In this episode, Brandon Turner shares six lessons he’s learned about what it takes to be a better leader.
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Joe Fairless: Welcome to another special episode of The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show where we are sharing the top sessions from the Best Ever Conference 2021. This year, the Best Ever Conference is back in person, February 24th through 26th. Come join us in Denver, Colorado. You’ll hear all the new keynote speakers, you’ll meet some new business partners, you’ll learn some insights from the presentations and from the people you meet, that you can apply to your business today. Here is an example of a session from last year that is still relevant today and will be beneficial for you.
Brandon Turner: Alright. Well, we’ve got 25 minutes to talk about leadership. For everything that I’ve learned in last couple years, I originally titled this presentation, My Confessions of a Terrible Leader, and then I realized maybe I should try to come up with some a little bit more plain. Basically, I want to teach you guys everything I’ve learned about being a leader, because I, for the longest time, said “I hate being a leader, I don’t want to be a leader, I don’t want to be a manager I hate being the boss.” We’ll talk about all that today. I especially love being here, because this very event, the Best Ever conference from several years ago, changed my entire life. I’m going to tell you about that in just a few minutes. Let’s make sure my slides and everything’s working correctly if I click through. There, it worked.
Alright, let’s start with a little bit of my background in leadership. I want to start with 10th grade, 11th grade, somewhere in there; I became really good friends with a buddy, his name was Cory. And Cory was an awesome dude. Cory, his dad was a plumber. Now, when I say plumber, he really owned a plumbing business. The reason I say he owned a plumbing business is because he wasn’t the one doing the toilets or unplugging the things. He ran the company, had dozens of employees, and was the wealthiest person I knew. My friend Cory was the wealthiest, richest person I knew. Their house was worth at least $150,000. It was insane when you’re that age. That was a pinnacle of rich in my life.
I remember one time, my friend Cory tells me that his parents hired a house cleaner to do their cleaning a couple times a week. I just thought, “Oh, it must be nice to be rich. Lazy, rich people.” That was my thought process at that time, was lazy, rich people. It started this belief in me that only lazy people… I was kind of raised with this belief. Only lazy people hire others to do the dirty work. I should just go and do the work myself.
Closely related to that is around the same time, my dad started teaching me how to change my oil. Turner 101, you do not bring your car in to get your oil changed, because real men do hard work. That was a belief that I had, real men do the hardest work, because that justifies you being a man. When I say man, my value to the world was my ability to actually get in there and do the work. This belief guided me for a long time. So rich people hire people to do stuff, but real men and the working class, we just do the work.
And then came, around that same period of time, my still probably all-time favorite movie, at least top five, Office Space. I’m sure many of you have seen Office Space and you recognize this character right here as the quintessential horrible boss; just a horrible individual that nobody wants to work for. But this training, this belief that leadership is about managing people through suits, ties, TPS reports, which is a phrase they use throughout the movie, and being disliked.
Now I’m a high I in the DISC profile, I love being liked, I want everyone to like me and I want to be liked. It kind of reminds me of Michael Scott from The Office, which also then influenced my leadership ideas. I’m just like, “That just sounds terrible.”
Belief number four was spread over the next few years. Let me tell you three quick stories. Number one, I tried to start a wooden sunglasses business. I thought it’d be cool to sell wooden sunglasses. They’re like wood on the outside, polarized on the front; they were amazing sunglasses. I hired my little brother and said, “Hey, how about you run the business and I’ll kind of bankroll it.” We did that for a year, never made any money whatsoever, it was completely a failure, stressful. I didn’t even learn anything other than that I did not want to be a manager, it was terrible. Around the same time, I hired my very first assistant. I was like, “I’m going to be a boss. I’m going to hire an assistant help me get things done. She could help me with my email…” This time I started doing Bigger Pockets stuff, and my Bigger Pockets, the podcasting, the book writing… Oh, it’s getting a little bit crazy, so hire an assistant.
