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Leadership Skills for the Busy Title Agency Manager

Are you a "boss" or are you a "leader"? Historically, command-and-control leadership styles have been the name of the game for title agency managers—bosses who gave top-down orders. Not all, but many. Today's employees want a manager who is invested in their personal and professional development. Modern employees also want a voice in how work is done. 

Steve Rudolph, owner of Steve Rudolph Coaching, says there are core communication skills that can help create a positive employee experience. This includes setting expectations, giving feedback, offering praise and coaching.

Rudolph guided for the U.S. Paralympic Team, guiding two visually impaired Nordic skiers in two Olympics. He shared a story about a competition with the National team at Lake Tahoe. During the 18-mile race, the visually impaired skate skier asked Rudolph how much further he had to go. Rudolph responded by saying “Just a little bit left.” After a few minutes, Rudolph looked back and the athlete was gone.

“This is Lake Tahoe and there are cliffs,” Rudolph said. “Where did John go? He went ‘just a little bit left.”

The moral of the story around leadership and management is that everything we say and do matters.

“We have to be very precise in our language and tone,” Rudolph said.

It’s sobering reality that people don’t leave companies, they quit managers. According to Gallup, managers have a 73% on employee engagement. Rudolph said his mentor told him there are two types of employees: fountains and drains. Fountains shower the office with positivity and collaboration, while drains sap the energy and hurt the culture.

Rudolph said leaders should lean toward things that can be controlled. You can’t necessarily control the talent that shows up for an interview, but once hired, there are things that can be done to foster a positive experience. Promoting a healthy work environment should start during the interview process, according to Rudolph. A quality, structured interview and onboarding process can help build initial connection.

Servant leadershipRudolph shared a philosophical concept of servant leadership. This is occurs when a leader seeks to serve others first, rather than individuals who seek leadership because of power, status or wealth. Servant leadership is followed by several companies including Chik-fil-A, American Express and Apple.

“In top-down hierarchical organizations there’s a lot of politicking and influencing up to the boss,” Rudolph said. “Management gets frustrated because employees don’t show initiative. The servant leadership model flips the pyramid upside down. The leadership sets a clear mission and vision. Employees want to make meaning and purpose out of a job.”

In the servant model, leaders come to the employee and asks how they can help and provide support.

“When leaders provide support and development and employees feel encouraged and mentored, it can create a healthy and vibrant title agency,” Rudolph said.

Providing feedback is vitally important, especially for millennial-aged employees. According to Gallup, only 17% of millennials report receiving meaningful feedback. Routine feedback is better than none, but meaningful feedback -- the kind that helps individuals learn, grow, and do their jobs better—is how you improve productivity and performance, according to Rudolph.

“Managers play a pivotal role in any organization,” he added. “Their actions dictate their company's success. Employee development dictates growth. So managers of millennials need to focus on what is meaningful to millennials. Talk with them, not about them, and start by learning what ‘meaningful’ means to each worker.”

The U.S. Army did a study on the effects of goals and feedback. Soldiers were in training and would then compete for positions with the Green Berets. Army boot camp graduates were put into four equal groups and were to march 20 kilometers over the same terrain. The only difference was the verbal instructions.

  • Group 1 was told the exact distance they would march and were regularly informed of their progress along the way.
  • Group 2 was told only, “This is the long march you heard about.” Nobody knew exactly how far they would march, nor were they informed of their progress.
  • Group 3 was told they would march 15 kilometers, but then at 14 kilometers were told they had 6 kilometers more to go.
  • Group 4 was told they would march 25 kilometers, but then at 14 kilometers was told they had only 6 kilometers more to go.

Who performed the best? Group one performed the best, group two the worst. Group three, with the surprise “added” mileage did second best.

“Highly motivated people will rise to the even larger challenges when suddenly confronted by a new obstacle,” Rudolph said. “If leaders provide a clear sense of direction and provide feedback along the way, they encourage people to reach inside and do their best. Great leaders, like great companies, create “meaning,” not just money.”

Smaller, sooner conversations will turn out better than larger, later conversations. To help foster these discussions, Rudolph provided the following tips to create a cadence of communications:

  • Daily check-ins
  • Weekly team meetings
  • Daily huddles
  • Monthly one-on-ones
  • Quarterly town halls
  • Annual team retreat

BIG Feedback List

Rudolph shared the BIG Feedback model on how to address conflict in the office. First, the manager should ask a permission question: Do you have a few minutes to talk about your team collaboration efforts?” Rudolph said it’s important to provide balance. This can be done by complimenting the employee: 90% of your work is of a very high quality, it’s just this one area that you need to strengthen.

  • Behavior: “I’ve noticed you doing basics of job but not helping out your peers (give specific examples).
  • Impact of behaviors: “The impact is…it’s hurting team morale and collaboration; shift task coordination is suffering, which is hurting the customer experience.
  • Going Forward: “Can we talk about what’s going on and come up with a plan for moving forward?

Here are several scenarios ALTA members shared on how they handled conflict in their office:

  • By not taking the extra time and paying attention to the details, you are causing issues with other customers on this transaction and departments. How am I able to help you so you are not continuing to make the same mistakes?

  • Gossiping in the offices is not something that is helpful to the team spirit we have created. If we have a subject that needs to be discussed, let’s please talk personally about issues so that I have the chance to fix an issue before it’s made too big a deal.

  • Hi {EMPLOYEE NAME}, do you have some time to talk about your performance? You've really done a good job getting the basics under your belt, but we can take it to the next level with your time management skills. I've noticed you have good turn times for customer response, but your report production is taking a long time. This impacts the overall workflow and puts us behind on other projects. Going forward, I'd like to see you get your monthly reports completed in one day. What can I do to help make that feasible?

  • I’ve noticed that you have been showing up late. This impacts us as an office when we are not all here on time and ready to work. Going forward can you please work on your time management and communicate with me if you're running late?

  • I've noticed that there are times during the day when you're not available or away from your computer for long periods during the day outside of your normal lunch time. This impacts the team you're working on because work that would have been assigned to you has to be assigned to other team members and is a burden on them. If you have to be away from your computer for long periods of time outside of your lunch break, please be sure to communicate this with your manager. Going forward, we expect you to be available and online when you are scheduled to work.

  • We noticed that you have been calling off a lot lately. We understand that you are trying to get your health under control, but we do have the ability to work from home right now. With only two staff members working, when you are not online working from home, our work could be delated by 24 hours. How can we help you feel more comfortable working from home when you do feel you need to take a break from the office?

  • Do you have a minute to chat? I've noticed you are doing really well with tackling projects when they are specifically assigned to you. I don't see you taking initiative to ask if you can help when you run out of things to do. This affects team morale when others are busy and you appear to have extra time on your hands. I think the team will grow stronger if you proactively offer your help to others when your desk is slow.

  • This incident was borderline insubordination, definitely disrespect. However, my reaction was not appropriate at the time. I've sent an email stating my apology for the way I reacted and that we do need to get together to discuss the incident.


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