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RISMEDIA, August 10, 2011—I had no intention of making my original article, “MLSs Taking Control of your Destiny,”  a “series,” but after receiving tremendous feedback on it and hearing all of the discussion around it at a recent conference, I was compelled to dive in further. With the hopes of inspiring future action, this article will be about reflection; holding up the proverbial mirror and acknowledging that that our habits, practices, realities and beliefs are the starting point and will ultimately dictate our outcomes.

As I wrote this, I heard echoes from a leadership piece I had read and trained with a ways back—Retired General Colin Powell’s Leadership Primer Presentation. Even if you have read this before, it’s a great time to read it again. I’ll open with the importance of reflection through Powell’s eyes: “Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find. It’s a mind-set that assumes (or hopes) that today’s realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy.”

Below I have identified six stand-out contributors that I feel have helped our industry arrive at this juncture. And while we have all seen or heard some iteration of them previously, I’m hoping that presenting them cohesively and orderly (immediately following the previous article) will help us get to solutions more effectively.

Contributor No. 1: The MLS Structure
Various permutations of broker-owned, board-run, committee-run, etc. make for challenges when it comes to decision-making and driving change. Different interests (agendas, internal politics) and power struggles exacerbate an already complex model.

Contributor No. 2: External politics and pre-existing relationships
The complexity of existing long-term relationships, layers of agendas, old baggage and more can make change and progress really difficult. It’s our responsibility to do what is right for members—delivering value and the very best solutions available. Thus, value must be the underpinning of our business relationships. We owe it to our stakeholders to put business first and to not concede on business expectations in light of friendship, good old boy/gal networks and following along. This may mean the end of some long-term friendships—but the beginning of new ones based on the right stuff. (Applicable Powell leadership lesson: Being responsible sometimes means upsetting people.)

Contributor No. 3: Paralysis vs. Precision Decisions
Our reticence to act isn’t laziness; it’s based on real points of pain. But the bottom line is that things take way too long and as the time clicks on by, we give up revenue, decision-making and overall control.

Four causes of paralysis include:
• PTSD – The mental barrier that gets thrown up when we think of driving significant change through a large constituency with different (and sometimes conflicting) goals and skill levels (while perpetually understaffed).
• Analysis Paralysis – Committees, focus groups, white papers, conference topics, blogs…if we calculate our hourly rates and multiply that by the number of hours we have spent as an industry talking about problems and solutions, what would that number look like?
• Purchase Paralysis – The freeze that occurs when there is a price tag associated with game-changing action.
• Fear of repercussion – What will it feel like if this doesn’t work? How will I be looked upon by my constituents? At a recent conference, Pat Bybee expressed during a presentation that we need to make investments, innovate and above all—FAIL.

Contributor No. 4: Too much “WWAD”
There appears to be too much emphasis on “WWAD” (What Would the Agent Do) and not enough consumer-centered (outside-in) strategy, learning, discussion, action. How do we push back on our brokers “agent first/agent only” cultures? We don’t. I go back to our ineffective use of C-level influence—at the core, we’re not educating, influencing mindset, leading change.

Contributor No. 5: Generation Gap
We as an industry average are 20+ years older than our typical consumer, desired new MLS executive (our successor) and the next-generation, top producing real estate agent. In many cases, we have no idea how that gap impacts these areas or what it is we need to do to create relevancy, trust and value to reach them.

Contributor No. 6: Skill Development
Being in the trenches and seeing the industry through a number of iterations and wearing many hats in the process leaves us little time to develop ourselves. Hence as the business problems increase in complexity, we need a bigger toolbox.

As previously stated, these are survival-level issues. As business executives, we must have the guts and courage to break each one open—and the passion, tenacity and winning spirit to push through to an age of success. If not, there are two fates: embrace the leadership role and effectuate necessary progress or surrender to decline: keep doing what we’re doing and relinquish our business to others.

As a final comment, I’ll close with a Powell Leadership Lesson: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. I am talking about a gung-ho attitude that says ‘we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best.‘ Spare me the grim litany of the ‘realist;’ give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.”

Yes, I’m an optimist and I believe we can make change happen.

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