Michelle Gordon, of Grand Rapids, Mich., likes to share the story of her “aha” moment when she realized the importance of mentoring. It was four years ago, when a local East Grand Rapids powerhouse broker named Nancy Orr died. Orr had been the owner of Village Belles Real Estate before it was acquired by another company in 2002. She remained active in the business for many years, but as far as Gordon knows, Orr didn’t have anyone to take over her business.
“Nancy was a hugely successful broker who had spent 50 years building her business, and when she died, it went away,” says Gordon, ABR, CRS, who owns the Gordon Group GR team, affiliated with JH Realty Partners in Ada, Mich. “Every hungry agent in town went after her client list. But the people who were used to Nancy were never going to get her kind and courteous service.”
Gordon had been actively taking newer practitioners under her wings since 2008, but Orr’s death stirred her passion: Through mentoring, she realized, you build a legacy, whether you’re creating a formal succession plan with the goal of selling your book of business or simply fostering good habits among those who will carry on the profession.
At least 16 aspiring agents, including Gordon’s daughter Amanda, have enjoyed her tutelage. She doesn’t structure mentorships with hard-and-fast rules, but she does have a method. She identifies people who aren’t yet licensed. Often, she says, people working in retail stores and restaurants are good candidates. “I was in retail, so I know it’s a good business to be in to become a real estate agent,” she says. “If I see someone overcoming obstacles and giving good service, I’ll say to them, ‘You’re doing a good job, and if you don’t want to be on your feet the rest of your life, come see me, and let’s talk about a career in real estate.’ ”
Mentees shadow Gordon for about six months, accompanying her to open houses and helping her with paperwork, “to make sure it’s a career they want,” says Gordon. They aren’t paid, but they’re getting an opportunity to see the business without having to invest money they don’t have. Once they get their license, they accompany Gordon on sales calls and sign an agreement stipulating that, during the mentoring period—which can vary in length—a percentage of their commission will go to Gordon.
Gordon’s recruits learn by watching and doing. During one chain of closings with a lot of people involved, for example, Amanda saw what went into the process: contacting title companies, arranging schedules, negotiating.
“If you don’t think strategically and have the ability to reach out to the other agents involved, the whole thing could fall apart,” Gordon says. Once they were back in the office, Gordon asked Amanda to talk about what she’d learned, what was done, and why it was done that way.
Once mentees begin working with their own clients, it’s Gordon who steps into the shadow. “If they talk with a buyer, I may be behind the scenes telling them what to say, but I want the buyer to look to them. I don’t want to step on their toes. I’m there to teach them and help them grow. It’s not about me,” she says.
“Mentorship laid down a great baseline for me to follow for the rest of my career,” says Amanda Gordon, who has graduated from mentee to partner. “My mother gives 100% to anything she does in life and treated my mentorship the same way.”
If Gordon’s method sounds a lot like an apprenticeship, that’s because “the notion of mentoring grew from an apprenticeship model,” says W. Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and author of two books on mentoring. An apprenticeship focuses on the basic skills and knowledge needed for day-to-day work. In a mentorship, the mentor is also passing along professional development skills, including “ethics and courtesy and how to get along with other agents,” Gordon says. “I teach them how to overcome challenges, how to reason, and what will be the long-term effects of their decisions.”
What does Gordon get out of the relationship? “Time and my weekends off,” she jokes. But more seriously, she says, “I get a sense of accomplishment. I stay fresh, young, current. I even learn new marketing ideas since most of my mentees are millennials
When agents are ready to work on their own, Gordon hopes they’ll stay with her company. But they’re often recruited by other brokers. “I can tell you that every broker thanks me for their training,” she says.
