Crisis defines leadership. We saw it during the SARS pandemic, during H1N1, in the wake of 9/11 and the blackout that blanketed the Eastern seaboard in 2003—to name just a few. Property managers stand on the forefront of leadership in these events, providing assurance and guidance on the way back to stability. The same is true in the midst of the ongoing challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there is one difference between COVID-19 and the previously mentioned events. This pandemic is not an event. We cannot simply learn our lessons and move beyond it—the rules of engagement throughout this pandemic continue to change quickly.
From dual perspectives as the 2020 IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) president, and my role at QuadReal, I’ve witnessed how the past few months have shaped the leadership position that property managers must assume, and the influence we have in the lives of our residents, tenants, staff, and building owners.
The constant presence of the pandemic has crystallized for me the values and attributes that define true leadership; attributes such as flexibility, compassion and possibly most important, courage. McKinsey & Company recently published a thought-provoking article, “From a room called fear to a room called hope,” that presents the leadership qualities that sustain hope during trying times. I recommend it.
Let’s explore each of those value propositions in light of our shared COVID-19 experience:
No doubt, we all entered 2020 with certain plans—budgetary or strategic—that were replaced by the need to stay home and self-quarantine. Any awareness we ever had of remaining flexible in the face of crisis was underscored as the pandemic grew. Property managers were expected to provide the voice of calm and direction, often in the midst of shifting directives from our governmental and regulatory resources.
Being present for those stakeholders, in the form of ongoing and clear communication and the genuine ability to show compassion, proved to be a major asset in the partnership we have with our tenants and residents, sending the message that we are all in the crisis together, and that we would be there to navigate the shifting tides of the pandemic.
Notice, I said genuine. COVID-19 provides property managers with the opportunity to state clearly that we understand the needs of our stakeholders, that we take our role seriously, and we are performing that role to the best of our ability.
Genuine also means that this compassion be expressed straight across the board. Throughout this very stressful and exhausting time, we have all had to cope with the strains of our career and personal responsibilities. All of us are juggling issues such as school closures, care for our loved ones and other challenges to our personal lives while being present—even if virtual—in our jobs, and managing rent issues and sanitization issues and social distancing in our buildings, and all of the questions we’re facing. That compassion shared with our team members will speak volumes to our stakeholders more than ever.
Core to this straight-across-the-board compassion is the health and wellness of our occupants and our staff. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the focus on sustainability in all forms, including the wellness of buildings and occupants. The importance of how a building is designed and operated has a huge impact on the well-being of tenants, residents, and building staff.
That focus kicked into high gear at the start of this year, and our ability to respond to—and foresee—the needs of our stakeholders is evident in every proactive precaution we take in our elevators, our lobbies and in the upkeep of our common areas. There’s no more visible sign of our leadership in this ongoing crisis than the signs of an environment that is well cared-for, safe and sanitary.
Finally, as managers of our buildings and of our staff, there is probably no more valuable attribute than the courage it takes to provide that assurance and leadership. It certainly takes courage to admit we frankly don’t know what the future will bring, but that through our shared interests we will see our way through this crisis.
To me, leadership and courage are virtually synonymous. We need the courage to make clear decisions in these difficult times, even if those decisions prove not to be the most popular. Gather feedback to engage your stakeholders. Consider the most recent guidance from trusted sources to remain informed. Then, take action. It’s always possible that fine-tuning will be called for down the road. But failure to act for fear of “unintended consequences” results in no progress at all.
Of all the crises we’ve encountered, COVID-19 is only the latest iteration. But, as we’ve learned before, endurance comes with the aid of positive and assured leadership. Behaviors that have been identified through COVID will continue to drive the industry forward and have a positive influence. Be available, be transparent, listen and be ready to make the hard decisions. These key attributes of leadership will guide us through times of crisis and calm.
In addition to her role as 2020 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management, Cheryl Gray, CPM, serves as the head of special projects and operational excellence at QuadReal Property Group in Toronto. She’s IREM’s first international president.