Tough at the top!

Tough at the top!

My first managerial position back in 1987 still sits in my mind as one of the most challenging periods in my estate agency career. I was literally thrown in “at the deep end” and, more by luck than judgement, I ultimately swam rather than sank! After six months in the role, I was sent on a management training course, and things suddenly made sense. My only regret was that I should have attended the course before accepting the position rather than afterwards.

Even today, there seems to be a large number of estate agency managers around the country, who are hardworking and well-intentioned, but have not been provided with sufficient support in the acquisition of the requisite skills and knowledge to supervise successfully.

The majority of estate agency managers tend to have been promoted suddenly to fill the role of team leader as a result of an unforeseen gap being created by the departure of the existing manager. The successful appointee for this position normally has a simple profile including successfully climbing the typical estate agency career ladder from junior negotiator up to assistant manager. Alongside this, a combination of length of service, selling and/or valuing track record and having a face that fits often play a major part in the recruitment decision.

However, in many cases of such promotions, not everything goes smoothly.

It is tricky transition whatever the circumstances as such a move can throw the individual concerned onto an incredibly steep learning curve, largely because he or she becomes instantly responsible and accountable for the work and results of a team of people rather than simply just their own. The challenge of this change of role is frequently compounded by the fact that many new managers are promoted from within the group they have to subsequently supervise, necessitating an alteration in key working relationships.

New skills have to be learnt and adopted quickly, while often the new manager is expected to continue to make their appropriate contribution to hitting the agency’s sales and instruction targets.

As a result of the aforementioned hurdles, a worrying number of fledgling estate agency branch managers do not last long. They are sometimes seen as a wrong choice by the superiors who appointed them in the first place, or the managers themselves lose confidence and leave, subsequently reappearing at a competitor agent down the road at a more comfortable lower rank! They cannot be blamed for feeling unable to admit that management was not what they expected and in turn not what they want to do. As a result, a quality employee is lost to a rival.

A replacement manager is swiftly chosen and the whole flawed cycle continues.

There are a raft of management books and theories that vary in relevance to the fast-moving estate agency branch environment.

One which seems to sit comfortably with estate agency branch managers is John Adair’s concept of action-centred leadership. This revolves around the idea that there are three key areas that the leader needs to focus on, namely the leader’s responsibilities towards the tasks, the team and the individuals within the team. The leader sits at the hub of these three key areas.

“Task” duties will include ensuring all the appropriate jobs get done and hitting targets by planning, monitoring and checking. The “team” responsibilities will include motivation, communication and team building. The “individual” duties will incorporate coaching, development, counselling and discipline. A correct balance between these three areas will ensure effectiveness in each, leading to good results, a focused team and motivated individuals.

A balance of time and energy needs to be maintained by the manager to ensure effectiveness in the three key areas.

However, there will be times when priority has to be given by the leader to one of the key areas over the others. For example, when taking over an office producing poor sales figures, concentration in the “task” area will be important to drive out improved results. Equally, when the staff are not gelling as a group, the manager will need to devote more time to improving the team ethic to ensure they are performing as a collective unit, maximising strengths and compensating for weaknesses. Finally, a new starter or underperformer necessitates a manager to focus on those individuals for a period to bring them on to the desired level of effectiveness. It is rather like spinning plates!

There is undoubtedly a direct relationship between the effectiveness of a team leader and the results that the team produce. Those football fans among you will doubtless recognise the pivotal roles that Jose Mourinho and the now retired Sir Alex Ferguson and have played in their respective teams’ achievements in recent years. It is interesting also to note the dizzy heights that my own beloved Luton Town have achieved this season under the guidance of our first expert manager in some years.

The best managers recognise that leadership is an activity, not a status.