Day one, I set her up with a computer and I say “Okay, here you go.” And she said something along the lines of “What are all these little buttons all over the screen?” I realized that she had never used a computer before that day. She didn’t even understand the framework for a computer. How you have a desktop, you click icons, and they open up, none of that made sense to her. I realized this management thing sucks. I hired a person who doesn’t know how to do it, now I have to do it and I have to train… I kept her for a year and a half, and she’s a wonderful person, but could not do the job; it further emphasizes that this sucked.
Then I increased my role at Bigger Pockets. I became a VP at the company and I started managing a team of people underneath me, none of who I chose to manage. They were just people that were in the company that were put underneath me. It was the worst year of my life, was managing these people. They might have been great people, but I hated every minute. I had to do a forced one on one with them every week, and had to do all this annoying stuff to manage these people who didn’t like me and I didn’t really like them. I’m sure they’re fun, but we weren’t friends. So I had to manage people, hold them accountable, and it was just hell.
So I develop this other belief that “See, it just doesn’t work. I’m not a natural leader.” I would look at some people and I’m like, “Ah, they’re so good.” In fact, around that time, as I’m dealing with all this, I went and had lunch with Joe Fairless. My wife and I are sitting there with Joe, we’re explaining all the difficulties I’m having with my team and having to manage people, and I’m doing my real estate, just small little deals… I’m like, “How do you manage to grow in such a huge business?” He looked at me and goes, “It’s not really that hard.” I don’t think, to this day, I’ve ever told him how inspired I was by the fact that I realized there was another way to do this, and that I was clearly doing something wrong. I still don’t know what it was but the fact that it was so easy for him and light to manage an entire operation, I started to change a little bit. You see, I had this identity that I’m not a good leader. When I say identity, you guys know what I’m saying? It’s like this idea of like the word “I am not a good leader”, or I am a runner, I am a healthy person, I am a vegan. The words that follow I am, they often say are the most powerful words in the English language.
So my identity was I am not a leader, I’m not a manager, I don’t want to do this ever. And identity is so powerful. In fact, I probably don’t have time to tell the story but I’m going to anyway. Alfred Nobel, you may have heard his name before. He was the inventor of dynamite, or at least the guy who really took dynamite to a whole new level and mass produced it. He was nicknamed, in his obituary, the merchant of death; that was his obituary. The funny thing with his own obituary, because the newspaper screwed up, and they thought he died, but he really didn’t. So here’s Alfred Nobel reading his own obituary that says the merchant of death. It shocked him to his core, because he realized his identity that he had built for himself was somebody who was responsible for millions and millions of deaths. So he turned his life around in that moment, he shifted his identity in a heartbeat, and dedicated his life to peace. Therefore, that’s how we have the Nobel Peace Prize today. He set up that foundation and really changed the world for better because of an identity shift. So identity is so powerful.
I could spend hours just talking about identity. But I want to go to the belief number five, it’s closely related. Even in that conversation with Joe, I realized and I thought I don’t need to be a good leader. I’m okay just doing my small little deals, I can buy a duplex here and there, buy a house once in a while, keep doing the podcast, write some books, and I’m fine. I don’t need to be a good leader in order to thrive in life. But then something changed. First, I went to Nashville, Tennessee and hung out with my buddy Seth. Seth is the guy on the far right there, playing the guitar. Seth is a Grammy Award winning music producer, writer, amazing dude. He had this team of five or six people, many of them had won Grammys, they were top of their game, they’re amazing people. Here’s what’s funny. I hung out with him for a couple days, we did some recording in a studio because in my previous life I love music. I saw them show up when they wanted to show up during the day, didn’t ask what to do, they just worked on their work. It was meaningful, impactful work that made a difference, and they loved it, and they loved one another. They were so good friends, and had like collaborations, and it was fun, and they left when they wanted to. Seth did not manage them.
