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Understand human behavior to build market leadership

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From fishing boat to corner office

Mike Russell

My father taught me many things, but perhaps the most valuable business lesson he provided was the importance of understanding and valuing human behavior. That one piece of advice has given me everything I’ve ever needed, professionally and personally. And hopefully, by the time I’m finished, it’ll give me everything I’ve ever wanted.

My story begins at age 19, when as a reluctant C-student with no intention of furthering my education beyond high school, I started work on a fishing boat out of Plymouth Harbor, MA. It’s there where I first learned that a crew is only as good as their captain.

At that time, my father, my captain, purchased the number one CENTURY 21® office in New England after learning the ‘ins and outs’ of real estate franchising by working as an employee at the corporate office at Century 21 Real Estate. Not long after that, I went to my father and said, “What do I have to do to trade my blue-collar in for a white-collar?” He hired me that day.

For my first nine years in business, I was an administrative assistant, then marketing director, and, from there, a real estate salesperson. Essentially, I was a payrolled observer. I watched people. I paid attention to the dynamic between the captain and the team. I would closely watch agents’ responses to how their leader acted and their engagement with him and the rest of the team. Then, in 2008, my father, always impeccable with timing, said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. Why don’t’ you do it?” I took the company over in the midst of one of the worst real estate downturns.

The gift of desperation

People always say that it’s better if you get into the real estate industry when it’s down because you learn more — as opposed to getting into a real estate industry when it’s hot. I have to agree. For me, learning about human behavior and
what I call, “the gift of desperation,” showed me that with the right crew, we could save a company heading towards bankruptcy while the real estate market tanked. Add to the unheralded economic evisceration, the loss of an $80 million producer who left to open their own office down the street and we almost turned our lights out.

That gift of desperation motivated me tremendously. I did not want to fail and I believed in the premise of a culture free of entitlement, judgment, and excuses. It was a restoration of pride project and it had to start from the top. We went
back to our roots and created an environment that encouraged identifying our own excuses, paying little attention to the judgemental tones of focusing on others’ deficiencies, essentially an environment of owning our own shit. I’ve yet to meet an agent who failed with an attitude like this and the actions to follow it up. We’ve become a family of proactive prospectors, embracing the sales nature of this industry with a focus on creating meaningful bonds with the community.

We created a space that encouraged people to sit down, pick up the phone, and create real bonds of human relationships.

Cultivating a culture of growth

Every week, we get together and we make phone calls. Although I’m not a listing and selling broker, I make calls, too. I enjoy the challenge of creating a relationship that didn’t exist a minute ago, I take tremendous pride in witnessing it work for my team members. Others will often just come in to sit and listen until they’re confident enough to step up and do it themselves.

As broker-owner, I’m always there to encourage, support, and teach — to build an organization that people want to be part of, that was filled with people who cared equally as much about their colleagues. My job is to teach salespeople how to be salespeople. What really motivates and excites is showing someone how to do something, then watching them do it, and watching it work.

The bottom line: every single real estate agent we hired in the last five years has more than doubled their business. And they’re not all full-time agents. There’s a place for everyone in this business. I have great police officers, community servants, entrepreneurs, and parents who work here. They are committed and possess the excitement and willingness to be extraordinary. That’s human behavior education.

I believe agents and broker-owners across the country will understand this statement, we have built a company in which you can pull into the parking lot and simply never see a car that makes you cringe. Honestly, that was my only goal. To create an environment one can thrive in, a behavior one is held accountable to and an organization that helps guide people in the happiest, healthiest direction. Year to date, CENTURY 21 Signature Properties is the number one CENTURY 21 office in Massachusetts, a title we have tremendous gratitude for. From here, we aim to enter two additional states over the next year, and with some of the same attitudes, hard work, and a little luck — we’ll create similar parking lot experiences for many more agents.

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