Transformational leadership is a process where a leader connects with their followers in a manner that both motivates and raises their morality while guiding them towards a shared vision (Northouse, 2016). According to Bennis and Nanus (as cited in Northouse, 2016), there are four common strategies transformational leaders use within their organizations. Transformational leaders have a clear vision, are social architects, create trust, and use a creative deployment of self (Northouse, 2016). Ten years ago, I was witness to an amazingly clear example of transformational leadership.
In the spring of 2010, the Army had decided it was time for me to move. I was put on assignment to South Korea and would be leaving North Carolina. I had recently purchased a home in the area, and thanks to the housing market crash, would not be able to sell the house. I instead decided to put the house up for rent. Unfortunately, a quick internet search for property manager reviews in the area gave me little hope of finding a reputable agent. Asking anyone I knew that dealt with a property manager for their opinions did little to help the situation. Long story short, there were no good property management companies in the area. I decided to call the realtor who had sold me the house for a recommendation, and she informed me of the true problem with property management in the area, leadership.
According to my realtor there were many good property managers in the area but no good property management companies in the area because the leaders in all of them were bad. I was running out of time before I left the country, so I had to make a choice. I found one company whose reception seemed very informed and personable and decided to contract through them. Within a week I was on my way to Korea and hoped for the best.
For the first month or two everything seemed ok. I was receiving my rent payments and monthly reports regularly. But then I received a message from the receptionist telling me my manager quit the company and I would be assigned a new person. From that moment on, the lack of quality leadership in the organization became evident. Some months I did not receive my reports. A couple times I received the wrong reports that showed other people’s financials. Each time I would send a message to the receptionist and she would do her best to get me what I needed. As time went on. I could tell she was getting frustrated with her work environment. Then one day it all seemed to change. Two months before I was set to move back to North Carolina from Korea, I received a letter from the new broker in charge (BIC) of the property management company. It was a form letter, but there was a handwritten message at the bottom of the letter addressing me by name that was an apology for the poor communication and a promise to do better. Two months later, when I returned to North Carolina, I witnessed how the new BIC was transforming the organization.
One of the first things I did when I got back to NC was to see my property manager. As I walked in the office, I immediately noticed a change. The office itself was beautifully decorated and was bright and welcoming. This was a drastic change from the cold simple atmosphere I remembered. The receptionist greeted me with a huge smile and welcomed me back. I also noticed that everyone in the office seemed genuinely happy and appeared eager to do their jobs. The receptionist then introduced me to the new BIC, who invited me to her office. She began by again apologizing to me for the poor service I had previously received and then explained to me her version for the organization.
The BIC told me that she had spent over a decade working in the property management field in the area and was well aware of the dreadful conditions within all of the companies. She told me her plan was to make property management a pleasant experience for all, her employees, the renters, and the homeowners. She told me how she believed if she set out to “take care” of her employees, they in turn would “take care” of the customers. Northouse (2016) explains that transformational leaders have a clear vision and it should be simple and understandable to create energy within the organization. The BIC clearly had done this first strategy for transformational leadership. She had an idea on how to make the organization exceptional and through the second strategy, being a social architect, she had shared that vision.
Being a social architect means creating a group identity within an organization with shared values and norms (Northouse, 2016). The upbeat nature of everyone I saw at the office, which was not present the year prior, was evidence that the entire organization had excepted the BIC’s vision and adopted it as their own. I must admit at this point, the BIC and I became friends. Through our friendship and many conversations, I was able to understand more about how she had led the organization to greatness.
The BIC built trust within the organization. Trust is built through being predictable and reliable and most importantly, following through on the shared vision (Northouse, 2016). The BIC truly did focus all of her energy on her employees so they could take care of the customers. She not only decorated the office to a more pleasant environment. She also implemented perks for the employees. Each employee was given a company cell phone and access to a small fleet of company cars for use when traveling to properties they managed. This may seem small, but was a huge change from the industry norm of employees using their own phones and transportation and writing the expenses off on their personal taxes. She also encouraged each of her employees to seek self-improvement. Which leads to the fourth strategy of transformational leaders. A creative deployment of self through positive regard (Northouse, 2016).
Transformational leaders use their positive self-regard to encourage their followers who in turn will feel confident (Northouse, 2016). The BIC encouraged all of her employees to improve themselves and obtain higher levels of real estate licenses and certificates. She not only helped them in understanding and studying for the certification tests. She also rewarded each of the employees with an increase in salary based off their increased certifications. It was not long before every one of the original employees she had were highly certified real estate brokers and three of the original ten had received their own broker in charge licenses and were receiving job offers to take over other property management organizations in the area. It is not surprising, that the BIC not only encouraged those three employees to take those jobs, she also continued to mentor and encourage them when they did.
The transformation of the property management company I use was both rapid and undeniable. They went from managing right around 2000 properties to over 10,000 within 18 months of hiring the new BIC. To this day the organization is still expanding and the BIC’s influence can be seen in the entire property management community of the area not just in her organization. I remain friends with the BIC and consider her a leadership mentor of mine. Being a soldier and being a property manager probably have very little in common. But, outstanding transformational leadership is universal and I can not help but admire and hope to emulate the example this BIC displayed.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage.