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Leading From The C-Suite: Shell Brodnax of the Real Estate Staging Association On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive

An Interview With Doug Noll

As part of our series called “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive” we had the pleasure of interviewing Shell Brodnax.

Shell Brodnax is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Real Estate Staging Association®, (RESA®). RESA® is a 501(c)(6) Tax-Exempt Nonprofit Trade Association for professional real estate stagers. As an expert leader, visionary, author, business strategist, global speaker, and expert on real estate staging, Shell is one of the real estate industry’s most sought-after real estate speakers.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I started my career in high school working for a telemarketing company setting appointments for solar heating sales reps. I became a manager at seventeen, supervising people in their thirties. I later went on to have a management career in collections and then I became a licensed private investigator. After accomplishing my career goals I took a chance and a pay cut to work for a fledgling real estate staging training company in 2002. After serving almost seven years I had accomplished my goals and wanted to move on to something more to help more people. I founded a 501(c)(6) Tax-Exempt Nonprofit Trade Association called the Real Estate Staging Association. We are the trade association for professional real estate stagers.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life? Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, either way you’re right. Henry Ford This is the quote that changed the way I saw the world. Early in my career at about 23 years old I worked for a collection agency that collected on defaulted student loans. The owner was into motivation, mindset, etc. He would take half the people off the collection floor to go into the lunchroom to watch Zig Ziglar videos. In one of those video Zig talks about this quote. Those videos changed my mindset completely. I had a very rough childhood and was not turned out to the world with a positive confident mindset. This quote got me thinking in the direction that would ultimately change my life forever.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that? See You At The Top by Zig Ziglar. This is the foundation for any entrepreneur, sales person, etc. At my collection agency job where my boss was a motivation and mindset person, he named this book at one of our meetings. I could not hear him as I was taking notes, so after the meeting I asked him if he could tell me. He replied, “I could tell you, but you won’t read it.” Looking back I now realize this man was on the right track with so many things, but he was also a misogynist. I am not sure if it was the book, his snide comment or both that fueled my fire to strive to be the best I could be. Either way, I am grateful.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We stand out due to our team and volunteer network of leaders. Our team is small but mighty. With only four staff members we service over 2,000 members, manage several programs, create industry standards, provide leadership opportunities, and host an annual educational event. My team wakes up each day to literally serve the industry. Because we are a nonprofit our members can rest assured, we are in it for the right reasons as we have no conflicts of interest. Our volunteer leadership team as well has nothing to gain from the work they do to move the industry forward. Teamwork makes the dream work!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Thick Skin- One thing I can tell you from serving as CEO in the public eye is that I will never be able to make everyone happy. People have different perceptions from a shared experience, as well as different perspectives on how to achieve a common goal. I am a huge believer in sisterhood. I pride myself in having integrity and treating everyone fairly and respectfully. I don’t go out of my way to tear other women down, but no matter how much caution I proceed with, no matter how carefully you choose your words, no matter how many decisions you must make for the great good, some, will criticize you. I recall one year after our annual convention I was told that a member was upset with me and thought I was rude as I did not acknowledge her at the event as she was walking out of an elevator, and I was passing. This was her perception. What happened was, I was walking with a celebrity speaker with an entourage of about twenty people behind us. We were speaking, it was loud, and we were walking to a private room to record an interview and have a photo shoot. I did not see anyone at an elevator, I did not ignore anyone who made eye contact with me. When I was told the name of the person who was upset, I had no idea who she was. Name did not ring a bell. I don’t always have thick skin and sometimes you can get ninety-nine people signing your praises and one person that criticizes and that voice is the loudest. Leadership is not for the weak.
  2. Strong Intuition- Data is great, but a strong intuition is a skillset that trumps all others. Having a strong intuition is crucial to how I make decisions. I love the data, but my gut instinct is never wrong. In fact, when I have gone against my gut, 100% of the time the outcome I thought would happen did and I regret the decision.
  3. Authenticity- I believe authentic leaders make the best leaders. If someone is not authentic, then they are acting, or hiding who they really are. When someone carries themselves this way, it makes people wonder what else are they hiding? People never really know who they are doing business with. When you are authentic, you shine. People are attracted to authenticity and passion, and they are more likely to trust and follow someone who is authentic.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?

I can’t really comment about choosing between two good options as that wouldn’t seem hard to me, a win is a win, is a win. However, I can share a story about a time where I had to be honest and direct with another leader. It was difficult and did not end well. This person served on a board of directors I was working with. I also considered this person a friend. In that role the person made an unbelievable number of errors when fulfilling their duties. We heard excuse after excuse of why something was late, why something was missing, why something was incorrect, etc. My mother is ill, my child was ill, the dog died, my laptop died, the power was out, etc. It was clear that the quality of their work product was not great. In addition, their time management and attention to detail skills were lacking. This person expressed a desire to run for the Chairperson role. Myself, and others on my leadership team knew this would be a disaster. I had a decision to make, to be honest and offer to work with this person in the following year and get them ready to run for that role the year after or say nothing and watch this person fail miserably at the cost of the company. The choice was clear. I researched ways to handle the situation, I sought council from trusted leaders outside of my industry. Another executive in the company and I met with this person, and we chose our words so wisely and approached the situation with compassion, and grace. We felt this was amazing sisterhood we were offering. The reaction we received was never even considered one that was possible. This person fell apart in front of us. It was literally the worst reaction, and I did not see it coming. This person ended up resigning and left with a bad taste in their mouth. I lost a someone who I thought was a friend. As difficult as this was, I made the right call. That has been proven to me many times over the years since this happened.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?

