Photo: Business Insider
The founder and former CEO of The Corcoran Group, which she sold in 2001 for $66 million, Corcoran considers her ability to create an enjoyable workplace a keystone of her leadership style. “It’s the most underutilized tool in the tool belt,” she says.Corcoran never relied on a business mentor to shape her notion of leadership. Instead, she took lessons learned from her mother, Florence, who ran a working-class household in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Years later, Corcoran, the second of 10 kids, memorialised her mother’s homespun wisdom in a bestselling book, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails & Other Lessons I Learned From My mum.
“I never thought of it as leadership, but I knew I wanted to be loved by the people who worked for me,” Corcoran says. “I built the business exactly the way my mother built and ran her family. I wanted a replication of the big, happy family I grew up in. I wanted happy people having fun.”
“It’s a bullet to the head,” Corcoran says. “That salesman was running out of the gate. Honestly, within three months, three-quarters of the company never made a sale. But what did I have? A licence to kill.”
For those who performed well enough to stick around–and legions did, for 10, 15, 20 years or more–The Corcoran Group became more than just a workplace, and Corcoran more than just a boss. She arranged for shoe shiners to come to her offices each Monday and massagetherapists every Thursday. She was The Corcoran Group’s head cheerleader, rewarding top performers with coloured ribbons, as if she were the Westminster Kennel Club and they were best in breed. Corny, sure, but it worked.
“People said, ‘This is really silly.’ But they loved to have those ribbons hanging on their desk,” says Edith Salton, a senior vice president at the firm and the godmother of Corcoran’s 6-year-old daughter.
“You didn’t work for Barbara; you worked with Barbara,” says Tresa Hall, an executive vice president and director of sales. “She was such a motivator. Her positivemanagement style made you want to do anything you could to help build the company.”
Of course Corcoran had more than just fun on her side. She was hyperorganized and fiercely competitive. She was a champion promoter who became a veritable quote machine for the New York press. And she had a work ethic straight from Edgewater. “She just does not stand still,” Salton says. “That’s very inspiring, if you work for somebody like that. You say, ‘I should try a little harder, too.'”
These days, as president of Barbara Corcoran Inc., Corcoran is the real estate expert for NBC’s Today and a regular on ABC’s Shark Tank, in which would-be entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to potential investors. With the Shark Tank gig–she has invested in 11 startups so far–Corcoran has a chance to share her brand of leadership with a new generation of business owners.
“Being able to tell parallel stories with these entrepreneurs wins me incredible credibility,” she says. “Because they know I’m not lecturing. If you can get someone to hear your story–‘I had the exact same thing happen to me’–now you’re equals.”
- CEO Case Studies: A Role Model and a Cautionary Tale
- Leadership Lessons from the Top of the Org Chart
- Would You Sell Your Startup Right Now If I Gave You $600,000?
- How One Entrepreneur Used the Law of Publicity to Get Investors
- Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran on Tapping Home Equity for Your Business (Video)
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.