What it takes to be a leader in a reset world

These unprecedented times call for unprecedented leaders.  So what does it take to be an ‘unprecedented leader’? We asked Chantal Clavier, who leads the EMEA real estate practice at Heidrick & Struggles, and assesses board and C-suite talent on a daily basis.

She had no hesitation with the topic of leadership, and with a sense of zest and passion launched straight in:  “What we need right now are ‘triathlete’ leaders for a time when the world is resetting.”


How Covid-19 has accelerated trends already on the minds of CEOs

Over recent months Clavier has talked with over 100 real estate CEOs, global and European,  as part of a paper, due out in early summer, that she is preparing on leadership in the sector.   Leadership is in part an “ability to enable people to be the best they can be”, she says.

“Even before Covid-19 emerged, the landscape of the real estate sector had already morphed” – Chantal Clavier

Clavier carried out the CEO interviews in Europe pre-Covid-19, yet the trends she crystallised from her conversations have not changed – and are instead accelerated as companies are forced to respond to them earlier than planned.

The main drivers behind this ‘morphing’ of the real estate landscape are, highlights Clavier:

  • Globalisation and the subsequent rise in competition.
  • Greater access to information.
  • Digitalisation and new technology.
  • The move from real estate being purely B-to-B to more B-to-C.
  • The rise of consumer power.
  • Sustainability and the environment moving up the agenda.
  • And the shift to greater urbanisation.


The ingredients of inspirational leadership

“Real estate has traditionally been a very entrepreneurial industry.  We have extremely brilliant technicians – architects, developers, investors,” says Clavier.  However, additional skills are needed when it comes to inspirational leadership for our times. And, in some instances, a different leader is required, she adds.

“There is no precedent for the very complex world in which we now live.”


“If we consider how much we expect from our leaders today, it is almost entirely unfair given that there is no precedent for the very complex world in which we now live,” says Clavier.

These ‘triathlete’ leaders need to keep ahead of multifarious issues, ranging from social and technological to business and now even hygiene, as companies step up in their role to stop the Covid-19 virus from spreading.

Leaders are role models, both within the walls of their companies, and beyond.  People who others aspire to emulate, to learn from and to be. Their role is to cast their ‘light’, as Clavier describes it. “They have so much power to determine our future. It rests in their hands,” she adds.

So what makes for a great leader in today’s world? Heidrick & Struggle’s Leadership Accelerator Model identifies 11 factors that drive the performance of elite leaders.


In terms of leadership characteristics, authenticity, agility, transparency, resilience, a sense of purpose and a sense of openness and approachability are just some of those mentioned by Clavier. These are all human characteristics, rather than managerial or technical.

Clavier likens this style of leadership to being like an elastic band. “Leaders need to be able to stretch in different directions, to pivot from plan A to plan B with agility and resilience,” she explains.

“Imagining without boundaries, being visionary beyond the possible is important in this particular moment in time, especially in real estate” – Chantal Clavier


“Our sector is going to dive through a painful and unprecedented change and our leaders are the ones who will take us through this journey.  There will be immense opportunity among the pain. It is going to be tough and exciting, simultaneously.

“Our leaders will need the same grit and determination that they had in the global financial crisis [in 2008], and added into that a creativity and a vision to imagine and to take us into a new world.”


Leaders need to bring their “full humanity”

“Historically, leaders have been careful to bring only a fraction of who they are to work. Now is the time for them to be all of themselves, to utilise all of their quadrants ­– their full humanity – and to turn up whole every day for all to see,” says Clavier.

Having a sense of humanity helps to engender trust, both within the company, and outside, with clients, communities and the wider business world.  Trust is how relationships – and the best real estate projects – are built.

In an unlikely twist, two positive outcomes have emerged from people working from home during the lockdown, observes Clavier.

“Relationships and connections are being formed through virtual connections as leaders are seen in a different light, and somehow feel more accessible and akin to their employees.”


Leaders are more relaxed, more open in their style of communication, whether by email or on a video conference, and in their dress and appearance.  As a result there is less formality.  Teams take note of this. They see the more human side of their leaders and this helps build that all-essential feeling of trust,” says Clavier.

“Relationships and connections are being formed through virtual connections as leaders are seen in a different light, and somehow feel more accessible and akin to their employees,” she adds.


Working from home as a level playing field opens the door for women

The all-in-it-together, with everyone working from home, is also bringing a new perspective of the culture of presenteeism. This has traditionally disadvantaged women who may have carer roles outside work, which means that they need to work from home for part of the time.

“With everyone working out of different locations, people are understanding that you can be just as effective wherever you work from.” ­


“With everyone now working out of different locations, people are understanding that you can be just as effective wherever you work from,” says Clavier, who hopes that this will open the door for more women to rise in the ranks of real estate. (As of the end of last year, there were still only six women CEOs of FTSE100 companies in the UK.)


The need for emergency succession planning

While management skills can be taught, inspiring and visionary leadership is more innate, says Clavier.

“Natural leaders are born with leadership in their bones. It is about identifying the early green shoots that can be developed to bring out this latent potential.”


Heidrick & Struggles are currently working at speed with their clients to spot the new leaders to take us through this changing world.   In addition, they are advising and assisting companies with emergency succession planning.

“You need to consider what happens if both the CEO and the chairman fall ill at the same time, and factor in if you have enough skills on the board to help lead businesses through the next few ‘chapters’,” explains Clavier.   Board composition is of particular importance today, she adds.


Leaders are only human – they need support too

“Being a leader of a business has always been lonely. It comes with the territory.  But being a leader has become more complex and relentless, with a great deal of publicity attached.  This requires leaders to be multi-faceted, and at times there is an unrealistic expectation that the CEO is all-knowing.

“It is easy to forget that these ‘triathlete’ leaders are human too, and will perform better if they feel supported.”


“Expectations are so high these days, and change is coming so fast, that leaders are under enormous pressure and expectation to deliver,” observes Clavier.

“Let your leaders know you believe in them and trust them, and rally your teams in support of them.”


Clavier calls for teams to support their leaders.  Good leaders are approachable. “Send them good ideas. They will always respond,” she says.

“Right now is when firms need to be thinking with fresh perspective, and including all they can from the collective business.  Let your leaders know you believe in them and trust them, and rally your teams in support of them. Help to build a culture that is unified.”


Inspirational leaders: Bill Gates, the Queen and yoga gurus

MIPIMWorld Blog asked Clavier for the leaders that inspired her from outside the real estate sector:


  • Bill Gates: for his hard work, innovation and charity foundations. He has a strong sense of purpose and an ability to think beyond boundaries. Back in 2015, Gates forewarned that the greatest risk of global catastrophe was a highly infectious virus – “not missiles, but microbes”, he said in a TED Talk.
  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 94 this month: “For her grace, her eloquence, her ability to lead over almost seven decades in a changing world, influencing multi-generations. She has shown true resiliency and poise, holding the fort no matter what,” says Clavier.
  • Many great yoga gurus: whose purpose is to spread the word about living a simpler life, going back to nature, spending time with family. “They believe and they do it, and they do it with their heart,” says Clavier.


“Yes, we are passing through difficult times, but we will emerge into a world that has been reset,” finalises Clavier.

Never have we needed courageous leaders as we do now. Leaders who can pivot at speed.  There might be one person sitting in your business today that you still need to identify, assess and develop. Don’t hesitate!”


About Author

Georgina Power is a freelance Communications Consultant and Editor. Her previous positions include: Head of Corporate Communications at McArthurGlen Group, European PR Manager at Cushman & Wakefield and a freelance journalist for EuroProperty.

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