Brokers in Focus: Leading with positivity, accepting change
Shawna Alt, CEO of First Weber Realtors, believes that in hard times, agents should focus on what they can control, and leaders should celebrate small wins.
Shawna Alt, CEO of Madison, Wisconsin-based First Weber Realtors, leads her brokerage with a deep sense of selflessness, an innate ability to bring harmony to hard times, and the understanding that adapting to change is essential.
A 28-year industry veteran responsible for leading more than 1,400 real estate professionals in 70 offices across Wisconsin, Alt built her career on the belief that real estate is ultimately about guiding people toward the fulfillment of their dreams.
How did you get started in real estate?
I grew up in real estate, and after I graduated from college, I was doing the whole soul-searching thing, figuring out my next step. My mom owned a real estate company and a close friend of hers said to me, "Why don't you get your real estate license? You can start out as a personal assistant and see where that takes you."
Is there any connection between your own journey and the fulfillment you now find in helping agents figure out their own path?
Definitely. Successful agents are eternally optimistic, and they recognize that they're always having to recreate themselves. As the market changes, they have to change. There's nothing static about this business.
Have you always envisioned yourself as a brokerage leader or did that develop naturally with your career?
I've always had a leadership role, maybe not a formal one — like student council or swim team coach — but that's how I've always moved through my life. It's funny, I was cleaning out our basement and came across a box of things from grade school. Inside, there was a little notecard, and my teachers must've had the students write what we thought of each other. A lot of people wrote about how they saw me as a leader.
Have you shifted your leadership style as the market has changed?
It's more personal. It's about giving one-to-one attention and celebrating small wins. Agents are still experiencing big wins out there, but for the majority of agents, you have to focus on the small things — the places where they've done good or moved the needle — so they can continue to be motivated and engaged, and feel like they're making progress, not just spinning their wheels.
Being a leader can be very demanding. How do you create balance in your life?
We have a cabin in Northern Wisconsin on a lake. I'm very much an outdoorsy person, so if I had my choice, I would always be outside. Hiking. Paddling. It's very cathartic. It doesn't even matter what the weather is like. Or the conditions. Being on a calm lake or even being on a really hard lake, all you can focus on is the next paddle, and it gets you out of your headspace. If I'm not outside, then I'm inside reading. I'm a voracious reader.
What are some books on your current reading list?
I always have several different books going at once. So, right now I'm reading "Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln"; "The Next Level Executive"; Simon Sinek's "Start With Why"; and Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth."
What's your advice for real estate professionals trying to move forward in today's market?
I was an office manager in 2008, and I remember walking into that sales office when the bottom of the market had just fallen out and everyone was literally looking at each other, trying to figure out what exactly just happened. In his book, Eckhart Tolle taught me about the power of focusing on the present moment, so that's what we did.
We focused on controlling what we could control, which for us as a group meant forgetting about real estate for the day and focusing instead on ways we could help people. We did little things like opening a door for someone or saying please and thank you. I'm tall — 6'0" — so I helped people get items off the shelf in the grocery store. Spending the day doing that reminded us we're all really here to serve others. It was also a productive coping mechanism.
Either you can hide and go within yourself, or you can project positive energy outward, and that's what moves everything forward.