I suppose you don't expect to hear your state real estate commissioner saying things that resonate with themes from Aristotle. But, nevertheless, that's what was going on when California Real Estate Commissioner, Wayne Bell, recently addressed members and directors of the California Association of REALTORS®(CAR).
The occasion was CAR's annual convention and exposition, held this year in San Jose. A regular feature of these meetings is a report from the California Bureau of Real Estate. This year, before getting down to the nitty gritty of licensing operations, real estate audit activities, new sub-division applications, etc., the Commissioner told his audience a story that had long ago been handed down to him by his father. The story, and its lesson, went like this:
[A] man walked by a work site in downtown Los Angeles where a brick building was being constructed. On the site was cement and concrete, pallets of bricks, and a number of trowels. There were also bricklayers and hod carriers, the laborers employed in carrying supplies to the bricklayers.
As he walked by the construction site, the man asked each of four bricklayers what he was doing. The first answered "I am setting bricks". The second -- in response to the same question -- said, "I am earning a living". The third said, "I am building a support wall". The fourth, and last, said, and said proudly, "I am constructing an amazing office and helping to build my community".
All four were doing the exact same work, and all were correct in their responses. But it was their motivation and perspective which made the difference in how they perceived their work
The same is true for what real estate licensees and Realtors do.
With a more narrow focus, a real estate licensee can say that he or she is selling a house. Another can say that he or she is earning a living. Yet another can say that he or she is engaged in the practice of real estate. And another can say that he or she is helping to build and improve a community, to provide families and others with financial stability, and to uplift the real estate industry.
Again, as was true with the bricklayers, all of those comments are accurate. Motivation and perspective are the keys to the different viewpoints. I ask that you not forget -- and I thank you for -- the important and enriching difference you make in your communities and in the industry.
In working with and talking with Realtors around the State, it is my perspective that you indeed focus on the latter, and you play a vital role in the economic and social-well being of the areas in which you work.
Those are pretty nice remarks to hear from your state regulator, to be sure; but what, an attentive reader might ask, does all that have to do with Aristotle? And why are we talking about Aristotle in a real estate column anyway?
Tom Morris could tell you. Morris, formerly an enormously popular professor at Notre Dame, was a featured speaker at the National Association of REALTORS® convention in 2004. He had left academe to become a business consultant and speaker. One of his most popular and influential works was the provocative and excellent book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors. Morris' message, primarily directed to brokers, owners, and managers, is one from the Ancients. Human beings seek fulfillment, and an activity or relationship can contribute to one's fulfillment if and only if it respects and nurtures the four fundamental dimensions of human experience. Those dimensions are the Intellectual, the Aesthetic, the Moral, and the Spiritual. A company or organization that ignores those aspects of its members' experience does so at its peril. Conversely, companies that attend to those factors see payoffs in loyalty, retention, morale, and productivity. It is a lesson for ABC Realty as much as it is a lesson for General Motors.
Morris has written, "I have become convinced that these four dimensions of experience, and the four foundations of excellence, provide us with the key to both rediscovering personal satisfaction at work and reinventing corporate spirit in our time. They are the key to sustainable corporate excellence because they are the foundations of corporate fulfillment, and they have that status because they are the deepest touchstones for ultimate individual fulfillment and happiness."
In his remarks, Commissioner Bell was alluding to what Aristotle would have called the fourth dimension of human experience -- the spiritual dimension. It is not a matter of doctrine or creeds. One commentator put it this way, "Human beings must perceive a sense of wholeness and that they are part of some greater thing -- in other words, unity, the spiritual dimension of work. As Morris points out, the heart of spirituality is connectedness, and the aim of connectedness is unity."
How can a real estate brokerage attend to its agents' need for unity -- the need to feel connected to something significant and larger than themselves? What can a company do to enhance awareness of the fact that, as the commissioner said, "you play a vital role in the economic and social well-being of the area in which you work"?
Here is one simple suggestion that might at least get us started down that road.
Real estate offices provide great environments for "can you top this?" stories. Regrettably, such "competitions" tend to focus on negative experiences: the worst escrow, the most demanding seller, the pickiest buyer, etc.
Consider reversing that course. Tell good stories. Talk about the happy and generous experiences. You don't have to have competitions, but encourage the sharing of good experiences. Make room for the good news, which isn't just about commissions. Remind yourselves and each other that you work and interact with lots of good people, and, for many of them, you have helped to fulfill a dream. (No doubt you've helped some out of a jam too.)
Add those experiences up and you begin to see that you, in fact, do play an important role in the economic and social well-being of the communities where you work. It will add significance to your work. It will nourish the spiritual dimension.
Aristotle would approve.