In June, Linda Caradine-Poinsett, Ph.D., took the helm as IREM’s chief executive officer and executive vice president. Chosen by the IREM Steering Committee from an impressive group of candidates, Caradine-Poinsett exemplifies the attributes needed to lead IREM into a promising future.
JPM sat down with Caradine-Poinsett to hear more about what excites her about IREM, her servant leader philosophy, and how her lasting curiosity drives her love of learning.
What drew you to IREM?
I’ve always enjoyed collaboration. When I started researching the organization, I could see that IREM puts that collaboration front and center. It’s embedded into our culture and our approach to the way we serve not only the membership, but also the leadership team. That was really important. The other important draw was that IREM is putting a lot of effort into diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. That’s a huge piece for me because I don’t see how you can have collaboration without being inclusive. I think those two go hand in hand.
What excites you about taking over as CEO at this point in IREM’s history?
I really enjoy the idea of helping an organization innovate. I’m still learning about our industry and what real estate managers need. It’s exciting because I like the idea of learning something new, and when I met with the leadership during the interview process, they were so invigorated. I thought that spoke volumes about the energy of the membership and the team. In talking with some of the executive staff, they seemed to have this energy and enthusiasm that mirrored what I saw from the leadership team. That made it very exciting to me.
What career highlights put you on the path to leadership and shaped who you are as a leader today?
In my first association job, I was promoted within two years. I started as the executive administrator for a foundation, and within two years, the executive director promoted me to serve as the director of a department. It surprised me, but he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself in terms of my leadership abilities to influence our corporate sponsors, volunteer leaders, and staff. I gained the respect of my colleagues, and this executive director could see that I’d be successful in doing so. That got me thinking, “If he’s seeing this in me, why am I not seeing it myself?” And that’s basically what set up the trajectory of where I wanted to go with my career and supporting others on their leadership journeys.
It also created curiosity about what else I could learn so that I could do the best job possible for the organization. That not only got me interested in professional development and growth, but it also made me realize that I might perform well in a leadership role. That curiosity for learning has never gone away because I see it as a way to continue developing as a professional. One of my former staff members once said to me, “I always thought when you reach the level that you’ve reached, you’re done with learning. But you’ve demonstrated that, no, you’re always continuing to grow and to learn.”
You describe yourself as a servant leader. Can you explain what that style of leadership means to you?
For me, servant leadership is about asking how I can pave the way for my team’s success since I’ve been entrusted with this leadership role. I don’t expect people to be perfect, but I do feel that my job is to help them achieve their responsibilities for the organization. And that goes even for their roles as volunteers. It’s my job to make sure that you’re able to be the best you can be, whether you’re a volunteer leader or a staff leader.
Servant leadership is truly about servicing others in a way that helps them shine. I think you have to be egoless when you’re in this kind of role. You can’t have a strong ego. Is it appropriate at times? Absolutely. But to wear that on my shoulders all the time, thinking that it’s all about my ego—I just don’t think that does me any good, I don’t think it does the team any good, and I don’t think it does the organization any good.
What opportunities do you see ahead for IREM, considering the Institute’s strategic plan and the Board of Directors’ vision for the organization?
First and foremost, I like focusing on the inclusive aspects of the strategic plan. We’re talking about how we, as a profession, can attract more individuals from diverse backgrounds. That will be really important for the organization, and I look forward to helping IREM take the lead. COVID-19 is also still a factor, so I’m looking forward to figuring out ways to ensure that the members have what they need to continue serving their clients.
One of my favorite expressions that IREM has is, “When one succeeds, we all succeed.” It’s hugely important for me to exemplify what that looks like for the organization. And, of course, in getting to know my team, I’ve been really excited about that aspect. What are their pain points? What are they excited about? How do I amplify that enthusiasm and excitement in what they do for the organization?
What challenges do you see IREM facing in the years ahead, and what do we need to do to confront those challenges?
I’m always listening to the news and paying attention to what is happening with the economy. The impact of the pandemic, violent conflict, and politics in Washington, D.C., just from an investment standpoint, is producing challenges. How do we keep our members actively engaged in the profession they love? This will be a challenge until there’s a necessary shift within the marketplace. We know that we have to start preparing people for coming out of the economic challenges we’re facing. But what does that look like from a training or educational perspective? What programs do we need to have in place for them?
Technology is another piece we need to focus on. Associations are notorious for not focusing on making use of new technology, but given the nature of IREM’s mission, I don’t know how it couldn’t be top of mind for our members. So as an organization, how do we become advocates and proponents for technology? And inclusion is going to be a big part of it. The staff is very diverse, but as a profession, are we diverse in the way we aim to be?
I also think about age demographics. We need to attract young people into the profession so that we can hopefully have them around for a very long time as members and leaders. When people begin considering their careers, they typically start in high school and, in some cases, even younger. So, I want to look at ways for us to bring this profession to the forefront of young peoples’ awareness as they consider what they want to do for careers. I want them to look at real estate management as a career option very early on. I also want to look at their opportunities to grow within their careers.
What role do you see our chapters playing in IREM’s ability to meet the needs of real estate managers?
IREM chapters have to be front and center. It’s a grassroots effort. I recently had the privilege of having lunch with some of the chapter leaders, and it was so refreshing to hear their perspectives and enthusiasm as they pass the baton to the new folks. As part of my initial engagement with the organization, I would like to have more conversations with the chapter leaders to understand their needs and what they’re facing. How do we help them address their challenges locally? I know we can’t do everything, but I will be looking for the common themes. We’re an international organization, but we are only as strong as those who are supporting the local efforts.
What do you envision for your first six months with IREM?
I’m looking forward to having conversations with the (HQ) team members and volunteer leadership. I’m currently on listening tours, which will help me learn more about the organization and the opportunities we have ahead of us. I will be having conversations with the chapter leaders. I will be asking the C-suite about the relationships we have with some of our affiliate organizations and what those relationships look like because I think they’re very important to carrying out IREM’s mission.
I’m hoping that after the first few months or so I’ll be able to solidify where I want to focus my energies for the remainder of the year. I’ll be seeking buy-in from the leadership team on these focus areas and considering what is resonating with the volunteers and HQ team, because they have a pulse on what’s going on within the industry, and I value that perspective.
I’m under no illusion that I can do what I do on my own. Without a strong and supportive team, this would be very challenging. My hope is that I can take the opportunity to help them shine. While I have the privilege of leading IREM, what I really want is to see the volunteers and team shine.