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3 Leader Attributes Essential in Facility Management | Learning FM

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An attribute is a characteristic of a person.  In this article I will describe 3 Leader Attributes Essential in Facility Management.  As I lay out these attributes, consider them the foundation of what you should be in order to be the most effective leader you can be.  For each attribute, I will describe what it is, why it is important, and how to cultivate that characteristic in yourself and others.

1. Empathy

At a recent facility management conference, I attended a seminar on leadership.  The speaker and I began talking after the session had ended about military leadership.  Not ever being a part of the military, he was curious about the similarities and differences of certain points he made to the audience.  Toward the end of our conversation he asked me what I considered to be the most important leadership trait one could possess.  I told him empathy.

He looked intrigued and said, “Interesting, I’ve never heard that one before.  How so?”

I told him, “Think about it.  How can you hope to lead another person if you can’t understand their point of view?”

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another from their perspective.  To be truly empathetic, you must share their feelings as though they are your own.  This is important because you cannot hope to inspire and motivate others until you understand what it is that inspires and motivates them.  If you don’t truly understand what your employees are feeling, how can you possibly hope to influence those feelings?  The ability to influence feelings of others is the foundation for motivating them to accomplish goals because they want to accomplish them.

Ironically, how you become empathetic is easy, but many supervisors continue to resist.  Too many times, I’ve seen managers hear one person’s point of view (often their own), make a judgment based on that one-sided story, and attempt to affect change from there.  Does it work?  I’m sure it does occasionally, I mean even a broken clock is right twice a day.  But it isn’t effective.

In order to learn to be empathetic, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Approach a problem from their perspective and ask yourself how that is different from how you view something.  If an employee comes in late, before immediately chastising them, ask why they are late and if you can help.

If you find yourself having trouble with practicing empathy, try these things.  First, pay attention.  When someone comes into your office, stop what you’re doing, look them in the eye, and actively listen to what they have to say.  Repeat a summary of what they said back to them to make sure you really did understand what they meant.  Second, take a genuine interest in the people you want to lead.  Ask them how they are feeling and link those to non-verbal clues to understand how they communicate (facial expressions, posture, general attitude).  Finally, take note of how they respond to your requests and the organizational environment to better empathize with how they will potentially feel when evaluating different plans and options.

Leadership Tip – Making emotional decisions based on how you feel without understanding how other parties feel is a recipe for disaster.

2. Character

Having a strong character is important.  Leaders with character possess integrity and operate according to a code of ethics.  Integrity is simply doing the right thing even when no one is watching.  Ethics are a set of rules that guide moral behavior.  Unethical leaders are not respected and are often talked about behind their backs.  This undermines their leadership ability by eroding any hope of inspiring and motivating those around them.  Individuals lacking integrity might subscribe to a code of ethics, but will look for loopholes in those ethics whenever possible.

Most professional organizations maintain a code of ethics, which is a good place to start if you are new to this.  IFMA publishes their code of ethics on their website.  I would suggest looking at these to incorporate along with the ethical principles of your organization.  Additionally, ensure you maintain integrity.  One thing I tell my junior officers when I counsel them is to assume someone is watching all the time and never do anything that you would not want your loved ones to see as a headline on the six o’clock news.  It’s surprising how such an easy concept can get people in so much trouble.  Leadership is hard enough to develop without undermining your progress by acting without integrity.

3. Competence

Competence refers to the knowledge a person possesses and what they do with that knowledge.  It encompasses far more than possessing book smarts from formal education.  Competence is the practical application of an individual’s intellect.  Let’s break that down to these components:

Mental Agility – this is the ability to change and adapt to unforeseen conditions.  A mentally agile leader is one who can adjust rather quickly.  They are constantly looking for new ways to improve and critically reason their way through challenges.

Sound Judgment – this requires the leader to think critically and make decisions that are rational and solve the problem at hand.  Sound judgment does not mean that a leader knows everything.  Part of this includes knowing when to ask for help in order to choose what action to take from multiple options. The best way to improve your mental agility and your judgment is to conduct an after action review (AAR).  To do this, you and your team look at the problem, what was supposed to happen, what actually happened in the course of solving it, and what could have or should have happened differently.  Take this information, because hindsight is always 20/20, and then look at it through the lens of your own decision-making at the time.  Ask yourself what your thought processes were when making your decisions and what you could have done differently to come up with better solutions.  Then, use those lessons to change how you critically think in the future.

Innovation – this is the ability to create and to come up with new ideas, solutions, or concepts.  This is important because anyone and anything can be improved upon, but it takes innovative leaders to see how to make a situation better.  If you want to improve innovation, create brainstorming groups and use them in a team-building exercise.  Learn how others look at problems and then use what works in your own creativity.

Interpersonal Relations – part of being a leader is having the ability to interact with other people in any situation.  This starts with self-control.  As a leader, you will be faced with situations that make you angry or frustrated with individuals with whom you need to work.  Learning to control your emotions is important to maintaining an open line of communications, a working relationship, and a positive work environment.  A good tool to do this is to learn how to recognize diversity in culture, religion, background, race, etc. in order to form a basis of understanding of your employees and co-workers.  This, in turn, helps enable you to be that empathetic leader by providing context for the other person’s situation.

Expertise – finally, expertise is the knowledge a leader possesses from formal and informal education, experience, and training.  Without question, this leads to an overall competency in your field, but I want to emphasize that it is not enough.  Improving your expertise goes back to building your own value, which aids in confidence.  It is combined with the other components above to form a well-rounded, competent leader.

In Summary

The 3 Leader Attributes Essential in Facility Management are empathy, character, and competence.  Understanding them, why they are important, and how to leverage them to bolster your leadership abilities will help you develop yourself greatly.  FM can be a stressful profession by its very nature.  Continually developing these attributes will help you in your growth as an FM professional throughout your career.

Thanks so much for reading.  I would love to know your thoughts.  So, please feel free to comment below or email me personally at