Failure for Success in Women’s Leadership

NAWRB

Desirée Patno is the CEO & President of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE). With almost three decades specializing in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem, she leads her executive team’s expertise of advancing women’s economic growth and independence.

Long ago, I received some leadership advice from a good friend that has continued to resonate within both my work and personal life for years: Take chances. When you fail, admit your failures and learn from them. The fear of failing can be paralyzing, and leaders must do more than fail at random or simply learn from their mistakes. Being a true leader requires having the confidence to trust yourself and take risks, for it is only through taking risks – and often failing at them – that you can innovate and improve, explore new ideas, and pursue excellence for yourself and your team.

Failures give us the opportunity to reset, learn and grow, and a leader understands that it is crucial to take advantage of these opportunities. Your reaction, response and recovery from failure can be an incredibly powerful path to success. When you let go of the fear of failure and instead seek active learning, adopt various perspectives, embrace continuous improvement, pay it forward and – most importantly – never give up, it will allow you to lead teams through a journey of discovery, innovation and success.

 

Seek an Education in Failure
In my business, a primary challenge is how to successfully invest in emerging real estate markets through volatile cycles, transparency gaps, local bureaucracy and inconsistent legal systems. To help investors combat these variables, I have studied both my own and other’s failures to understand how and where to find success.

As a leader, it is imperative to constantly seek education and be an avid learner. Through reading, studying and speaking to others in your industry about their successes and failures, you can learn how to handle challenges in your own business.

Through my own experiences and in learning from industry peers, we have been able to form key business partnerships by establishing a clear alignment of interest and implementing a culture of disciplined management, which includes accountability, transparency and operational efficiencies. This aspect of our firm’s management has become essential to successfully navigating the unavoidable challenges of investing in emerging real estate markets, and it is one of our key differentiating factors.

Adopt Multiple Perspectives
It is imperative to embrace diverse perspectives. Having perspective doesn’t simply allow you to see different angles and other people’s points of view; having perspective also allows you to find solutions that no one else can see, and it is crucial for innovation.

To have a diverse perspective, you not only need to reprogram your brain to consider various viewpoints, but you must also have a team of individuals of various ethnicities, cultures, ages and genders that you can rely on to challenge your own perspective. There have been numerous studies considering the impact of diverse perspectives on boards at public companies. Companies with board diversity consistently outperform those composed of similar, like-minded individuals. Fight within your firm to add new perspectives and voices.

Embrace Continuous Improvement
In addition to having a diversity of perspectives, you need to have the attitude of working for constant improvement of yourself, your company and your employees. There are not many women in the finance industry and very few women in private equity, much less in real estate private equity. This can be incredibly difficult and discouraging at times, and it explains why some women self-select out of these types of industries.

I decided early in my career that giving up and opting out of my male-dominated industry would not be an option. Instead, I did everything I could to positively stand out. While this was certainly challenging in certain situations, it never stopped me from seeking ways to advance my career at every point.

For example, I often proactively attended industry events where I was typically one of only a few women. I would introduce myself to senior industry professionals and try to make myself memorable. Following the meeting, I would contact the men and remind them of my background and experience. I made an active decision to not to be intimidated in a room full of men twice my age, and instead I focused on making myself memorable in a positive way to build my network and improve.

 

Never Give Up
None of this would have been worth it if I had decided to give up. When faced with setbacks, I humbly accepted them, learned from them and bounced back even stronger. Perspective and problem solving becomes crucial in moments of hardship – I learned this in a very personal and real way when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my early 30s.

Although my diagnosis was not a business-related hardship, I faced it the only way I knew how – the same way I face professional challenges. In a two-year period, I underwent 13 surgeries, including a bilateral mastectomy, hysterectomy and blood transfusion. Throughout this trial, I didn’t react in fear, anger or bitterness. Instead, I tackled it like a challenge in the workplace: I educated myself, I surrounded myself with a group of individuals with diverse perspectives, and I remained positive.

The day I received the diagnosis, I contacted everyone I knew that might be able to connect me with the best surgeons and oncologists in Seattle and New York. I stayed up all night researching my diagnosis, treatment options and reading blogs by women with the same diagnosis. Within three days of my diagnosis, I had seen four top-rated surgeons, spoken to over seven different doctors, and scheduled my first surgery. I let all my family, friends and co-workers know about my diagnosis, but I also communicated my positive outlook.

To be honest though, at the time of diagnosis, I was concerned – things did not look great. My entire right breast was full of cancer and they identified nodules in my lungs, which at the time I thought may be cancerous. I was afraid, but I knew that the outcome of the disease was out of my control; what I could control was to fight it the best way I could and the only way I knew how.

Throughout my surgeries and treatments, I continued to run my business and care for my children. I did some things well during this time, and other things not so well, but this hardship changed my perspective on so many things. Most importantly, it impacted the way in which I approached my relationships with my family, friends and co-workers. I deepened the relationships with my team throughout the toughest years of my life.

While I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone use a personal illness or hardship to affect their own perspectives, I think we can each find ways to reflect on our struggles we have faced to see things in a different light. This is what perspective and never giving up is all about – finding the best where others can’t.

 

Pay it Forward
As a founder and partner of Cephas Partners, I have had an amazing opportunity to work and grow with institutional real estate investors handling portfolio management for hundreds of millions invested in real estate. My responsibilities have included acquisitions, dispositions, asset management and board representation – all while navigating a truly competitive, male-dominated industry.

I’m not sure from which I’ve learned more: working in the fast-paced world of investment banking and private equity, or learning about my own strengths, weaknesses and the singularity of a female perspective within a male-dominated environment. If we, as women, do not proactively uplift and support other women in our industries through mentorship and sponsorship, we cannot expect the status quo to change. If you are in a leadership position and can positively effect change for other women in your industry, I urge you to pay it forward.

Stop Fearing Failure
Through all the risks, you will learn much more from your trials, failures and mistakes than you do from any successes. Take chances and don’t be afraid to fail, and when you do fail, take the opportunity to reflect and understand why. Constantly educate yourself and surround yourself with a diverse group of individuals that will challenge you to address problems from every angle and every point of view to find ways to do or be better. And above all, don’t ever stop striving for improvement and don’t ever give up – even when it seems the odds are stacked against you.

 

By Mollie Fadule
Founder and Partner of Cephas Partners, an avid supporter of women in real estate and finance. Brave mom of three.

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