AE Profile: Stephen Harding, 2013 Magel Award Winner

AE Profile

with Stephen D. Harding is CEO of the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®.

AE’s Secret to Longevity

When REALTOR® AE magazine asked Steve Harding, CEO of the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®, what he thought had led him to receive the 2013 William R. Magel Award of Excellence, he recalled the inspiring guidance given to him many years ago by Magel himself. 

“I was a newly minted state EO [in 1977] and between class sessions at what’s now called the AE Institute, Bill and I talked about how I liked being the chief of staff at TAR. I confided in him that as executive assistant and education director at TAR, I found the hands-on work of the association fulfilling, so I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy turning that over to others whom I would then manage as EVP. Bill told me that I should embrace this new opportunity and I should not become a ‘manager of people.’ He said, ‘Nobody worth their salt wants to be managed; what they want is to be collaborated with.’ Bill told me true leaders manage things, such as calendars, events, and priorities, but they leave the daily workflow to ­others on staff. This gives the EVP time to do the most important and rewarding stuff like finding new ways to help members and staff reach their goals.

“Later, Bill and I talked about the priorities and the things that really mattered. He said, ‘Steve, in your job everything matters, but people matter most. Show the people you work with how much you value the work that they do for the association. Openly acknowledge their achievements and let them know they are an important part of the team.’”

Indeed, in Harding’s 40 years in REALTOR® association management, he has built a nationwide reputation for his leadership. He gives his staff direction, support, encouragement, and the authority to carry out their responsibilities as they meet members’ ever-changing needs. He has also served as a mentor to local AEs in Tennessee and throughout the country.

Yet Harding modestly attributes his career success to being lucky and also having his parents as role models, a spouse that “keeps every thing running at home” without him, and having a “most talented administrative vice president in Linda Woods.”

Only a handful of AEs have a 40-year perspective on the changes in the industry. When Harding looks back to his early days as a state EO, he sees a vastly different industry.

“When I first came to work for the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®, NAR had just created the REALTOR®-Associate membership category, which allowed nonbroker licensees to join our ranks. In Tennessee, our membership more than doubled in a few years. The typical member was a white, middle-aged, male broker who worked in an independent real estate firm. TAR’s dues for nonmanaging sales agents were $10 annually. Services provided to members were basic—education (mostly GRI courses), a monthly newsletter, three business meetings per year (one being a convention with paid registration), and part-time lobbying of Tennessee’s legislature.

“Today we have a much more diverse membership, which more closely represents the ethnic mix of our state’s population. Women outnumber men in the membership and within our committees and elected leadership. All members need, and have come to expect, a broad range of specialized training and services that include a legal and ethics hotline, a technology hotline, more than 80 standardized real estate forms, both topical and mandated courses for CE credit, dedicated lobbying of interest to members and property owners, and a range of other services that we never dreamed about in those years.”

In addition to staying on top of industry changes, technology advances, and member needs, Harding says AEs need to look for opportunities to get involved in the political process and support candidates in local, state, and national elections. “It might just become the most important thing you can do to
make a real difference.” 

Stephen D. Harding is CEO of the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®. Contact him at 615-440-5032 or

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