Are you ALL IN in the work you’re doing? It’s an interesting question. I recently challenged myself to consider if I’m leaving any of my own potential and contribution on the table. Am I doing my very best?

The ALL IN leadership challenge came courtesy of Fairfield Residential, a full service property management company with 1,700 employees. I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address for their annual leadership conference, where 300 leaders (property managers, regional leaders and corporate managers) come together to celebrate, connect, and learn new strategies for serving their customers and developing their teams.

While spending time with the Fairfield Residential leadership team I was moved by their unique culture and commitment to people. They are a thriving organization with a clear plan to deliver a compelling 2020 vision. The foundation of their success is a commitment to world-class leadership. I spent a little time with Mona Vogele, national director of training, to better understand their approach to leadership development. I unpack a few key insights from that conversation here.

Defining Expectations For Leaders

A few years ago, Fairfield senior leadership defined specific expectations for all employees. Mona explained that these aren’t competencies, a popular buzzword in leadership development, and they’re not numbers-driven or results-based goals — they’re behaviors Fairfield employees are expected to display. Together, these expectations make up the “Fairfield Difference,” a commitment to exemplary service.

Fairfield Expectations:

Live The Fairfield Difference.

  • Champion spirit.
  • Servant’s heart.
  • Rock star attitude.

Work The Fairfield Difference.

Focus on:

  • Our residents.
  • Our partners.
  • Our neighborhoods.

Fairfield Leadership Expectations:

  1. Develop people.
  2. Build great teams.
  3. Think strategically.

Helping Leaders “Think Like Owners”

That last one is important. By encouraging leaders to think strategically, Mona says Fairfield encourages each local property manager to think like an owner and an entrepreneur. “We want to make sure our teams feel comfortable thinking like owners — having a vision for their property and making sure that vision fits into the company’s larger vision. It can be hard for people working at a big company to think like owners. Making that happen depends on leaders who give people space to make decisions and make mistakes.”

The “In Or Out” Philosophy

To help Fairfield employees understand the company’s vision and expectations, leaders created an “in or out” philosophy. There’s a clear definition of expected behaviors. You can choose to have inside-the-circle or outside-the-circle behaviors.

Mona gave me some examples of outside-the-circle behaviors: pointing fingers, not taking responsibility for your own actions and deflecting accountability. Inside-the-circle behaviors include spotting problems before they happen, working as a team and being accountable.

Accountability is an important tenant in the Fairfield culture. “We want our people to see accountability as a positive thing,” Mona says. “Accountability starts before bad behavior happens — before problems start. We just outlined the ‘in or out’ philosophy at our leadership conference last week and we’re already seeing leaders using it in emails — ‘Are you in or are you out?’ We want this principle to become second nature, and to become a new mantra for our people.”

Recruiting The Right People

One important element of a good leadership program is hiring the right people in the first place. “I don’t look for skills,” says Mona. “I look for attitude. A candidate’s approach to the job and their willingness to grow and learn is much more interesting to me than whether they’ve used our accounting software before. We can teach skills. We can’t teach people to have a servant’s heart or work with a champion’s spirit.”

Helping Employees Customize Their Own Development

I’ve shared research that shows millennials value training and development. The Fairfield leadership development team recognizes that trend and has rolled out a learning management system that helps employees learn — and allows them to customize their learning and share advice with coworkers.

“In the past, some employees felt isolated. If you were running one property in Tampa, you probably didn’t feel connected to another property manager in California,” Mona says. Now, every Fairfield Residential employee has access to a social learning network called Get Plugged In. Employees can share their questions, advice and experiences with other employees across the country. In two years, the company has seen 1,200 content uploads by employees — videos, articles, links, ideas and pictures that helped Fairfield Residential employees and leaders learn from each other.

Development Starts With Support From Senior Leadership

Mona says the company’s rigorous training program is only possible because of a high degree of buy-in from senior leaders. “It all comes down to having a solid training team that’s focused on the same vision and goals,” she says. “But without the support of senior executives, none of it works. Our senior leaders, Kim Bender and Terry Phillips, have made leadership development a priority. When you have executive support, you gain the ability to invest in training and the accountability to make sure it happens.”

Leadership is the Fairfield Difference. Their culture is a reflection of how they lead and this translates into a better resident experience in each one of their communities. It starts with a clearly defined set of expectations and is delivered through consistent, courageous leadership.

Leadership isn’t about tenure or title. It’s about showing up to make an impact, wherever you are.

Are you in or out?