Inclusive leadership: Creating the right team environment to deliver the best results for your clients

APAM in the news: This article by APAM director Simon Cooke originally appeared in Cambridge University Land Society magazine. Read the full magazine article here:
Looking back at starting work in London in the early 1980s, the market was local, dominated by UK institutions and property companies. You could meet most of the larger investors in two days in London and one day in Edinburgh. Today, capital comes from all over the world.
Globalisation has been the driving economic theme of the past three decades. In the fast-moving property industry, a diverse workforce is a key competitive advantage. A diverse team adapts to different cultures, attracts broader talent, enhances employee satisfaction and ultimately improves decision making, strengthens client relationships and enhances delivery. That said, simply having a diverse team is not enough.
The challenge is to learn how to leverage diversity to create a unified and inclusive culture. This cannot be achieved by simply implementing HR policies, it derives from the mindset of the leadership. To deliver high performance, leaders must create an environment that develops a deeper understanding of the talents, backgrounds and perspectives of all employees and embrace diversity to strengthen the team.

The Leader of the past

When I started my career as a trainee at the surveying firm Richard Ellis it was a uniquely parochial market dominated by what is known as transactional leadership. You were trained and shaped to follow and obey the instructions of partners, who were almost exclusively male. Respect was based on formal authority and a “know your place” responsibility. The bosses drove around in Aston Martins and were perceived as gods in the industry. There were very few women involved in executive positions; the culture was strong, regimented and all male, with plenty of ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude. There was a lot of cigar smoke in the office!
There were positives and negatives about this leadership style. On the positive side, as long as you did what you were told, worked hard and were loyal, you did well. There was no need to apply any particular creativity to succeed. It was also quite fun, as long as you were robust, to work with dynamic characters and the odd maverick!
On the negative side, it was dogmatic and, as a junior, you felt you made little contribution to the growth or aspirations of the company since that was controlled by the partners. Big businesses were typically made up of small incentivised groups with senior people at the top who needed to achieve people’s buy-in at the team level. You had to trust your leader as, after all, he would be your sponsor for your career progression. Personality and team fit were all important: if your face didn’t fit, your prospects were limited.

Modern businesses embrace continuous improvement and change

That has all changed now. Leaders in traditional teams, with no emphasis on inclusivity or diversity, fail to develop the ability to be culturally agile. A modern leader needs to be adaptable and flexible to effectively navigate, communicate and motivate a diverse team and, as in sport, develop their diverse skills to blend with and complement each other to strengthen the whole team.
Developing an inclusive environment starts with leaders having an open attitude, self-awareness and a desire to embrace continuous improvement and change. Inclusive leadership develops by fostering a common purpose, common goals and healthy relationships and structures that underpin success. As a competitive group we are trained to appreciate that there will be disagreements and those disagreements create healthy debate enabling us to come together to support a collective and inclusive way forward. You embrace your weaknesses and play to your strengths… as if you were playing sport!

APAM’s Manchester Team – The Rough Runner 2018, fundraising for The Christie Charity

Inclusivity and creative conflict breeds true innovation

‘For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument and debate’; Margaret Heffernan (International businesswoman and author and lecturer at School of Management, University of Bath)

I believe this concept is a vital component of a successful inclusive environment in which everyone’s voice should be heard and valued. As a leader, you need to learn how to manage creative conflict to enable teams to come together for lively discussions and brainstorming sessions. Whilst there may be disagreement, it actively invites divergent thoughts, opinions and/or experiences into the conversation and broadens the array of ideas. Insights, inventions and innovations hardly ever come about when we are feeling satisfied and comfortable.
A non-diversified team typically agrees with each other as personality and background is too uniform. Whilst this creates harmony, the team rarely challenges itself or works outside of its comfort zone. Disruption is now aligned to innovation; challenging the established is exciting and risky but is an essential part of progress.
Our current team at APAM is known for its relentless commitment to delivering superior returns and creating value through its hands-on, energetic asset management approach. We recognise that its success is driven by the quality of people that we employ.  Staff development is a key factor of employee retention, helping with the effectiveness of day-to-day work and ensuring that people have the ability to lead and make a real impact within the firm.

APAM, along with joint venture partner Patron Capital, won the Business Park Innovation award at the Thames Valley Property Awards
Incentivisation is a core component but creating an inclusive environment is equally important. If people feel included, they breed loyalty and make the firm a better place to work. By de-emphasising hierarchy, you notice an energising effect with the team having a real incentive to positively force change and a willingness to go the extra mile.

Creating an inclusive environment

To create this environment, we focus on developing a team where people’s skills complement each other so that we do not have clones in terms of personality and styles. When we recruit, we don’t simply look at qualifications and grades, we focus on the person – it is a combination of skills and personality that brings the best results.
Our 40 plus employees fall into 13 of the 16 Myers Briggs (an introspective self-report questionnaire with the purpose of indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world around them and make decisions) personality groups. This was not deliberate, it was the result of recognising diversity, not just in terms of gender or nationality, but most importantly in personality.
Key factors that have built this culture are the working styles of our management team, the open-plan office in which people of all levels work together, the open-ended job descriptions, the freedom to volunteer ideas, ask questions and progress in the organisation, together with the absence of an individual reward-based system. This leadership style creates a culture that inspires creativity, discretionary labour, and a sense of wellbeing and loyalty.

‘A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious or sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than before” Nelson Mandela

We endorse this proactive approach to leadership and engagement through our ‘APAM Beyond Numbers’ programme which is designed to bring our values of leadership, trust and passion to life. Our initiative enhances career development and wellbeing by encouraging a culture of continual learning and innovation. As part of this programme we invite guest speakers, such as endurance athletes and charity representatives, to give inspirational talks to provide employees with a fresh perspective and to inspire them. A motivational speaker is a great way to boost morale and invite new ideas and productivity.

APAM Beyond numbers, our core values and culture
APAM’s core values are not only reserved for the commercial real estate world but are also demonstrated through its charity commitments. The Junior Board, a team of young talents, champions a diverse range of ‘Beyond Numbers’ initiatives focused on broadening professional, social and charitable networks. APAM’s charity programme forms a crucial part of staff development and encourages all employees to participate in a wide range of fundraising events. We want employees to feel proud and engaged to be a part of our ‘Beyond Numbers’ programme and understand the effect this has on productivity.

APAM supports charities all over the world – Conservation Lower Zambezi Sports Day 2017
In April, Simon Cooke, completed a South African Off-Road challenge through Zimbabwe and Botswana in support of the Atlas Foundation. Atlas provides food, medicine and educational support and materials, whilst also instilling the values of rugby, such as friendship and teamwork to disadvantaged communities. Visiting 3 African countries in 4 days and travelling 500 miles by Land Rover, the trip raised an exceptional £100,000 for the foundation.

Diversity…. And culture… the way forward

The best leaders get the best results from ‘creative conflict’ and to achieve this, you need to bring in people at every level who feel empowered to communicate diverse views and challenge embedded processes and culture. The balance between extracting the best from creative conflict and the organisation becoming divided is a fine one. Great leaders tread this fine line skilfully and inclusively. They constantly adjust their own views to align with the views that create change. The days of dogmatism and cigar smoke have long gone!
Great leaders embrace change. Managers who resist anything that might threaten or question their position aren’t leaders.
“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds and finance writer for the New Yorker.

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