As I travel around the state interviewing leaders, I ask my interviewees what are their favorite books on leadership and business. Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” is the clear favorite by a long shot – no wonder it was an international best seller! One the core ideas Collins shares is about Level 5 leadership. He describes a Level 5 executive as someone who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” In contrast is the cult of personality leader who dominates the organization with his or her overbearing persona. One of the key challenges for organizations is succession planning. When an organization is overly tied to the personality of one individual, it makes succession a real challenge. A Level 5 leader recognizes his or her limitations and truly solicits feedback and input from the team. Cult of personality leaders may feign interest in gathering input but usually believes that they have all of the answers.
This blend of “humility and professional will” was apparent to me when I recently visited with Stewart Speed, president of Colony Properties, LLC, a real estate development and services company based in Ridgeland. Speed, in partnership with H.C. Bailey Jr., formed this entity in 2002 to develop office and retail space along Highland Colony. If you ride down the Parkway, you will see how successful they have been in developing over 650,000 square feet of Class A office space and over 500,000 square feet of high-end retail space. Speed, 47, is a third generation real estate entrepreneur and leader. His father, Leland, is currently the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority and started Parkway Properties and EastGroup Properties.
Speed noted, “I learned from my father how to surround yourself with great people and let them do their jobs. He also taught me what service leadership and humility really mean.” Speed also shared with me how his business partner and mentor, H.C. Bailey Jr., taught him how to effectively sort through complex and challenging matters and how to bring people together for a common purpose. Speed acknowledged, “I have been fortunate to have had such great mentors in my life.”
Speed grew up in Jackson, but he went away to college at Washington & Lee University for his undergraduate degree and Vanderbilt University for his MBA. His career in real estate included time in Atlanta with Southeast Capital Partners, GE Capital, and Cushman and Wakefield. He also worked in Augusta, Ga. with Merry Land & Investment Co., a multi-family REIT. Speed shared, “I had the opportunity to gain experience in all facets of real estate including leasing, financing, development, construction, and property management.” He also indicated that he believed that his experiences, which allowed him to travel around the country and learn about other real estate markets, have been invaluable.
Speed acknowledged the challenges in the real estate industry in the last few years. I was encouraged though by his thoughts that real estate remains a core asset for our country and there continue to be opportunities to succeed in that industry if you know where to look. He shared, “You have to have flexibility and resiliency in this industry to adapt to changing economic environments.”
We discussed the importance of creating great teams to execute on business plans. Speed believes that it is critical that team members are heard and appreciated. He also believes that it’s important for each team member to have a stake in the outcome. He emphasized that, “We all have our blind spots as leaders, and we have to have the self-awareness to surround ourselves with people who have complementary skills.” Speed continues his family’s legacy of civic involvement, and he sits on numerous boards and holds various leadership positions. He is trying to make a difference, not just a living.