At this year’s T3 Summit, Mike Pappas, the CEO of Keyes Company, sat down with BAM co-founder Byron Lazine to discuss, among other things, the real estate brokerage of the future—and specifically brokerage leadership. 

Pappas shared stories from his decades of experience as a brokerage leader. And the term he used to describe his leadership style was the “upside down pyramid.” 

Read on to learn what he meant by that and what elements are critical to a leadership style that breeds both loyalty and results. 

What is the upside-down pyramid?

The pyramid is the typical shape used to illustrate the general structure of a large company, with executive leadership, middle management, team leaders, and employees/agents. 

But while that shape accurately depicts the numbers for each level in the company, some have taken it as a top down representation of who works for whom, with the folks at the bottom working for those at the top—and answering to the folks immediately above them. 

That’s not how Pappas sees it. And he spelled it out clearly in his conversation with Byron. 

We call it an upside-down pyramid. We work for our agents and for our management team; they don’t work for us. And I think if you have that attitude, and I think you need to have a servant’s heart, and if you have a servant’s heart, I think then you can enjoy the process. But it’s not easy.

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

Pappas knows, too, that just saying you work for your agents isn’t enough. You’ve got to know where they’re coming from, what they’re dealing with, and what they need from their leaders. 

I don’t think you can be in this business—and manage and run it—if you don’t really understand the psyche of an agent and if you don’t understand the frustration and the difficulty and the complexity of the deal. It’s not for the faint of heart. And so, I do think that knowing that and seeing that and having an agent’s heart is really what I think the great brokers and great firms have.

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

Read on to learn the three guiding principles behind the upside-down pyramid model for brokerage leadership. 

#1—Having your agents’ backs

As in any (lasting) relationship, if you’re committed to someone for the long haul, you’d better make sure they can trust you to have their back:

  • Investing in their growth as sales professionals
  • Ensuring they have what they need to learn and thrive 
  • Protecting them as your own (while correcting or guiding as needed)

If you don’t demonstrate that with your words and especially your actions, eventually they’ll demonstrate their lack of trust by leaving. 

What we’ve found…is the agents who don’t feel protected, supported, and…backed by their broker are usually the ones that may be looking to go someplace else. So, you’ve got to back and fight for your agents every day. My dad taught me that. He says, ‘Right or wrong, good or bad, if they’re yours, you’d better take care of them.’

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

#2—Making time for regular face-to-face meetings with agents

If you believe you, at the top of your brokerage, work for your agents (and not vice-versa), and you’re committed to having your agent’s backs, it’s a no-brainer that regular face-time is a must.

As we’ve said many times before, sales is a relationship business. It’s chock full of relationships, from the ones you have with clients and prospects to the ones you build with your fellow agents and brokerage leaders. 

Relationships require an investment of time and presence. 

Strong and well-nourished relationships are the cornerstone of a healthy brokerage—one that can withstand whatever the industry and the housing market throw at it. 

We feel, with the right leadership, with the right spirit, with the right connections with our agents, we can compete against anybody in a marketplace that we know…and if you’re having fun, why sell?

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

This is why Pappas still trains his agents in person. 

I visit every office in the summer. So, it’s a 10-week tour, and it’s a two-hour meeting. I meet them at 9:00 and then at noon. And then we have our awards meeting in the beginning of the year and our strategic and our fall meetings. So, my daughter (Christine) and I try to make a connection with our people monthly… I still feel like we’re a small broker in a local market that’s serving our community.

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

#3—Prioritizing people over perfection

Lazine asked Pappas what stands out for him when he looks back on his 40-plus years as a real estate business leader. 

What I’ve learned, I think I was always striving for perfection. And I think you never get there, and so if you don’t enjoy the journey toward excellence, it may not be right for you…

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

Pappas also talked about the fact that his company has been picking up a lot of top-producing agents from another real estate firm. 

It’s a very highly-sought-after professional firm. And we hadn’t been getting agents from them in the past. And when I’ve asked those agents why they’re leaving, they said that the broker’s not backing them up anymore, and they’re not fighting for them…

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

Ultimately, top-performing real estate professionals will go—and they’re more likely to stay—where their needs are met, where the leadership prioritizes backing their agents, supporting them, and ensuring they have what they need to keep growing. 

If agents see no reason to stay with your brokerage once you’ve taught them all you can teach them, they won’t. 

I think if you don’t have the thrill of the business model…if you don’t get the thrill of seeing people develop—and understanding homeownership and seeing people support their family and invest in real estate, then you probably shouldn’t be in this business. If you don’t have the heart of an agent, it probably is not the business for you because it’s a high-volume, low-profit business with a lot of interaction and a lot of people….

Mike Pappas

CEO of Keyes Company

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