Author Scott Agnew: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &…

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Author Scott Agnew: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Leaders make plans when the future is unpredictable because everything’s unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. All you can do is take the unpredictability out of it and let everybody know that when they do certain activities, when they do certain things in their roles, that takes the risk and unpredictability out of the equation. It’s never the market that ends up stifling somebody’s business. It’s how they show up in the market, because even in the worst year in real estate, the worst year ever, 2008, 2007, both those years, there were still 4.7 million homes sold. That’s a lot of homes.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Agnew, author of Long-Term Leader.

Scott Agnew was destined to become a leader from a very early age. Having lost his father at eight years old, dealing with family debt and his mother’s illness, he learned selflessness and how to believe in himself. Through hard work, perseverance and determination, Scott’s Real Estate Brokerage has developed into the fastest growing in the franchise system and held the #1 market share in Utah for the last six years. Scott teaches and coaches business leadership with the mission of “Helping make things better by sharing insights, knowledge, strategy, and behavior of the most effective business leaders.”

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Well, my backstory is how I got started. It goes back to one of my first roles as a territory manager. I remember as a young, just right out of college kid, having to put on a sales meeting for a bunch of experienced commissioned sales people that knew a hundred times more about how to sell and how to present than I did. In fact, I had very little training at all. I was very, very nervous. I was over prepared going into the meeting. There were about seven guys in there. They were all 50–55 years old. They were really seasoned salespeople. That was my first exposure to public speaking and speaking in front of a group and trying to influence them and educate them about this new product line that we had. It came across pretty bad. They knew right away how green I was.

I think what helped me the most with understanding that first time was that I had a lot of work to do. I had a lot to learn. From that, I went on to start a small real estate brokerage firm with a partner in Ahwatukee, Phoenix, Arizona. I had spent many, many years learning how to sell and lead, and built that company up to quite a large company, about a hundred million in volume. We ended up then becoming a franchise for Keller Williams early on in the growth of Keller Williams, back in 1999. Then my leadership journey really began because now I wasn’t selling. I was leading because we had such a popular business model and a popular culture. We were taking the real estate world by storm. I had this amazing demand, and now I had to lead my team, my staff. I had to hire people. It was through all that experience that I was able to get started and start really appreciating what leadership was all about.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had a sales meeting that I was putting on and walked in. I had a PowerPoint. I had samples. I had everything that I needed to put my presentation on. Of course, the PowerPoint and the computer failed. I couldn’t get anything up on the screen. I wasn’t even that familiar with the products that I was presenting, so I had to wing it and make it up. Finally, the sales guys that I was presenting to finally just said, “You know what? Let us just play around with it and see what these products will do. Thanks for bringing it over. Have a nice day.”, and sent me on my way. What I learned from that is you not only need to prepare, but you need to prepare for contingencies, for things that you don’t know will happen. As an example, after that, I always made sure I had a handout. If the PowerPoint wasn’t available, I had a handout to give them in case, and, of course, in addition to. Little things like that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I got a lot of help along the way. One of the guys that I learned from early on was a man named John Wolf. John Wolf will always hold a big spot in my heart because, as a young businessperson who was really trying hard to succeed, he taught me the value of building relationships so that the sales happen over time. It was a long term sales approach, if you will, that really revolved around getting to know everything you could know about your client, their kids, their anniversaries, their hobbies, their things they like to do, their family vacations, their dreams, their hopes, and what they aspire to. When you get to know people at that level, they’re probably going to end up doing business with you, as long as you have a quality service or a product to deliver.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When my organization started our vision was pretty simple. We wanted to be the real estate company of choice for the next generation of real estate agents. The real purpose was to just have a place where entrepreneurs in the real estate space could absolutely thrive. We set a bunch of goals around that and a bunch of strategies and tactics around that. But that was really the purpose. We were actually creating a new way to do real estate and reinventing the business model. That reinvention played right into entrepreneurs who wanted to thrive at a high level.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

One of the things about leading teams during uncertain or difficult times, this is going to sound so simplistic, but during difficult times, it’s important you focus on your people and not just on the results they are getting as a team. It’s important that you understand their victories, their fears, the things they want to learn, their aspirations. Then, as you dig into that, rather than pushing them to achieve that or pigeonholing them or sharply angling them to achieve those things, ask them to create their own vision. Imagine what it would be like if you hit this number. Imagine what it would be like if you had this client join your organization. Imagine what it would be like if you got this builder under your wing, and you were the lead agent for that particular home builder. What would that do for you? Get them to look forward and have a vision themselves.

