Darren Krakowiak: how you can become a better leader

Leadership is relevant to everyone in commercial real estate. 

If you’re not a people manager, you should still know how to lead yourself and lead your clients. 

And if you do have direct reports, your people management skills will help others perform at their best and deliver the results you are responsible for.

If you’re not managing people, having an idea of what good leadership looks like – and understanding if your manager is a help or a hindrance – will make a difference to your career trajectory and your earnings. 

People manager or not, if you’re striving to be a top performer, then you probably also want to be equipped with the ability to lead in the marketplace. 

I believe in the importance of great leadership, and I’ve developed a framework covering the four stages of leadership competency. 

The framework considers the degree of influence a person has, and the level of authority they exercise, to determine how advanced their leadership competency is.

It starts with following others: this is when someone has no authority and little influence.

Many people stay at this stage throughout their careers. To quote Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

Being followed by others: is when a leader has maximum influence without the need to use any formal authority.

Between these two ends of the spectrum is the difference between managing others and leading others – which is a journey in and of itself.


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This diagram shows how you can move through these stages, depending on your use of authority and your degree of influence.

In management terms, some of the attributes of people who are at the following others stage can include needing to take direction, wanting more recognition and not always being clear on what really matters. 

At the managing others stage, there is a lot of giving specific direction (also known as micro-managing), a tendency to take the credit for collective results and a focus on delivering on KPIs.

When someone is leading others, they are often demonstrating how to act (or asking for it). People who lead others are inclined to share the credit and can effectively communicate strategy.

When a leader is followed by others, they are typically asked how to be or instinctively followed. They are proactively looking to give others credit, and they share a compelling vision of the future.

Are good leaders born or made?

Whenever I’m asked whether leaders are born or made, the answer I give is always along these lines:

Some people have attributes that make them naturally better leaders, but it doesn’t mean they will be good leaders.

Regardless of one’s natural ability, everyone has the capacity to become a good leader – all they must do is decide that’s what they want to be.

Therefore, if the biggest determinant of whether someone can become an effective leader is their level of commitment to be one, it means that you can be a very effective leader if you really want to. 

So, the main thing to consider when weighing up if you should take on a role with people management responsibilities is not the title, the pay or whether it’s ‘your turn’; your decision should be based on whether you have the desire to be a good leader.

To help others to be the best that they can be, you need to commit to being the best leader that you can be.

If you have the capacity and desire to lead, but that isn’t in your job description, the framework shows that you can still be a leader; you can be followed by others, not because of your formal authority (or because people “have to”), but because of the influence you have. 

In fact, you can take on the responsibility of leadership before you have any authority – by how you carry yourself, through the actions you take and by being an example for others.

On the other hand, if you have no interest in the responsibility of leadership, then the best thing you can do is focus on being an individual producer – you’ll make far more money that way, and you’ll have far fewer headaches. 

If that’s you, just be aware of the need to manage yourself, to lead your clients and be mindful of not taking on formal leadership roles if you’re not willing to commit to the responsibility. 

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Darren Krakowiak

Darren Krakowiak is the Founder of CRE Success. He helps commercial real estate leaders to get their businesses growing faster and is the host of Commercial Real Estate Leadership, available as a podcast and on YouTube.