As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Haggerty.
Richard Haggerty is CEO of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, a not-for-profit trade association representing more than 13,000 real estate professionals in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties in New York. HGAR is the second-largest Realtor association in New York, and one of the largest in the U.S. Richard is also President and Chief Strategic Growth Officer of OneKey® MLS, the comprehensive Multiple Listing Service that launched in 2020 and has more than 44,000 subscribers serving the New York region from Montauk to Manhattan to Monticello.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started with the Realtor organization as a “temp” while I was looking for a job in publishing in New York City. After working here for a couple of weeks, I was offered a job and have never looked back. When I first started to work with the then-Westchester County Board of Realtors, Inc., we had approximately 1,500 members. Today, after several mergers with neighboring Realtor associations and the creation of a new, regional Multiple Listing Service called OneKey® MLS, we have more than 13,000 association members and some 44,000 subscribers to OneKey® MLS covering Manhattan, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Orange, Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx in New York.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When we launched OneKey® MLS with Long Island in March of 2020, our vision was to evolve into a regional Multiple Listing Service that covers the entire greater New York City and suburban geography, and we have not wavered in that vision. Our goal is to provide one source of accurate and comprehensive listing data for Realtor members and consumers, via our consumer facing website, OneKeyMLS.com. In my many conversations with real estate brokers and agents over the years, one constant theme resonated: Inaccurate data has been the major driver of financial and time drains for real estate professionals. That’s why we worked for nearly three years with the MLS of Long Island to launch OneKey and change all that. The status quo is not acceptable. We have to embrace change and figure out how to make it work for us all, recognizing it’s going to enable us to give a better level of service to the consumer. If we cannot drive change to the benefit of our members, then we need to get into another business.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I’ve led my team through a succession of mergers, which can create disruption and change. However, nothing comes close to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the onslaught of COVID-19 beginning in March of last year. We literally had to transition to a remote working environment within days, and our members were confronted with the reality that they couldn’t conduct in-person real estate showings, a restriction that would last three months. The fear engulfing New York was palpable. To try to combat that we dramatically increased our communications, modified our website into a COVID-19 resource page, and embraced Zoom as the vehicle for communicating both with staff and our members. We strived to create a sense of calm and reassurance to combat the panic.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up was not an option. The motivation comes from recognizing how many people depend on the organization — even more so in challenging times.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
First, understand that people are focused on you — how you react, your tone, your messaging. It’s vital to maintain a calm and assured presence. Engage in constructive dialogue to identify the challenges and brainstorm to arrive at solutions, and recognize you have to lead the process in a manner that does not devolve into fear and defensive thinking.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be honest, be direct, don’t sugarcoat, and don’t delay.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Always look for opportunities. During turbulent times many retrench and wait out the rough waters — and that’s when opportunities can surface. We effected a merger with a neighboring association in the midst of the pandemic.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
A good leader is a good listener, and does more listening than talking. A good leader encourages an active exchange of views and ideas, even ideas that may seem crazy! A leader who thinks they are the smartest person in the room is not a good leader. A leader who tries to engage with the smartest people in the room to learn from them is a good leader.
A leader is only as good as the team they are leading, and the stronger the team the better the leader. Devote the necessary time and energy to fostering and nurturing a cohesive and dynamic team. Add people to your team who have positive attitudes and who are focused on the success of the team as opposed to being self-focused.
We live in a world that has been forever altered by the 24-hour cable news cycle and social media, and a country that is politically polarized. It seems like organizations are constantly having to navigate a minefield of issues du jour. My philosophy is to trust your gut and do what’s right, and understand you don’t have to weigh in on every issue if it’s not within the four corners of your organization’s mission. You are never going to make everyone happy and you shouldn’t try. At the end of the day leadership is not a popularity contest. Good leaders have to be able to make the difficult decisions.
Building on the concept of making difficult decisions, good leaders also have to know when to cut bait and change course. Not every decision is going to succeed. If they do, then you are probably playing it too safe. Leaders have to take chances, even if they are calculated chances. If the results are not as expected and prove detrimental to the organization, then an immediate change of course is needed.
Finally, communication is the foundation of effective leadership. Powerful, timely, honest and content-relevant communication make or break organizations. During the pandemic, we significantly increased the number of Zoom staff meetings we conducted to stay connected and focused, and ensure our team was informed and prepared. We also focused on relevant content to help our members conduct transactions safely and effectively. Our organization’s newspaper editor, John Jordan, developed a daily email update on COVID-19 related news that proved so popular, we have continued the program as a daily real estate news update. With the help of our communications consultants, Co-Communications, we developed a program titled “Be Your Best,” a webinar series to share best practices to help agents and brokers navigate the changing landscape during COVID-19. The complimentary series began as a two-parter, but following tremendous response — with hundreds of registrants per session — it has become an ongoing event.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The status quo is not an option.”
I don’t like change any more than the next person. Coping with change can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. However, that place of discomfort often fosters the most productive, “out of the box” thinking. Change is happening at a breakneck pace in every aspect of our lives. My philosophy is to be a part of shaping change to the benefit of your organization as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and reacting to change when it happens. Be proactive, as opposed to reactive, whenever possible.
How can our readers further follow your work?