Embrace Imperfection and Other Impactful Lessons from the 2016 CREW Network Convention and Marketplace

November 1, 2016
Written by: Amanda Marsh, CREW New York

2016 CREW Network Distinguished Leaders: Annette Verschuren, NRStor Inc., Julie Smith, The Bozzuto Group, Merle Gross-Ginsburg,  ACREW Founder, and Jodie McLean, EDENS.

Veteran journalist Tom Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”

Every decision we make as professionals affects our personal success and those around us, and this year’s CREW Network Convention and Marketplace — centered on the theme of “Impact” — allowed over 1,400 CREW Network members and attendees to discover strategies and learn best practices in making the best impact on their careers.

The convention, held at the New York Hilton from Oct. 19-22, included three days of networking and educational sessions featuring some of the industry’s foremost experts, who talked about their experiences and how professionals can positively affect change in their lives and those around them.

Distinguished Leaders: Be Open, Take Risks, and Be Unafraid to Fail 

“Embrace your imperfection,” said EDENS CEO Jodie McLean, who opened Wednesday’s Distinguished Leaders Panel with The Bozzuto Group CAO Julie Smith, NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren, and AREW founder Merle Gross-Ginsburg. “We miss opportunity while we focus on being perfect.”

Smith stressed that it is critical to be open, as you never know what is going to happen — and to make sure you’re doing things that get you noticed in a good way.

Verschuren was a born risk-taker, and that trait was encouraged as a child. So if a goal is 60 percent to 70 percent there, she goes for it, making it right along the way. She noted that as a leader, it’s critical to be a chameleon — when you stop growing, changing, and asking questions, you lose.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, “We had to be unafraid to fail,” said Gross-Ginsburg, who recalled being one of three women at The Real Estate Board of New York’s annual banquet in the 1970s. It was then she decided to start a women’s networking organization structured like the men’s organizations, and AREW was born in 1978. The first meeting attracted over 100 women from the real estate industry.

Amy Cuddy: Be Present and Convey Confidence

Featured speaker Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, kicked off Thursday’s general session with a discussion about confidence. What holds professionals back is a feeling of being socially judged, she says, making it difficult to be confident. Therefore, they approach tasks with dread, execute with anxiety, and leave with regret. “You are not present,” she said.

However, when we allow ourselves to be present, we believe in our story, convey confidence without arrogance, and communicate harmoniously. In particular, body language conveys confidence, and when people feel powerful, their executive functions are heightened, their cognitive bandwidth is freed, and they are more likely to act on behalf of themselves and others.

“Check your posture,” she recommended, teaching attendees what she calls “power poses.” When we feel powerful, we expand, she explained — and if we feel powerless, we shrink. Therefore, it’s important to teach young girls to expand, take up space, express ideas, and show strength.

Mary Ann Tighe: Abandon Your Quest for Perfection 

Thursday’s luncheon was keynoted by CBRE New York Tri-State CEO Mary Ann Tighe, who looked around the Hilton ballroom and exclaimed to wide applause, “We couldn’t do this 10 years ago. … My days of being the only woman at the negotiating table are over.”

Power, she said, is the ability to obtain the results you want, and for her, that means making others think like she thinks. It’s also critical to abandon your quest for perfection, as it tamps down the spirit of adventure. Of course, we will make mistakes on the way, she acknowledged — but the best way to deal with them is to assess the damage, fix what you can, and move on.

MaryAnne Gilmartin and Ric Campo: Culture Is Everything

After discussing her career in real estate and the various challenges she faced and overcame, Tighe sat down for a panel discussion with Camden Property Trust CEO Ric Campo and Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, who discussed impacting and leading the industry.

One of the best ways to lead the industry is to build an excellent culture within your companies. Building begins at the top, Gilmartin said, and you have to lead by example. Professionals are attracted to excellence, and devotion to the work you do is carried on. Campo, whose firm has consistently ranked high in Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, noted that a great culture always beats strategy.

Sallie Krawcheck: Diversity and Financial Empowerment Is Key

Ellevest co-founder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck, who opened Friday’s general session, discussed her experience being fired from Smith Barney, which she accounted to a lack of diversity within the banking industry.

The decision-makers have worked together for years, attended the same schools, had the same color skin, and lived in the same suburbs, leaving them more prone to groupthink. In fact, had there been more diversity and opinions within the industry, the financial crisis would have had much less impact on our economy, she said.

These days, she’s looking to empower women through Ellevest by putting more money in their hands, allowing them to invest in others, and help the economy grow. It’s especially important to pay attention to the retirement savings crisis, she says, as women tend to live longer than men, yet retire with a lot less money.

Admiral William H. McRaven: Lead by Example 

The convention closed with a luncheon keynote by Admiral William H. McRaven, a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral who is now system chancellor of the University of Texas. He discussed many of the high-stake, high-pressure decisions he had to make throughout his career, including organizing and overseeing the special ops raid that took down Osama bin Laden in 2011.

From the day operatives arrive for basic SEAL training, they learn it’s no longer about themselves, but about the team, he noted. As a leader, every decision you make affects the people in the boiler room. Your responsibility is to the men and women you serve, so accomplish tasks, hold yourself accountable, and do things right.

“If you can’t make your own bed, how can you lead a SEAL unit?” he asked.

When leading during a crisis, it’s critical to communicate, otherwise your chances of succeeding are slim, he continued. It’s possible to survive though failure. While you don’t want to turn it into a culture, you want to come back stronger. If you’re consumed by mistakes you make, you can’t make the next decision. Reducing risk means having the right people, planning, and rehearsing.

2016 convention resources
Convention speaker presentations, slides and handouts »
Convention photos » (via Flickr)

Amanda Marsh is the founder of Buzzmaestro, which provides business writing, editing, and consulting services to real estate and other industries. Previously, she was a commercial real estate journalist with Bisnow and Commercial Property News. She has been a member of CREW New York since 2015, and serves on her local chapter’s Communications Committee, as well as CREW Network’s Communications and Editorial Committee.