Once they have a vision, then it’s important to just teach them how to think about it. How do they go about getting that vision to reality? Most of the time, what’ll happen in certain times, people try to do all kinds of things. They try to do lots of things. In uncertain times, it’s important that they stay focused on the one or two things they need to do. Particularly during rough times, it usually has to do with either acquiring clients or giving a client a world class experience so that they will never leave you, and they will always be forever humbled to the great service or product that you deliver.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

There was a time when I felt like giving up. Of course. It came from partnerships. I was not a great communicator. I held things close to the chest. I didn’t share very well what my partners wanted to know, like, “What’s the plan, Scott?” I had some partners that were frustrated with me, rightfully so, because I didn’t proactively communicate. They were always chasing me down for information. I considered myself a failure in leadership and partnerships. I wanted to quit. The way I got around it was I actually started reading some books on communication and energy and sought out some coaching and got a lot of help. That’s what sustained me. I got a lot of help from reading. I got a lot of help from my coaches. One thing I learned from my coaches was how to be accountable. I started being accountable to proactively communicating with my partners. It helped a ton. It actually turned everything around for me.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

The book that I read that actually changed that around for me was a book called The Energy of Money. The Energy of Money is a methodology that I still use today. Basically, it’s a simple formula. What I had to do was I had to take a look at myself. This book caused me to take a look at my energy level. Was I being authentic? Was I being real, or was I just going through the rhetoric? Was I acting like I knew about things, or did I really know about certain things? This book helped me with my energy. It helped me with my focus.

After I read this book, instead of doing trainings where I just got up and monologued, I would do trainings where I became a lot more interactive with the classroom. I learned how to effectively engage people in the classroom and learned how to get people to share their stories. I learned how to get people to interact with each other in training sessions so that they could actually have a little bit of learning from their own particular issues or challenges. What I did was empower the group to help each other in the group. That all came from this book, The Energy of Money.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The critical role of the leader is to help people maintain the focus on the most important things. But one of the ways to do that, as I said earlier, is to focus on their needs, their wants, their desires, their hopes, and their dreams, and to guide them away from the drama or the beliefs that limit them, in order for them to take more action and go for it. Taking action is generally an issue of knowledge and confidence. That’s the leader’s role, is to educate, and then through that education, educate them on things that help them be confident. In real estate, as an example, we educate our agents so that they know what the market is doing in an intelligent way, very specifically, the number of actives, pendings, solds, all those kinds of things that are very specific, along with percentages and trends. When you give your people that kind of knowledge, they appear very intelligent and smart to the client, and they’re confident that they have talking points that’ll be of interest to the client. That’s what I would say during critical times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Focus on your people. Again, find out their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and then guide them and educate them on how they can be better at what they’re doing and more efficient. In an uncertain future, the best way to boost morale, in my opinion, is to listen to your people. Really actively and honestly listen. It’s not enough to just nod your head, but to repeat back to them in their vernacular. If they say, “I’m really super confused right now,” don’t look at them and say, “Oh, you look like you’re mixed up,” or “You’re a confused puppy.” You look back at them, and you say, “Tell me about this super confusion that you have. I’m interested. Please tell me more. I’m here to help.”

When you want to inspire, the first stage is for people to be heard. The motivation generally is already there. In other words, I always assume motivation because everybody is motivated. Not everybody is motivated to do the same things, but I never would come across and act like they’re not motivated. I would always approach it from the position of maybe the role or the position you have isn’t right for you, or maybe you’re not right for the role. Whatever it is, it doesn’t mean that you’re not an engaged and motivated team member. It just means that you might just be doing something you hate. Let’s find something in the organization that you love. When you do that, there’s automatic engagement. It’s a little bit like moving chess pieces around, but you can only move the chess pieces around when you understand what each chess piece actually is great at.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I think communicating difficult news to one’s team and the customers is best done if it’s very direct and raw and truthful, followed by a solution, or followed by questions around thoughts on their solutions. If I have a problem, let’s say I announce, “Last month, we lost money.” That’s difficult news for the team to hear. But the team might come up with many ideas on how to not lose money anymore. There might even be some people that say, “You know what? I’ll get my son to come in. He’s going to school. He can work on the computer for free because this way he can learn computers.” People will come up with different answers. Difficult news is usually how you end up identifying the real leaders in your organization.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Leaders make plans when the future is unpredictable because everything’s unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. All you can do is take the unpredictability out of it and let everybody know that when they do certain activities, when they do certain things in their roles, that takes the risk and unpredictability out of the equation. It’s never the market that ends up stifling somebody’s business. It’s how they show up in the market, because even in the worst year in real estate, the worst year ever, 2008, 2007, both those years, there were still 4.7 million homes sold. That’s a lot of homes.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The unpredictability part is just a matter of losing focus on the activities you need. Generally, when the markets go down or business is off, it’s just about increasing the activity so that you can get the results that you want, or the same results that you’ve gotten in the past. The number one principle that helps guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times is to stay focused on the most important thing. It’s always going to be an issue of focus. One of the things a leader can do is make sure that they pare down that focus and make the playbook very simplistic with some action steps behind it. If the playbook is too complicated, then your folks won’t know what’s most important. That’s part of what we do. We help prioritize.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The common mistakes I see in difficult times, probably the number one issue that I see is they put the organizations’ needs before the people’s needs. The organization is losing. Therefore, we need you to work harder. That’s a mistake. I think the common ground there is, are you doing the activities? Because we want to make sure that this is the right place for you, and make sure that you’re focusing on them. Another common mistake made is coming out with command-and-control leadership and not really coming out with leadership that’s more empathetic. I’m not saying it’s sympathetic. You don’t feel sorry for people, but you certainly can relate to their pain and their uncertainty. Most of the time, the way out of that is through training and education. It doesn’t have to be you as the leader that does it. You can bring in great people that are surviving through these same turbulent times, and even thriving. They can share with your people what they’re doing and how they’re succeeding, and they can share some of their mistakes, their trials and tribulations.

