Want to Be a Top 1% Producer? First, Slay the Role of Team Leader—Interview with Kathleen Black

Mindset & Motivation
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With over a decade of real estate team coaching experience, Kathleen Black remembers the days when the word “team” was taboo.

After years as a real estate investor and property manager, she got her real estate license, stumbled into a team environment and skyrocketed to the top 1% of Realtors for production on North America's largest Real Estate Board (the Toronto Real Estate Board, Ontario). 

Today, Kathleen is the founder of coaching company, Kathleen Black Coaching & Consulting Inc., where she helps teams of all shapes and sizes double, triple, or even 10-tuple/20-tuple their results.

Accident? Timing? Good fortune?

Not in the least. Kathleen's success was in large part due to the programs she developed for herself as a producing agent. Over the years, she began to wonder if others could benefit from learning her techniques. 

Turns out, her instincts were dead-on. She has since coached countless teams to become Top 1% Producers through her one-of-a-kind programs and unique coaching methods.

“What we do, essentially, is help people leverage, expand, and be productive but also be profitable and efficient,” she explains.

But the idea of building a team hasn't always been popular. Kathleen sat down with us to reveal why you should never underestimate the value of a good team and the secrets to getting it right.

Want to hear it firsthand? Listen to the full interview here.

Table of contents

  • Don't Build a Team for the Wrong Reasons
  • 5 Core Areas for a High-Performance Team
  • How to Think Like a Leader
  • What If Your Team Members Aren't Producing?
  • One Simple Tip to Improve Your Leadership
  • How to Create a Positive Team Culture

Don't Build a Team for the Wrong Reasons

“'Team' was a bad name in real estate,” Kathleen laughs. 

Back when she started building her own business, she was met with a lot of pushback and almost no support.

Today, things are very different. “26 to 28% of people identified as running a team or being on a team,” she says. And this number continues to grow.

That's largely because providing top-level service as a solo agent with all the demands of this industry is harder than ever. Between budgets, marketing, and client care—when is there time to sleep anymore? Let alone have any kind of work/life balance.

So, they do what anyone with too much business to handle would do, and start a team.

But while real estate teams are a dime a dozen, productive and profitable ones are not. 

While the idea of building out a team to stay on top of it all is becoming more and more popular, the easiest way to fail is to take what Kathleen calls a “we’ll just figure things out” approach to team building. Every team leader wants to be profitable and efficient, but it rarely works out that way. 

“Many leaders build teams out of necessity,” says Kathleen. People get into this business because they want to live a happy lifestyle, work a job they love, afford vacations and provide for their family.

But once they really step into the wild world of real estate, they quickly realize it's a whole lot harder than it looks—and taking time off can actually cost you deals.

For those of us killing it (and possibly killing ourselves) as a high-octane solo agent, it's hard to step back and realize that, with a team, you won’t need to reply to every email, answer every call or run toward every lead with an air of desperation. 

So, what's the difference between the burnout teams and the ones that are living the lifestyles they always dreamed of? Let's take a closer look.

The amazing team at Kathleen Black Coaching & Consulting (KBCC).

5 Core Areas for a High-Performance Team

The bottom line for experts like Kathleen is that successful teams work with a proven model.

“They invest their time, energy and money into tactics and strategies that are going to give them results,” she explains.

One definite game-changer that's hit the real estate scene in the past decade since Kathleen started coaching is technology. 

“I think technology has been a really important piece of it. It’s definitely allowed us to grow a lot faster and integrate other people doing different segments of the sales process,” she says.

But what happens if those different segments become siloed?

In her vast experience coaching Top 1%'ers, Kathleen's identified 5 core areas which, more often than not, also represent the “biggest struggles” for team leaders. 

Take a minute to ask yourself how you're doing in these 5 areas: 

  1. Recruiting the right agents
  2. Knowing what value you bring to the market
  3. Differentiating your team from other teams
  4. Compensating team members and yourself
  5. Training team members

According to Kathleen, bringing these core areas together into a cohesive system is key to your success.

“A lot of team leaders don't imagine themselves owning a theater, so to speak. But that's kind of what it is," she says. "As a team, they imagine themselves as the star actor or actress. But that's not what a team is."

So then, what is a real estate team?

"A team is understanding all the different roles, what they're going to do and how to get them to mastery level in those roles as soon as possible, with the confidence that if one person leaves, and they will, we can easily recast and retrain somebody to be at that level or higher in that role to protect the business."

Think about it. Are your processes in a place where one person could leave and another can be retrained to fill the vacant role? 

According to Kathleen, getting to that point is how you succeed in this business—and it requires you to put your ego to the side.

Kathleen and her team have coached some seriously unstoppable real estate teams. Source: Kathleen Black Coaching & Consulting

How to Think Like a Leader

Being a one-person show and being the leader require two very different mindsets.

Just because you are a successful agent in your own right, doesn't necessarily make you an expert on being a leader. Some people are naturally good leaders, but others have to learn the skill. 

