In this episode of The Inner Chief, you’ll hear from Antonia Mercorella, CEO of The REIQ, on tackling the hard stuff, resolving conflict, and sharing your vision.
Antonia is the Chief Executive Officer of The Real Estate Institute of Queensland. She is the first female CEO, and also the youngest person ever appointed to lead the organisation, and has transformed the 103-year-old Institute into one of most progressive and high-profile industry associations in Australia.
Prior to her appointment as CEO, Antonia worked with the REIQ as Deputy CEO and before that, as General Counsel.
She has also worked as principal legal advisor to the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, and as a commercial lawyer specialising in property and real estate.
In this episode we talk all about:
- Tackling the hard stuff that no-one else wants to;
- Resolving conflict early and effectively;
- The key you skills you need to have as a CEO; and
- Sharing your organisation’s vision across the company.
Connecting with Antonia Mercorella
You can connect with Antonia via LinkedIn
Books and resources
- Getting to Yes – by Roger Fisher and William Ury
“I'm not sure there's anyone on the face of the earth who enjoys conflict, but the difference is that I have the skills to be able to resolve it. It’s by far the most useful training a leader can possess.”
On setbacks and tackling the hard stuff
- Most of the setbacks have been people related rather than issue related. So they have probably been a values misalignment.
- What I have come to learn is that virtually everything can be resolved or can be worked through. The more challenges that you encounter and work your way through, it's almost like muscle memory. It might be painful and hard, but you know you can get over this. Take a step back and assess things and break it down.
- One of the things about leadership is that you have to be able to get through that tough stuff and get your team with you and teach them how to get through that hard stuff.
- When I became the CEO of the REIQ, I had already been working at the REIQ previously as general counsel and then as deputy CEO. So, because I was stepping into the CEO role, knowing the business, I knew where all the dead bodies were, and I knew where all of those too hard items had been buried, but I could also see the impact that that was having on the organisation. There was this big stuff that needed to be addressed, but it was just too hard and no one wanted to tackle it.
- When you are prepared to tackle that hard stuff, that's when you really see this very transformative change in the business.
On self-awareness and expectations of others
- I set very high expectations for myself, but I then also set high expectations for others. And I have to really try and keep that in check, because it's understanding that people have different levels of expectations.
- However, you always have to have people around you who are committed and I don't think you can make any concessions for that. But it's understanding that not everyone is going to be prepared to work crazy hours. That said, I think it's really fair for a leader to expect excellence from their team and commitment, but it's understanding that sort of area where the expectation becomes too great and starts to border on unreasonable.
On resolving conflict effectively
- If you asked me what's the most valuable training you've ever done? Without any hesitation, it’s effective conflict resolution, because that teaches you how to negotiate great outcomes, not just in your professional life, but also in your personal life. And it's the most valuable skillset that a leader could ever possess.
- What human beings often do is avoid having tough conversations. And we all know what happens; a little problem grows and grows and before you know it, it's become unmanageable. So it’s important to nip things in the bud.
- You're the one in the middle who can see both sides and so you can facilitate these two people coming together. What are the questions I need to ask to understand why this person has become so entrenched in that position? And what am I not understanding about that? Because once we understand what drives people and what motivates them to a position, then it allows us to look for really useful ways of resolving it.
On getting out of a career crossroads
- Firstly, you don't need to feel like it's a failure. It happens to all of us. I regularly ask myself, “Antonia, have you gotten to a point where you've really done everything you can do that is valuable for the organisation? Is there more that you can offer?”
- So don't make any quick rush decisions. Ask yourself some questions. “Why am I feeling this way?” “Do I need new professional development?” “Am I getting the support and guidance I need?” “Is it business as usual and there’s no new challenge on the horizon?”
- I've seen people over the years who end up throwing in the towel, go grab a new job thinking that that's the panacea, and they're equally miserable in the next job and regretful.
- I’ve found it really useful to have people externally who know me well enough who are prepared to challenge me on what I'm saying and make me think whether my beliefs are true or whether I just decided it's true.
- What I found to be beneficial is that instead of just a single mentor, I like to tap into different people who can help me with specific challenges and there might be a person who's better equipped to give you advice and support in particular areas.
On the lessons of being the CEO
- The most surprising thing as a CEO is probably learning that you don't have to have every single skill. Still, to this day, I don't. What you do need to be able to do is surround yourself with people who are outstanding human beings, who are supporting you, and they fill those gaps where you've got some weaknesses. So let your ego go and accept that you are not going to have deep technical expertise across all areas.
- The next thing is that being a good CEO is about human relationships. It's about being a great leader for the people who work in the business. There are some executives who are very motivated by progressing their own career, but they don't spend enough time and attention helping develop those who support them.
- So my advice to aspiring CEOs is to spend time honing your communication skills, your negotiation skills and your ability to influence effectively.
- You can develop a vision, but unless you share that and communicate it and let people know what that looks like, what it feels like, what success looks like, your people won’t understand the role they need to play to deliver that vision.
- And it's got to be a collaborative process so that you get the buy-in and people feel motivated and feel like they're part of it. And then you've got to be careful as the message gets passed on down through the organisation, it doesn't lose its power and it doesn't get diluted.
- You've got to be prepared to accept that you might have to sometimes go back to square one or have setbacks as people will leave or not move at the same speed as you. So it does mean revisiting things – “Are we still on board?”
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- If you really are looking for the way to become a truly great and effective leader, work on yourself first and work on your human relationship skills. And that will richly reward you far beyond what you can imagine.
- Learn how to communicate effectively with human beings and how to be a patient, giving, selfless leader – we don't have enough of it these days. And you only have to look around; teams are demanding it. That's what they want.