Fostering a Self-Starter Culture to Unleash Employee Potential

Fostering a self-starter culture can unleash employee potential and is one of the best ways to build collaborative and successful teams. 

Fostering a self-starter culture can unleash employee potential and is one of the best ways to build collaborative and successful teams.

By Kendall Pretzer

Today’s employment landscape requires leaders to remain engaged and nimble. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and employee recognition will only result in team members feeling unseen, unheard and quickly uninterested. Companies that opt for this approach will often find their teams doing the bare minimum to stay employed and their top talent exiting for greener pastures and more inspiring organizations.

Recognizing potential self-starters, nurturing their ambitions and mentoring them through the early stages of their careers are the best ways to build collaborative and successful teams. Every person needs something different depending on where they are in their journey, what’s ahead of them, what they are asked to do and what they truly want to do. I learned these important lessons as I moved through my own career.

Finding Empowerment Through Exploration

After I graduated college with a degree in finance, I knew I didn’t want to work for a bank, which was the most common career path at the time for people with finance degrees. My first job was with a commercial real estate company based in Dallas as the regional financial analyst. In addition to being an analyst, my responsibilities included training onsite teams on the new property management system. It was then that I learned that I had a knack for training and technology.

After a few years working as an internal consultant for a bank (yes, I ended up at one anyway) my first boss, now with Trammell Crow Residential, recruited me to become the director of training for their central region multifamily portfolio. There, I led training, marketing and corporate housing for several regions of Trammell Crow Residential up to and including when those divisions became Gables Residential.

Another former boss brought me to Security Capital/Archstone where I ultimately led property operations for a region. I shifted my focus from services to property operations after a vice president at Trammell Crow Residential said to me, “You need to lead revenue in order to truly have a seat at the table.” That move was also an opportunity to determine whether all the training theory I had been talking about for years actually worked. Eventually, I returned to Gables Residential until starting The Strategic Solution, which focused on innovative policy management solutions. Along with my team, I grew that business for 18 years before selling it to Grace Hill in 2018 and became CEO in 2021.

 The Power of Learning and Perspective

Everyone I met, all the people I learned from and every position I’ve held have factored into the success I’ve achieved today. Rather than let ego guide my path, I accepted several lateral positions, continuously seeking new education and skills from each role. Each opportunity was a new experience that expanded the breadth of my learning and helped me hone my passions.

 Too many times I thought I knew everything. Now, I realize I didn’t know as much as I let myself believe. One pivotal moment in my career was when I was chewed out by my boss in a room of 25 people during a presentation. In his opinion, I spent too much time focused on problems and too little on solutions. It was very painful and even more embarrassing, but it has always stuck with me. I learned so much from that experience.

First, I survived the moment. Yes, I was embarrassed, but it gave me the perspective that words didn’t kill me. Second, I understood that my boss’s assessment was accurate. Third, my close colleagues in the group offered support afterward and helped me comprehend that one moment did not define me or my work. I developed thicker skin, an understanding that work isn’t necessarily personal and that if someone says something that hurts me, I can grow from it rather than let it defeat me.

Prioritizing Collaboration

I had several bosses who were successful by being collaborative and who empowered me to use my intelligence to problem-solve. One of them had a highly effective technique of questioning me until I found the right answer myself. On a side note, he also taught me a rule about never leaving a voicemail longer than one minute.

My father is another of my role models for good leadership. When I was growing up, he was the manager of a large department store. I remember walking through the store and listening to his employees speak about how much they liked working for my father. At a young age, I learned the power of good leadership and how it can influence performance and attitude. My father exemplified the importance of using leadership to create a strong team that would work to move the business forward.

Turning Initiative Into Leadership

There is much to be done in today’s work environment. My interest in problem-solving hasn’t subsided, and at Grace Hill, we want to support and develop the skills of up-and-coming leaders. My advice is to show initiative by volunteering to tackle difficult issues. Communicate with your company’s customers and collaborate with others. Never stop seeking ways to be involved, particularly with challenging projects. Embrace the old adage, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.”

Most leaders welcome help in getting things done, but if those in charge must think of all the solutions, it feels lopsided. Good leaders want everyone rowing. Demonstrate how you can contribute and don’t be silent. If you see something amiss, speak up. Better yet, bring a solution to the table or at least some options to consider. Try to make suggestions using the current resources, as well as a solution if more investment can be spent on the problem. Help the leaders of your company see the completeness of the research and the path to a result. Your ingenuity and creativity will be appreciated.

And always remember that the bad moments don’t define you. Learn from them. You will survive.

Are you or a colleague making a positive impact in your community? At Grace Hill, we want to build up our colleagues who show passion, leadership and demonstrate effective change for good. Nominate yourself, a colleague or a friend for the 2023 Grace Hill Hero Impact Awards today.

Be a Mentor

Mentors have value in many ways. They help by offering options and suggestions, coaching mentees toward an answer and sharing applicable experiences. Sometimes just having a sounding board — someone willing to listen without judgment — is the most helpful thing.

Companies and leaders today need to embrace the thought processes and decision-making skills of their most ambitious employees. Engage with them and nurture their confidence by awarding them more responsibilities. Encourage people to pursue more.

Grace Hill not only works to mentor and encourage self-starters to discover their full potential, but it is our mission to help other multifamily organizations to do the same. We’ll discuss these important issues and offer insights and advice at the Leadership Languages: Understanding What Motivates Your Team webinar on July 20, 2023. This free and informative session will show you the best ways to motivate your teams and inspire your self-starters. Register today!

Find Passion

As I have grown in my career, I have realized that work is what I do, not who I am. I have several interests, passions and causes that are a valuable part of my life. Work can satisfy some goals and certainly provides a living, but we must give ample attention to the other parts of our lives that define happiness and fulfillment.

Whenever we think we know it all, when we are so busy ringing our own bell or patting ourselves on the back, we forget to learn, listen and ask questions. It is then that we lose the opportunity to grow. We lose ground on our path to success, and we’re probably not too fun to be around. We all can learn something from all the other people and situations we encounter, and we’ll all be better for it in the long run.

 About the Author

Kendall Pretzer brings more than 30 years of experience in property management and supplier solutions to her role as the Chief Executive Officer at Grace Hill. Kendall joined the team in 2018 after Grace Hill purchased her company, The Strategic Solution, bringing together policies and procedures with training. Today, she and Grace Hill champion making a positive impact in our communities in multifamily, as demonstrated in company initiatives like the annual Impact Hero Awards, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In recognition of her dedication to the industry, Kendall was recently named a GlobeSt. Woman of Influence and one of the Top 25 Women Leaders in US PE-Backed Software by Calibre One.

About Grace Hill

Grace Hill provides industry-leading SaaS technology solutions designed to make a positive impact in real estate and improve the lives of people where they work and live. Harnessing years of real estate experience and the understanding that people are better together, Grace Hill helps owners and operators increase property performance, reduce operating risk and grow top talent. More than 500,000 professionals from over 1,700 companies rely on Grace Hill’s talent performance solutions covering policy, training, assessment, survey, and data-driven insights. Visit us at or on LinkedIn.

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