Yet this studio just pumped out hit after hit after hit of the songs that you would know from the radio. Seth led them, he led them there. I realized that is what I wanted more than anything else. I started with this feeling of “This is what I want in my life, was a team of rockstars doing meaningful work, making an impact in the world, having a great time, and doing life together.” I was like, “Oh, I want that with every piece of my soul.” I wanted it. Because I was at that spot where I wasn’t sure what to do next. Again, everything was kind of just okay.
Then what ruined me for life was I went to the Best Ever Conference and I spoke at it. I was a keynote speaker, this was now a couple years ago. I spoke there and I was on stage. I’ve got the podcast, and people read my book sometimes, so they threw me on stage graciously, but the reality was, I didn’t belong on that stage.
Brandon Turner: The reality is I was mediocre at my real estate compared to everyone there. Yes, I had some properties, but I didn’t deserve to be on that stage. And I realized that I oftentimes was judging myself or patting myself on the back because of the room that I was in, surrounding myself with new investors, rather than getting myself in a room with people who were doing way more. So when I got in that room, I was like, “Oh, I need to go bigger.” So I took those two thoughts, the idea of working the way that my buddy Seth worked, what I saw at the Best Ever conference, and I kind of came up with this four step logical progression, I worked this in my head.
Number one, for me anyway, and maybe this is true for you, happiness and fulfillment are very much found through growth and achievement. Now whether right or wrong, I don’t know. But I get a lot of happiness in life when I conquer something, when I achieve something great, and get to a new level. I love that. That’s why I was feeling a little bit bummed out, because I wasn’t growing for a while, I had no growth. I call these the Four Therefores. Therefore, if that’s true in my life, in order to grow, I would have to focus on my superpower, what I could do better than everyone else, and less on other tasks. Therefore, I needed to hire, or I needed a partner, or outsource my non superpower tasks. Do you all see the logical progression here? Then finally, therefore, I needed to lead those people. They wouldn’t naturally go where I wanted them to go, I have to lead them toward the outcome I desired. Therefore, leadership was not for me and for many of you, the leadership is not an option for those people looking for an incredible life. If you’re looking for something incredible, it’s not an option.
Now my identity was I am not a leader, and I needed to shift that to I am a leader, it’s light and easy, and I love doing it. I had to change something. So how does one change that identity? You can’t just say I’m a vegan and suddenly you’re vegan. What does the identity change look like? Well, it looks like this – this is what I’ve realized over the years of just studying, talking with, and learning from just high performers. Identity is changed from a four-step process, really, it’s in the middle of that. There’s the mindset you come at it with, how you approach it is mindset. This is why Performance Coaching is so vital to every entrepreneur. If you do not have a performance coach, you need one that can help you adjust your mind, because that’s the start. Then it moves to the actions you take. For example, I want to be more plant based. I’m not 100% plant based but I wanted to be more plant based, so I started watching documentaries that I knew would trick my mind to getting the right mindset. The same thing, why does everyone say Rich Dad Poor Dad gets them into real estate? It’s not a real estate book. It’s because of the mindset.
The mindset helps you make the right actions, then the actions will strengthen the identity. The identity then leads to confidence, whatever that thing is, you feel more comfortable in it. The cool thing is energy becomes a cycle. The mindset leads to the actions, identity to confidence, the confidence leads to more actions, and that cycle continues forever. If you want to change anything in your life, these four things right here are going to do it. You can be anything you want to be if you change your identity through your mindset, actions, identity, and then build the confidence in that, and then repeat that process.
So what did that mean I had to shift my mindset? I want to go real quick through the mindset shift that I made. I already told you the five beliefs that I had that were incorrect, that I wanted to change. Again, incorrect, correct, whatever, but that I wanted to change; I needed to rewire the operating system that was in here. Working with a performance coach, this is where I shifted my mindset to.