Making an Investment
At KW Realty Phoenix, Arnold Bedak participates in a more formal mentoring program. As one of several agents on the brokerage’s mentor roster, Bedak is on a committee in the company’s Phoenix market center that identifies potential candidates for a year-long program. “We look at agents who are either brand-new out of real estate school or struggling to make what we call ‘company money’ or cap,” Bedak says. Every agent with KWRP pays the $18,000 cap each year. The faster agents earn the money, the faster they get to the point of keeping 100 percent of
“The whole point of the mentorship program is to get mentees into production so they end up ‘capping.’ We tell them about the program and that it can help them get their business to the next level,” Bedak says. Potential mentors and mentees have an opportunity to interview each other and decide if they’re a good match. “It could be that a mentee wants to work with a man or a woman or someone who specializes in open houses or someone who’s [effective at calling] expired listings,” Bedak says.
KWRP mentees have an incentive to choose -carefully. They put skin in the game with a one-time $250 fee. Their mentor also gets a share of the office split. If a mentee makes a sale with a $10,000 commission, for example, the mentee gets $7,000, and the office gets $1,500, and the mentor gets $1,500. The arrangement may vary at other KW market centers, Bedak says.
Once mentees cap, they have no financial obligation to either the mentor or KWRP. The following year, the cap resets, and the former mentee, like all other agents at the company, begins working once again toward the cap.
Bedak mentors Steve Phipps, 60, a former forklift operator who got his real estate license in 2006 and worked part-time selling houses until 2012, when he let his license go. Two years later, Phipps was laid off from his forklift job and decided to reenter real estate.
“I floundered around on my own, thinking I knew what I was doing since I’d had that part-time experience,” he says. He worked for about a year on a KWRP team but wanted to be on his own. “I knew I needed training, and that’s when I signed up for the mentor program.” Phipps selected Bedak as his mentor after attending some classes Bedak had taught. The two men are around the same age and could relate well to each other. “He knew where I was coming from,” Phipps says.
Phipps says his weekly half-hour meetings with Bedak are motivating. “Arnold is very positive and looks to give me input on how to build my strengths rather than asking me to conform to a team and their expectations.” The program has “enough structure that we know where we’re going,” Phipps says, “and enough informality that I feel comfortable going over things [with Bedak] that I’m not quite getting or that are troubling me.”
The pair work on strategy and accountability, and both men say they get something out of it. “When one teaches, two learn,” Bedak says. “Time blocking is something I struggle with. I have it on my calendar that between 9:00 and 11:00 every morning I generate leads. My challenge is to bunker that two-hour time slot. I shared my struggle with Steve, and he created a time-blocking calendar. We talked about how to protect that time. My world starts at 11:01.”
One thing that bolsters both men’s success, they say, is KW’s overall culture, which emanates from the top down. “It’s not just about selling real estate. It’s about giving clients the best experience we can. It’s about being a resource. Not putting money first. Always being of assistance. Always thinking about others before our needs,” Bedak says. With the mentorship program, “if I can coach someone to be successful—more successful than me—that in itself is success.”
That attitude is the mark of good mentoring, says Sherri Johnson, a 26-year veteran of the real estate industry and now a national coach, speaker, consultant, and CEO of Sherri Johnson Coaching and Consulting in Chagrin Falls, Ohio (no relation to author Johnson). “The best mentors have humility and want to see other people succeed. It’s more about helping others than making money.”
If you’re looking for a mentor rather than looking to become one, she says, “find someone who’s actually built a business you want to emulate, who has high drive and high empathy, and is a team player.”
Good mentors teach, coach, and have good interpersonal and listening skills, she adds. They challenge mentees to take on duties they may not be comfortable with. They give them the inside scoop on how things work. They offer sponsorship and rave about their mentees and their potential.
In short, mentors change lives.
“It’s unequivocal,” says author W. Brad Johnson. “More than three decades of data across professions show the same outcomes: well-mentored folks make more money, enjoy more promotions, and tend to report they’re happier with their jobs and with their personal lives.”
Being mentored offers a sense of belonging, affirmation, and validation. Mentees feel more confident and competent in their jobs and are more loyal. “Organizations that are interested in retention,” Johnson says, “should think about a culture of mentoring.