I think many people feel a C-Level Executive, especially CEOs are the sole decision makers, ruling from power like a dictator. A great C-Level Executive does more listening and empowering than ruling. I have always had very specific thoughts on how to lead others. Simply put, I hire great people and I get out of their way. I want people who want to own their role and make it their own. I empower my team to make their own choices and by doing so, they make great ones.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive? Can you explain what you mean?

A big myth is a C-Suite Executive needs to be college educated. Unless you are in a very specific industry, this could not be further from the truth. There are plenty of CEO dropouts out there. A great C-Suite Executive simply needs to be hungry.

What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?

  1. Not giving the benefit of doubt to team members. Make a commitment to always give the benefit of the doubt. It takes less time and effort to simply ask about something instead of accusing.
  2. Treating team members less than. You must be willing to give respect to everyone you work with. Doing anything less creates a negative work environment and the company will feel the effects.
  3. Not being approachable. It’s imperative that leaders are approachable. Your team members will tell you the truth always if they feel safe to do so. If you have a reputation of someone who is standoffish people will be reluctant to tell the truth.
  4. Talking down to instead of teaching up. Talking down to a team member is demeaning to another human and should never be done. It puts your company at legal risk and is simply not good practice.
  5. Not being willing to collaborate with the team. Thinking you have all the answers fast tracking you to fail. I can’t stress the importance of collaboration. There are no cons to practicing collaboration with you team.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Experience and gut instinct. Sometimes leaders disagree on how to accomplish a goal. There may be two ways, but ultimately if you are unable to compromise then a choice must be made. Using gut instinct is always shut down by the data driven individual because they lack the ability, and they don’t understand.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Fearlessness- When I first started researching the possibility of creating a trade association for professional real estate stagers it was clear it was desperately needed. Without a legitimate trade association there would never be an actual industry where all the key players worked well together to achieve a common goal. While I received an overwhelming amount of support from real estate stagers and most of the resource providers I was also faced with pushback and even threatened with legal action from a company that wanted to stop me from moving forward. This company had threatened someone else who wanted to create a trade association prior to me, and they stopped that person from moving forward. I, on the other hand, refused to be bullied. My response to the legal action was simple… “Here is my address, serve me.” I hit send on that email and never looked back. Nor was I ever served. I had to be fearless in order to create an amazing organization that is now 16 years old, and we have served over 10,000 members while creating a legitimate trade organization so professional stagers can be organized, have standards, ethics, resources, education and most importantly a seat at the table of the real estate industry.

2 . Unbridled Passion- It’s imperative that a C-Suite Executive wakes up each day with unbridled passion. Otherwise, the job alone will eat you alive. It’s lonely and people will turn on you on a dime when they don’t share the same perspective. In building this organization I have been faced with an incredible number of obstacles. So many that most every person I knew could not understand how I was breaking through and continued to move forward. I am a firm believer that obstacles that keep most people from succeeding are there to keep people out who don’t want it badly enough. You must possess unbridled passion to figure out the way around those obstacles. I would blow them up, dig a hole around them, build a ladder and go over the top of them. Without unbridled passion most people don’t see the solutions.

3 . Strong and Effective Leadership Skills- What does it mean to be a strong leader mean? For me it means being able to pool a group of people together to achieve a common goal. When I first started the RESA, while I did have a large amount of support there were haters along the way. I was told that I would never be successful, I would never get all the key players to agree to work together to create an industry. When I started everyone was doing their own thing, no one got along, we were beyond fragmented. Having strong and effective leadership skills meant that I was able to communicate the benefits of what we were doing and point out why all the businesses needed to come together to create an actual industry to create legitimacy for the profession. We all had our roles to play. Everyone simply needed guidance on how to play in the sandbox together nicely. Leading by example and staying in the lane we created while continuing to provide opportunities for all the players was a key factor in our success.

4 . Creating a Strong Team- Creating a strong team of people that share passion for their role is a must have for any C-Suite Executive. I learned very early on in my career to find and hire people who have passion and want to take ownership of their role. Then I get out of their way. I will not hire anyone that needs to be micromanaged. If someone needs constant supervision it disqualifies them from employment. I have strong and opinionated people on my team. As painful as it can be sometimes to field all the opinions, it’s crucial in creating solid programs, policies, procedures, etc. My team is run from a collaborative effort. I come up with an idea that I think is brilliant as is and I pitch it to my team and sometimes they just pick it apart with questions, tweaks, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow, but I know when I do, the idea becomes even better.

5 . Ethics- This is likely one of if not the most important factor in my opinion. My word is everything. While being a strong leader sometimes means making difficult decisions that may not be popular, when it’s done ethically, and communicated effectively you will be able to carry out those decisions to achieve the greater good. Poor ethics is a disqualifier for an effective C-Suite Executive.

In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

It is imperative that the people on your team get along. To create that type of environment it can be of benefit for people to get to know each other. Creating a weekly team meeting is a great way to go over the weeks expectations and to be sure everyone understands what is expected of them. You can start by doing a round robin exercise of asking each person what the highlight was or win for the previous week and what was a pit. Another great team building exercise is to take the team to an Escape Room. It’s an amazing day out of the office and it teaches each other how to work together. You can do a couple of rounds in different rooms, divide up for larger teams and go out for a great lunch on the boss. You will be rewarded tenfold.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement called Save The Sisterhood.

Save The Sisterhood would be a membership-based organization for women entrepreneurs. We would match people into groups that were similar but still had differences where their insight would benefit others. They would meet monthly for mastermind meetings talking about anything they wanted, business, life, etc. We would have educational content and resources. Each group would travel every year to a three-day retreat where they would meet with other groups. During this retreat they will have team building exercises, workshops and even physical activities like an obstacle course, archery, and horses. We would have speakers about business, health, and wellness.

The purpose of the organization is to promote Sisterhood among women.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.



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