From a small, independent firm in San Diego to a national organization with offices from Seattle to New York City, it’s been an honor to lead Hughes Marino and our team through our many phases of growth alongside my wife, Hughes Marino President and COO, Shay Hughes. Since day one, we’ve advocated for business tenants across the country and helped thousands of companies navigate real estate decisions. Still, the achievement Shay and I are most proud of is the culture we’ve built within Hughes Marino. For multiple years running, we’ve been named a top place to work by Fortune, Entrepreneur, and the business journals in the regions we serve, all while growing Hughes Marino at a breakneck pace.
Of course, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. There were missteps. Shay and I have supported each other through the trials and tribulations of owning and running a business. Our team supported us and was courageous enough to tell us what we needed to hear along the way. But even that doesn’t happen by accident; nothing sustainable does. I believe it happened because of the following six principles and practices we’ve built into the fabric of Hughes Marino.
1. Lead through the eyes of your team
Howard Schultz, the former CEO and chairman of Starbucks, has always been an idol of mine. I was lucky enough to win an opportunity to sit down and have coffee with him a few years ago. While he gave me several insights I still apply today, one thing in particular resonated with me that I reflect upon daily.
Schultz said that the most significant aspect of his decision-making process was to evaluate the scenario from the lens of his team. When making a decision, he asked himself: “Will this make our team proud?” What a way to view business operations! To this very day, I apply this concept and discuss it in companywide meetings and privately with our leadership team. While we already had this mindset, hearing it so clearly articulated by Schultz reinforced it. We ensure that with every decision we make, we make each other proud, and this is a simple but powerful question every business leader can ask when decision-making.
2. Nurture personal growth and recognition
Even the trendiest office space can’t replicate the value of nurturing personal growth and recognition within a team. I’m consistently amazed by how many managers and executives get this wrong. Typically, this happens when executives focus on their business’s needs to the exclusion of their employees.
That might work in the short term, but it’s not sustainable. You don’t need an extensive study to tell you that employees who don’t feel like they’re growing in their career will be disengaged, less loyal, and more likely to quit.
The verbal reinforcement of appreciation and gratitude shown to employees can do wonders to help shape company culture and team morale.
3. Embrace ‘sweaty-palmed’ conversations
While Shay and I get to be the face of Hughes Marino’s culture, many people have advised us, like our business coach, Mike Robbins.
One of his pillars of building a high-performance team is to embrace “sweaty-palmed” conversations. As Robbins explains, these are conversations that involve honest communication, direct feedback, or any other subject that’s difficult to address, ultimately eliminating any issues that could fester and grow to be bigger problems down the road.
As uncomfortable as these conversations may be in the moment, they’re incredibly important to have. In the long run, they positively impact our well-being, team cohesion, and our tight-knit relationships.
4. Care for and challenge each other
Another principle of building a great culture is striking a balance between showing empathy and challenging each other. As counterintuitive as this may seem, it works in practice.
Showing compassion, empathy, and recognition build trust—all helpful tools for the tough talks. If I haven’t first built a foundation of trust within a person I am providing direct feedback to, my message may be received differently.
How you build that environment of trust and compassion is entirely up to you. And it should be adapted to your own style, so it is authentic and natural to you and your company. At Hughes Marino, one of the ways we do it is with our “HM-isms” and WOW cards, which recognize and inspire our employees to be their best selves.
5. Embrace the family spirit
Family is an incredibly cherished element at Hughes Marino, so much so that “embrace the family spirit” is our fourth core value. All of our offices are complete with a family photo wall—a gallery wall of black and white photos of our team’s families, friends, and, yes, pets. By adding a personal touch of family, we recall the comforts of home, the human element of our business, and why we work hard to make our teams and families proud.
Of course, you don’t have to have a family photo wall to have a great culture. But you do need to constantly remind yourself and your team of why you do what you do. Whatever that “why” is, make sure it’s front and center in the mind of your team.
6. Bring yourself to your team and your culture
Having led a growing business for multiple decades, I’ve given, received, read, and heard a lot of leadership advice. A lot of it was valuable, and some of it didn’t resonate. Regardless, I have always listened, and I’ve thought deeply about certain advice and how it could impact our team and myself. I’ve discovered that you can learn something from everyone, but you have to first make it work for you. Be open-minded, and think carefully about positively infusing your perspective into your team and your business. That’s what leaders do.