Mike McMullen is the CEO of Prominence Homes and the author of Build. Rent. Sell. Repeat!
When I started in real estate, I was on my own. Now I’m the CEO of three different companies. Not including vendors and private contractors, I directly employ over 60 people. Twenty years in the driver’s seat later and I’ve learned one big lesson about leadership: It looks different for everybody.
But how do you figure out how you lead most effectively? How can you make the best use of your skills and talents? Ideally, you’ll want to capitalize on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, but coming to terms with what those traits are requires a journey of self-discovery.
The market won’t wait for you to self-actualize. You need to get moving yesterday, and you can’t afford to piddle around figuring things out. What should you do?
No worries — part of my job is positioning people where they will make maximum impact. I’ve found it helpful to group styles of leadership into three basic categories: the visionary, the artist and the mathematician. Short and simple! Let’s dive into what these titles mean.
Visionaries have an uncanny ability to see “over the horizon” and anticipate opportunities that others are too busy or too short-sighted to notice. Visionaries generally do not like “boxes” that confine or constrain their thinking or ideas and instead are free-thinkers who love to explore beyond the horizon. They often make decisions based on their gut instincts and, more often than not, are proven to be right once everyone gets further down the road. Being a visionary comes with a great many benefits. Being in charge is a natural part of your personality, and you likely excel at challenges that others find impossible.
However, even visionaries suffer from shortcomings. The opposite of managers or pragmatists, they tend to lose sight of the day-to-day skirmishes in single-minded pursuit of their goals. If you are a visionary, you may run the risk of ignoring intangible resources. Things like the emotional needs of your staff or the aesthetic value of your product can seem tedious, insignificant or even distracting.
You should avoid handling every detail by yourself. Outsource management of your personnel to someone more personal, and leave artistic concerns to the aesthetic types. You’re too busy for details; you’ve got new worlds to conquer and exciting possibilities to explore.
Creative and aesthetic, you can spend hours or even days dreaming up the perfect catchphrase, logo or customer experience. You hatch a creative vision and then raise it to maturity, no matter the cost.
Steve Jobs was the archetypal artistic leader, someone whose aesthetic sense set him apart from the competition. Don Draper, his fictional equivalent in the series Mad Men, also leads people by creative example, inspiring his staff by concocting jaw-dropping, heart-wrenching displays of creative insight.
As an artist, you are arguably the most talented type of leader. You frequently see what others can’t. When a color needs to change, you feel it. When a line should be redrawn, you sense it. This talent for fast-paced, creative decisions makes you a mastermind at controlling the image and reputation of your brand.
But being an artist in the private sector is both a blessing and a curse. Artistic leaders often lose sight of the bottom line, get bogged down in details or go off the rails completely.
To compensate for this danger, surround yourself with people who can manage the crunch of day-to-day operations, such as those in accounting, short-term finance and record keeping. Believe it or not, some folks love numbers. Find a few and you’ll be good as gold.
As a “mathematician,” you are the person people come to for solutions. You study the rules of the game so you can reinvent them. You crack every code, solve every mystery and then write a treatise on how you did it so other people can follow your example.
Chances are you have a knack for practical math. You can calculate large sums in your head. You can take one glance at a property and decide on the spot if it will turn a profit. You can juggle a diversified portfolio of options, all without dropping a single bill. In business, mathematicians succeed where others fail, and given time and resources, they know how to multiply assets.
However, much like the visionary, intangible, immeasurable and abstract resources might not register on your mainframe. Consider hiring people who are artsy and sociable. They can help advise you away from faux pas.
In the end, every leader is different. Chances are you see yourself as a mix of at least two archetypes. If so, great! The goal is to put your strengths and weaknesses on paper so you can adjust your business accordingly.
It behooves each of us to do the best with what we are given, not to strive to be something we are not.