Phillips: “If companies are serious about long-term sustainable growth, then they must ‘grow’ their talent. This starts with systems and processes for developing talent and preparing leaders to go to the next level within the organization.” Phillips: “If companies are serious about long-term sustainable growth, then they must ‘grow’ their talent. This starts with systems and processes for developing talent and preparing leaders to go to the next level within the organization.”

ATLANTA—In addition to helping Baby Boomers pass the torch to Millennials, leadership training creates independent thinkers who look beyond short-term goals toward more lasting outcomes, Dr. Debbie Phillips tells Phillips, who was awarded a 2015 IREM REME Award, is also president of the Atlanta, GA-based international consulting firm the Quadrillion. We sat down with her to discuss how changing demographics are raising the need for good leadership training and how this practice can help real estate firms succeed on many levels. Why are changing workforce demographics necessitating good leadership training now?

Phillips: Sixty-three percent of all senior executives (Baby Boomers) are eligible for retirement over the next five years, and with Gen-Xers being a smaller cohort, they are asked to fill jobs for which they may not have enough experience—especially when it comes to leading teams and making tough decisions in a complex business environment.

Ten thousand Millennials enter the workforce each year. Right now, there are 40,000 Millennials in the workforce, and they make up 40% of the workforce. But there are other generations in the workforce as well. There are so many aspects to what leadership training is and what it’s for—employees are leading at all levels.

What’s important and what’s driving a lot of leadership is having self-managed teams and remote workers. There’s been a 30% increase in telecommuting over the last two to three years, and as a result, there’s a lot of training that doesn’t happen because people are working remotely and are also working in self-managed teams. These teams are coming together to accomplish a specific task, and when you are managing remote workers or a particular age cohort, you have to look at Marketing 101: who’s your audience. The larger companies have leadership development and training of all types, but my heart really goes out to the smaller and mid-sized companies that don’t have training resources. Identifying the best resources for a particular team gets sticky. You have a diversity of skill sets, plus a blend of Millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers and a whole other set of cultural differences (e.g., it could be a family company with an older generation’s name on the door). How are Millennials expectations about their work environment changing leadership needs for these companies?

Phillips: Millennials get frustrated by the slow pace (although I prefer the word “deliberate”) of Baby Boomers and their neglecting to invest in technology when it comes to certain business solutions, as well as the neglect to really “show them the ropes.” Millennials are very much in a “I want it now” mentality—they want access to information with a click of a button, and they expect their career to progress with click of a button. Leadership, for the most part, is best learned in the trenches, and when the opportunity is given to “fail” or at least experiment. I’ve learned more from my mistakes than from my victories. Millennials can sniff out the facts from the fiction, and they also value authenticity and want transparency. They want to see for themselves what works and what doesn’t and to be trusted to make big decisions as well as small ones.

One of the reasons Millennials go to work for a specific company is their perceived career path—they want to see their career develop, and they’re looking to the next promotion. But Baby Boomers get freaked out when somebody says, “What am I going to do after this?” Baby Boomers are thinking, “Convince me you can do this job before asking what’s next.” We need to make sure we have the right environment—a leadership path for Millennials that allows them to take risks in a safe way.

Millennials’ expectations about their work environment are very much “on demand.” They want feedback on demand, career progression on demand, work/life balance on demand. They look at the workplace through a different lens. I hate it when Baby Boomers trash the Millennials because we were Millennials once, too—we were working in a different environment, but we had the same concerns. How should companies approach succession planning, and how does this affect their real estate decisions?

Phillips: Millennials want to be ready for “the ready chair.” They often get disappointed in waiting for the next opportunity, and they end up leaving the organization for another position where they are promised larger responsibility. It’s important for companies to get “real” and get ready before the high-potential talent comes to the company. You don’t get what you want; you get what you focus on. If companies are serious about long-term sustainable growth, then they must “grow” their talent. This starts with systems and processes for developing talent and preparing leaders to go to the next level within the organization.

Some companies grow at such an accelerated pace that their talent development hasn’t kept up. When you buy a portfolio, they want you to put producers on the ground. You need somebody in that ready chair, ready to be promoted to grow your business. What else should our readers know about leadership training? 

Phillips: Leadership training requires intentional focus from the top. It must be multi-dimensional—it involves continual coaching, mentoring, job rotations, role immersion and reflection. Leadership training is also dynamic: there is no “one size fits all.” It must be nimble enough to take team members through different cycles, scenarios and ambiguous scenarios.

One of the primary reasons leadership training fails is that there is not enough time devoted to reflection.  Team members need to have time to reflect on what they have learned. This is why one-to-ones are so powerful. Deep work needs to be shared with a mentor, a coach or supervisor so that constructive feedback is shared each way.

In the words of Simon Sinak, everyone needs to answer the question: Why? Why is this important?  Organizations can’t perform at an optimal level without a deep bench of talent and that requires leaders at all levels. Leadership is a mindset.

If you look at multifamily properties, for example, most teams are managed at the site level. There are six to eight levels, and if the service engineer doesn’t have a leader mindset, he may make decisions that aren’t best for the organization. If you don’t have a leadership mindset that looks at the long view and asks, “How is this going to benefit the entire operation or enterprise?” he could very quickly make the short-sighted decision of saving money in the short term at the expense of the long term. So much training is spent on this is how you talk to people and handle conflict resolution, which are important, but we must also teach the why—why is this even important?

We must be more intentional in our leadership development. People get burnt out in the same role unless you let them experience something else in the same company. It costs money when people leave—we talk about replacement costs in real estate development, but we must also think about replacement costs in terms of human capital. IREM’s Leadership Handbook for Real Estate Professionals provides a great blueprint for both individuals and organizations to develop and harness the leadership skills required for success in today’s economy.