CAI President Ursula Burgess on Community Associations & Effective Leadership

Last modified on September 29th, 2020

From managing dispersed teams and overseeing day-to-day operations, to keeping homeowners and board members happy, being a community association management executive comes with a lot of responsibilities. But what does it take to be a truly effective leader? What can you do to help others in your business rise the ranks? How can you continue to evolve and grow yourself? 

To answer some of these questions, our team at AppFolio reached out to Ursula Burgess, the current President of the Community Associations Institute, who also serves as an attorney at Rees Broome, P.C., to hear more about her leadership philosophy, and how she manages her teams and keeps them motivated, even through challenging times. 

Here are a few of the most important takeaways from our insightful conversation:

Keep Your Skills Sharp

When it comes to leading your team, it’s important to continue to learn and keep your skills sharp. From day-to-day skills, such interacting with homeowners to more in-depth skills, like being well-versed in local jurisdictions and laws, as a community association management leader you should never stop learning. 

Ursula finds this to be one of the most crucial parts of her job and encourages other leaders to do the same, “I think there’s an educational component that always has to be a part of success. And that educational component is not only those soft skills, but also to learn the laws, to learn how to read governing documents…Because the more knowledge that people have, the more competent people will be, and the more likely they will succeed in their roles.”

Reinvest in Your Team

Along with your own professional development, you should help others on your team grow their careers by investing in them. Too often Ursula has noticed that leaders in real estate tend to leave employees to fend for themselves, “…instead of just throwing somebody into the proverbial deep end of the pool, and saying, “Figure it out,” we need to provide some training and support for a rising star, so that they gain that confidence and knowledge to succeed.” 

Think about ways you can support your team to further grow and learn. Offering reimbursement for educational classes, public speaking workshops, and other offerings, dependent on what each individual needs to work on, can really pay off in the long run in that it will give them the confidence they need to take the next step in their career.

Ask for Honest Feedback

More often than not, it’s going to be difficult to see your own blind spots, which is why it’s always a good idea to ask others for honest feedback on areas where you could improve. If you don’t address your own weaknesses, you may end up appearing hypocritical to your team and setting a bad example, both of which can erode morale and company culture. 

Ursula gave a great example of how this could play out at a community association management company: “If you’ve got a manager who’s operating in a portfolio position, where he or she is overseeing a number of different communities and is working with the general manager, and that portfolio manager is having a hard time triaging his or her emails and getting communications out, the general manager’s going to see that. And the general manager is going to see that it’s acceptable for his or her mentor/supervisor to fail in that area and not work to improve it.”

Some ways you can gain insight into your own blind spots and weaknesses are by sending out monthly surveys, hosting weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member, or even asking others to review your work. For instance, Ursula has improved her writing skills by receiving constructive criticism from her peers, “I have people review things that I’ve written… I’ve just recognized that’s a weakness, and I’ve struggled over the years to try to improve. When I’ve had mentors here in the office in particular, who’ve given me very open criticism about my writing, it’s actually helped me to improve my writing.”

By creating an ongoing feedback loop, where your employees know their opinions are respected, you can not only improve, but make others feel valued and respected. Once you have feedback, create a leadership development plan that includes actionable steps you can take each day to reach your goals. 

Embrace Technology 

Leaders across all industries are turning to technology to maintain communications and stay connected to their teams, especially in community association management. While technology may seem a bit intimidating at first, it can actually be one of the biggest assets to your business. 

In the past year, Ursula has noticed the industry’s dependence on technology has increased, and while challenging at times, it has actually turned out to be a good thing, “We’ve seen so many changes with technology and how we’ve had to use it since March. People have got to figure out a better way to use it — and I do believe that there are ways to use it, that we can enhance our communications, not only within community associations, but among one another.”

Final Thoughts

Leading isn’t always easy, but with the right approach you can keep your teams motivated and your business thriving. Make sure you continue to fine-tune your skill set and learn new things. In addition, don’t forget to leverage cloud-based community association management technology to maintain communications and foster strong relationships with your team, homeowners, and board members. 

To listen to Ursula and to hear other executives share their thoughts on leadership, check out the first episode of The Top Floor, AppFolio’s latest real estate podcast.


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