease and stress-free. As leaders we not only need to walk the walk; we also need to talk the talk. Leadership is hard, and it may not be for everyone – but it can be. You need to grow yourself before you can grow others. My advice is to have a look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Would I follow you?’

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Kylie Maxwell

Kylie Maxwell is Director and Franchise owner of LJ Hooker Queanbeyan, with 25 years’ experience in property management. Kylie strives to keep property investment management fresh and modern to ensure the best possible advice to her team and service to clients at all times.