But don't worry. It is completely possible to learn how to lead.

Kathleen's advice is to start identifying your own goals and expectations for your team. Once you uncover your root goals, then you can work to gain the skills needed to succeed.

Do you still plan to sell? Or are you just going to manage the team? That decision alone will drive very different business goals and processes.

“The key,” Kathleen explains, “is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.”

You might not be good at anything to do with real estate, but still be an amazing leader and manager. That's ok. The important thing is that you sit down and try to think as objectively as possible about yourself and your team. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you need to work on?

It's not easy to examine yourself in such a brutally honest way, but the success of your business depends on it.

Remember, the goal isn't to tear yourself apart. You simply want to identify your weaknesses and surround yourself with people that are strong in those areas.

You don’t need to be the expert on everything in order to succeed. 

“Who is going to bring my weaknesses to the table as their strengths?” Kathleen says. This will not only make your team stronger but amplify your own strengths and improve your overall efficiency.

Let’s get this out of the way:

All types of personalities can make good leaders. Anyone can build a strong team.

But, Kathleen explains, “Only when they can take ego out of the equation and do what the business needs in order to thrive.”

Light bulb moment there? You betcha.

Here's what Kathleen has to say about it:

What If Your Team Members Aren't Producing?

But what if you've gotten real with yourself, identified your weaknesses, recruited the right people and your team still isn't producing at the level you want them to?

It's a tough, yet incredibly common, scenario.

First, take another look in the mirror. What can you take responsibility for as the team leader?

Do you have the standards and processes in place to set your team up for success?

Kathleen believes that, as the leader, we first need to have clarity in ourselves before we can rise to the next level of leadership. Once you have that understanding of yourself and your own expectations, you can then communicate those to others.

“We want strong teams of people who have autonomy.”

One of the things that can cripple a team is a leader who micromanages. Allow people to show their strengths and creativity and if you're not seeing those things shine through, ask yourself how you are influencing the issue.

For many leaders, making sure your people are fully trained is the hard part. Many leaders think that because they figured it out, the members of their team should also. While it's important for a person to be resourceful, most other industries provide some sort of ongoing training for a reason.

Kathleen's advice?

“Train for the beliefs that create the actions we want.”

When your people believe in the work they're doing, it benefits your entire business tenfold.

One Simple Tip to Improve Your Leadership

Whether you're just starting out or already leading an established team, you can always ask for feedback.

Here are some questions to ask your team:

  • What do you think is going well with the business?
  • What do you think I could do better?
  • Where do you think I bring the most value to the business? 
  • Where do you think I'm costing the business?

This is going to be the single easiest way to get into your team members' heads and see what you're doing right and where you can improve. 

Try to make feedback a regular occurrence, whether that's monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Use a quick survey tool like Typeform or SurveyMonkey, or just make a point to ask these questions in your next team meeting or one-on-one.

The point is to show your team that their opinions matter.

Leaders can gain a lot of information from the things that are explicitly mentioned in feedback and the insights that can be read between the lines.

But be warned. For this to be successful, you need to have a culture of trust.

“Team is about synergy. You can’t get feedback, you can’t grow.”

You can get all of Kathleen's best leadership tips in her new book The Top 1% Life.

How to Create a Positive Team Culture

First, take the miscommunications off the table.

Spell out the following team attributes:

  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Values 
  • Intentions

And by spell out we mean actually write it down! 

While you're at it, why not do what Kathleen does and make a description of your ideal client? 

Name the qualities that are important to you and share those with new team members as soon as they come on board.

"At the end of the day, our ideal clients are going to have a lot to do with our ideal team members. It's very related. We have a written-out description of how to be a superhero on the team and how to really upset people on the team," says Kathleen.

Be sure to share your own team guidelines, too. For example, Kathleen always makes a point to explain how, on her team, they do not tolerate toxic behavior like gossip, white lies and other drama.

Tease out all the little things that might make a person feel uneasy and bringing them right out into the light until everyone is crystal clear about what it means to be on the team.

One Team, Limitless Potential.

"We do not believe in bottom-down quotas. We have minimum standards, but everything about a performance culture is about looking up," says Kathleen.

She asks her team to cast out their vision of where they want to go in the near and far future. The foundation (i.e., minimum standards) stabilizes the team but from there, the important thing is to think about where you want to go and—you guessed it—write that down.

Once you know your team members' goals, you can work backwards with them to discover how to get to that place and how you as team leader can help them get there.

Here are some of Kathleen's most crucial leadership tips:

Remember, don’t just look at the short term. 

Come up with a 2-year, 5-year and 10-year, plan to give your goals longevity. You can then help your team members make decisions based on where they're going instead of where they are.

At the end of the day, every member of the team should be moving forward with one core question in mind:

“How can I harness the business to live my top 1% life?”

Because when you and your team are aligned on your expectations and motivations, no goal is out of reach.

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