I would also say that when people come to you with their challenges, their issues, or their problems as a leader, don’t try to solve their problem. Don’t just jump to give them advice. Instead, go deeper. Listen deeper. I’ve got a problem with so-and-so, tell me about that. So-and-so isn’t doing blah-blah. Oh, interesting. Tell me more. What do you think is going on with this issue? What have you thought about? How long have you been thinking about this? What have you been thinking? What, if anything, have you come up with in terms of a plan of action that can help solve this problem? Just listen to them, rather than offering advice right out of the box.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

When a leader is clear about the vision and the mission, it makes everybody more certain. It takes out the turbulence. As an example, in real estate, markets shift. They shift from seller’s market to buyer’s market. When the demand for listings is low, it becomes a buyer’s market. When the demands for listing are very high, it becomes a seller’s market. Recently, we just got through experiencing a high level of demand for housing. Agents got very complacent around generating leads because leads were coming out of the woodwork. We would have meetings, and we had various sessions and masterminds around it. In order for them to understand that this was not going to go on forever, as a leader, we were trying to help them see around the corner. What that involves is managing their database, managing their lists, and making sure that they had a systematic way of keeping in touch with their lists. During really hot times, they don’t focus on that. As times slow down, they want to focus on it. Rather than scold them or tell them, “I told you so,” I just keep sending out forms to fill out or questionnaires to fill out, and even at a higher level, meetings that can take place so that we can help them have a clean list that they can work from. That list is their gold. That’s their future. That’s their income. That’s potentially their retirement. We just help them focus on that.

Another thing is to let them know that nothing is as bad as it seems, and nothing is as good as it seems. A leader has to stay okay in their own behavior. They can’t panic. They can’t act anxious. They need to just come in with a very calm demeanor, but with urgency in the challenge. As an example, this last month, we were having 30 showings on every listing we had. Now we’re down to one or two showings per every listing, or open house I should say. Does that mean agents should stop doing open houses? No. What we teach is to do better open houses. Instead of just putting a bunch of open house signs in front of the house or around the corner on the street, we started to recommend using at least 18 signs to guide people to the house. Prior to the open house, we encouraged them to walk the neighborhood with a flier, inviting them to come to the open house, and letting them know you would have cookies and lemonade or hot dogs or whatever you had, and that your neighbor wanted you to come by because we know that you want to know what’s going on in real estate in your area. It’s information, and it’s a little extra effort.

During turbulent times like this, I would say that an effective leader needs to not give the message to just work more crazy hours, but to stay focused on doing the important work that needs to be done. As an example, as real estate slows down, we’ve always had a mantra in real estate, that you should lead generate at least three hours a day. When the market turns, just make sure you’re still lead generating three hours a day. There’s a book out, a wonderful book called Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, that talks about getting people into activities very easily and with just minimal reps, and when you start. I think that’s what leaders need to do. Just make sure that during tough times, people don’t hide their head in the sand. Rather than just beating the crap out of them and wanting them to do more and more and more, just make sure they’re still doing the basics. If you can keep them on the basics, you’re going to be much further ahead.

Another very important thing is to recast that vision. What does it look like? What is our business? What are our family’s lives? What are our communities? What are our clients’ lives going to look like when we’re effectively delivering on our promise of amazing service, great results, fabulous product, whatever it might be. As an example, in my business, when we’re really nailing it and we’re succeeding at a high level, there are agents that want to join our company without us even calling them. They just call us because they see what’s going on, and they want to join. We get clients that call and say, “Come list my house,” because they see what we’re doing, and they know what’s going on because we’re sharing the vision. That vision, it could be a direct offer. That vision could be a testimonial. Whatever it is, the job of the leader is to help people see what’s possible and then give them the mission and the plan on how to effectively get there. And please, don’t over complicate it. Keep it simple. One, two, or three objectives, and that’s it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes that’s been relevant in my life is don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff. That’s one of my faves. In fact, that was one of the lessons that I think my mom taught me. Honey, nothing is that bad. It’s all small stuff. The only real big stuff is when you’re faced with maybe quickly understanding that your lifespan is limited, or your health is going, or those kinds of things. But in business, business goes in cycles. Learn to live with those cycles. Don’t panic, and stay focused on the prize. Stay focused on the basics and the fundamentals.

How can our readers further follow your work?

If you would like to follow some of my work, I wrote a book called Long-Term Leader. You can get it at That will give you some insights into leadership, and not what to do as a leader as much as how to do it. When we know how to do something, that’s what keeps us sustained. That’s what keeps us in the game for a long time. I think everybody would agree, the longer you stay in the game, the better you get, the more profitability you have, the more success and the more opportunity to make a difference.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you, it’s been an honor.

Author Scott Agnew: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.