Number one, my job is to be a general. Not a manager, not a middle manager, I don’t mean like necessarily a leader, I’m a general in a war. The general does not pick up a gun in most cases. He’s not out there in the front of the lines shooting things, he’s not out there crawling through barbed wire, honestly. He’s looking over the battlefield, he’s strategizing. I got this picture of this World War II type general, even to the point where I printed out a picture at one point and put it on my wall. I am the general in this.
Number two, management is not leadership and leadership is not management. Those are two separate things. I remember one day my performance coach literally had to tell me “Brandon, I forbid you from ever saying the word managing again.” Because clearly there was something in my soul, probably from Office Space, that made management a toxic term to me. When I started shifting that, I realized management is not the same as leadership. I still, to this day, do not want to manage people. That sounds horrible. Who wants to manage people? Fill out TPS reports, and do their quarterly reviews. That sounds awful. That’s not why I got into real estate; it’s not why you got into real estate.
Also, I shifted this mindset belief that when you work with people that you love and care for –and I would add this– and that are talented people. You love and care for them and they’re talented people, they’re doing the right job. It is not work, it is a beautiful life. It’s like trying to say it’s a symbiotic relationship of mutual growth and respect. I am helping them, I am working for them, and they are working for me, and we are helping each other achieve our goals in life.
Finally, leadership is the most manly of skills. I literally had to tell myself this, and the way that I present this… Again, if you’re female or you’re offended by manly, I don’t mean manly like I’m a man. I mean, think of people like Joan of Arc. That’s the term I mean, powerful. William Wallace, why do we all love Gladiator, every man loved Gladiator. Martin Luther King, Churchill, Jesus – these characters, when I think of them, they’re all amazing people because of their leadership skills. I look up to them as a role model because of their leadership skills. In other words, leadership is not something only rich people do. In fact, I have now shifted my belief system that my friend, Cory, and his dad – they were not rich, so they hired a housecleaner; they were rich because they hired a house cleaner.
That fundamental shift in my mentality has changed everything. I am not successful and therefore I hire people to do this or that. It’s “I am successful because I do those things.” That was hard for me to get over. Some of you are like, “Oh, that’s easy for me.” Well, that’s fine, we’re all at different places. But for me, I really had to overcome that limiting belief.
Finally, I believe that leadership leads to freedom, very much so. I think freedom is often found through structure. In fact, I’ll tell you about some structures we do here in a minute. But very much so, freedom is found through great leadership. If you want more financial freedom in your life, and just more freedom to be able to enjoy life, move, travel more, spend more time with your kids, the better you are as a leader, the more you will realize that.
Finally, the last point here about the mindset change. I realized leadership is a skill. It is a skill that you can learn just like becoming good at basketball or badminton, it is a skill that you will develop if you choose to develop. If you have that growth mindset that you can adapt, you can learn, you can learn to be a good leader. Granted, I don’t think there’s a ton of great books on leadership out there. I’ve read a lot of them and I’m going to give you guys five of my favorite later. But it’s one of those things, I don’t feel like I learned how I got into it.
Let’s go, today’s topic was six lessons in becoming a great leader. Let me lay out all those lessons right now for you real quickly. Grab a pen and paper if you’re not taking notes, I think this is important. Number one, a great leader is a quitter. In other words, I once heard a billionaire say in an interview, they said, “Why are you successful? Why are you a billionaire?” The response was “Because I’m a quitter.” In other words, the person said that every job that I do in my entire life, I find a way to quit that job. I don’t leave it alone, I find somebody to take over that job.” So ne of my jobs as a leader is to build a system, or define a process, or define a role. I might do that role for a little bit in the beginning, possibly, but I need to quit that as soon as possible. Because that allows other people who are amazing to step into that role and crush it.
Number two, a great leader is a cutter. Now what I mean by that is I’m going to use an analogy that I once read in a book. I don’t remember what book it was, somebody can probably tell me. But Dr. Oz, at the height of his career, when he was like really… Like he was on Oprah, had his own TV show, had magazines, he was doing CNN everyday, he was doing all this stuff. Dr. Oz was everywhere a few years ago. At the same time, he was doing 200 open heart surgeries a year. How the heck did he do 200 open heart surgery a year while doing all that? It’s because he wasn’t cutting people open on the operating table. In reality, he wasn’t clamping their vessels, he wasn’t putting the anesthesia or whatever into their blood, he wasn’t doing anything. He was an expert, he was the one guy at that hospital that could do one specific thing, one cut. That cut is what his job was. He would walk in there and be ready to pick up the knife, do the cut, walk out. That was it. Somebody else would sew the person up and then the person would be healed, because he was so good at that thing.
So the question I had to ask myself and I want everyone here to ask themselves is what is your Dr. Oz cut? In other words, a great leader is somebody who recognizes what is that one or two things that you absolutely need to be doing? Everything else you need to find somebody who their Dr. Oz cut is doing their thing.
Brandon Turner: Number three, a caster. I’ll admit, this just rhymed. I wanted to go with a kind of a cough sound here… But what I mean by caster the vision caster. When I left the Best Ever Conference a couple years ago, I took a plane ride home to Hawaii where I just moved, to Maui. I read this book The Vivid Vision or Vivid Vision by Cameron Harold. It changed my life in that I was like, “Okay, I need to set a very clear vision of where I’m headed.” If you haven’t seen my vision, remind me during the Q&A; I can tell you more about it and even show you, it’s on my wall. I wrote down exactly where I wanted my company headed. I came home and I show my friend Ryan, I said “Ryan, this is where I want to go. It said $50 million of real estate, 1000 rental units, a bunch of mobile home parks, blah, blah, blah.” The first thing Ryan said was, “I want to be a part of that.” Because as a leader, my job is to inspire and to lay the vision out, to say “This is where we’re headed.” And it worked. I attracted a ton of people to my side, both interns, partners, employees, because they saw the vision, and my job is to propel the vision forward.
Number four, my job is to be a coach. A leader is a coach. A coach is somebody who sees what other people are doing and doesn’t necessarily yell at them like “You’re an idiot. You’re not doing it right.” But a coach, in terms of like asking the right questions. I did get a performance coach. My coach Jason rarely tells me what to do. It’s always “Why do you think that way? Is that really the best way to do that? Can you think of another way to look at that problem?”
So by being a coach, I’m asking my team questions, I’m helping them become the best version of themselves; even getting my own ego out of the way that says “No, do it this way.” I need to make sure I encourage and coach them so that they can become leaders themselves.
Number five, a great leader is a talent scout. Probably my number one job, my Dr. Oz cut, more than anything else is my ability to find talent, to go out there and look for talent, to sort and find out who’s going to be good. That didn’t come easy. I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve hired a lot of people that I shouldn’t have hired, I’ve dealt with partners I shouldn’t have brought in. Not that they’re bad people, just that they didn’t fit. I’m still not amazing at it but I realized that that is probably my number one and most leaders number one job, is to become a talent scout.
Number six is to become a student. In other words, to recognize that I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, and I need to continually learn and grow. In the beginning, I read only real estate books; it’s all I wanted to read, was real estate books. What I’ve realized though, is that real estate books – I already know that information. I don’t need real estate books, I need business books, I need leadership books, I needed to go to leadership conferences, I need to interview people on our podcast who are amazing leaders, because that is a skill that’s going to take a syndicator to billion-dollar level. I need that skill set, but it can be learned.
Now, a couple of, just real quick, how I lead. I want to give you guys some specifics today, some tangible stuff, and then we can talk more about this in the Q&A later. A couple things. Number one, we follow the EOS model from Traction at Open Door Capital. By the way, just in case I didn’t mention this; I don’t think I did. That goal that I set not even two years ago, the 18 months ago or something like that, that I said I wanted $50 million of real estate, 1000 rental units. So I went from the 100 that I had roughly then, I had roughly 100 units. Half of that was in one property. I think the ones we have under contract will be over 1,500 within a few weeks from now. There are 1,500 units over $50 million of real estate. I have the exact size team that I had seen with my friend Seth, it’s there, we do life together. We went out the other day, we all went on paddleboards, and went and looked for whales out in the ocean. We got within like 20 feet a whale that came up next to us. I was on Lanai with one of my guys last night, just chatting, drinking, and talking. My kids get watched by one of my team members families, his family watches my kids, I watch their kids. In other words, I built the exact life I was looking for when I saw my buddy, Seth.
Just to let you guys know some context of how this worked. Today I work less than five hours a week at Open Door Capital. That might surprise people. But I’ve got a team of five or six people, I’ve got partners, Brian Murray and Ryan Murdoch, I got team members that are in there… And everybody is so, so, so good at what they do; it irritates me sometimes. My buddy Mike Williams, he’s my investor relations guide. How can he be so likable? How can everybody like him? And why does he like phone calls so much? I don’t know. I can’t stand phone calls, he loves them; and he’s the best person at that job because he’s doing his Dr. Oz cut.
Anyway, so a couple of specifics of how I lead. By the way, somebody, I know I’m on a timer here somewhere. I have no idea where I’m at, cut me off whenever. Number one, integrator versus visionary. Oh, I’ve got a minute and a half left, good. We follow EOS, EOS is from the book Traction. Traction talks a lot about that there are two roles in a business, two leaders in a business. The visionary cast the vision, the integrator does the work. For the first time in my life, the last 15 years of struggling through leadership, I realized that always the problem was that I was trying to be an integrator, and that is not who I am. I am not an integrator. I was an integrator at Bigger Pockets for years to Josh’s visionary. But then when Josh left, I tried to be an integrator still, and it just didn’t work. I had to learn to be the visionary.
Number two, my job is to align everyone’s goals. We do quarterly goal setting with annual goals, we have a seven-year goal. I take our goals down to weekly benchmarks, like we’re really specific on the goal alignment. Everyone knows what their goal is, what their rocks are, and that’s kind of my job. We have a weekly meeting every single week, very, very structured, but it’s fun. We do one hour once a week. That’s primarily what my job is, is that meeting, and I keep the meeting going. I don’t even run the meeting anymore, my integrator does, Walker, but I’m there. This is one of my favorite things, I brainstorm and clear roadblocks. I love that stuff. They got a problem, like “How do we get more off-market mobile home parks?” “Hey, let’s launch a website called bringbrandonadeal.com where we offer like 100k finder’s fee.” We’ve had 400 submissions from that one source. That’s what I love doing, brainstorming ideas.
Again, everything I do, I say “How can I make this better for my team?” I’m constantly trying to find ways to make their lives better, their lives easier, make them more money, find ways give them more. That’s a little bit of how I lead.
Finally, just some additional resources if you want. Again, I don’t think there’s a ton of great books on leadership. Someday I’d love to write one, once I’m a good leader; I’m still working on it. But here’s five things that changed my life and that guided a lot of what I talked about today. Traction by Gino Wickman, I love that book. The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, one of my all-time favorites. If you’ve got a big goal, that book will get you there, it’s amazing. Good to Great by Jim Collins. Of course, everyone loves that book. The whole idea of getting the right people on the right seat on the bus, changed my life. 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall. That book made the idea of an executive assistant so clear and the idea of the Dr. Oz cut so clear that there are very few things you should be doing, that book, it changes everything. Finally, of course everyone knows Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, just that concept of taking complete ownership and the leadership lessons in that book are fantastic. That is the lesson that I’ve learned in becoming a leader over the last couple years. I no longer say I’m a terrible leader. I’m a former terrible leader, today I’m a leader. That’s my identity, I’m continuing to learn. I’m not a great leader, I’ll say that, yet because I don’t think I’ll ever become a great leader. I think there’s always going to be another level that I can aspire to. But I am a leader today and I hope you will be as well.
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