Stepping Up

How Leaders Are Rising to the Occasion

Throughout the Small Giants Community and beyond, leaders are doing what’s right when it matters most. These are their stories.



Lisa Wise is co-founder and President of Flock DC, the unifying identity between a family of real estate companies in Washington D.C.: Nest DCRoost DC and Starling DC. Lisa’s companies keep 52 people employed and aggregate 6.5 million in business annually. 

Lisa built her company one door at a time, and she’s determined to protect her organization and the people it serves. In her own words, Lisa shares how they’re surviving right now and why she is relying on empathy as her engine.

Empathy is not a common keyword, shall we say, in the property management industry. Or in business in general. My industry in particular has earned its reputation. Common wisdom suggests that in order to succeed, a landlord must resist all her empathic urges or simply fail. But expressing empathy — in word and action — is what feeds me. I wish more people would try it. I wish our culture allowed for it. Some people have no idea how good it feels.

Public Health Over Profit

Since this crisis began, we have operated under the philosophy that it’s better to risk making tough decisions too early than bad decisions too late. In early March, long before any states began to issue stay-at-home directives, we furloughed our maintenance team, while projecting a $225,000 monthly drop in revenues. This has resulted in not so much a financial gap to bridge as a yawning, terrifying chasm. But there was no question: we needed to prioritize public health over profit and even solvency. I knew that working quickly to solve for the worst possible scenario would help us save Flock in the long run.

As every good leader knows, the buck stops at the top. What every good leader also knows is that when the bucks run out, the top should be paid last. Tragically this ethic is practiced so infrequently in the U.S. that it becomes an exception to celebrate and the rarest demonstration of servant leadership. Owners paying themselves last should be the rule, not the exception. I am the person who hired our teammates; they and their families rely on me for their livelihood. How could I possibly accept a full paycheck during this time?

nest pantryRoost DC’s “Free Little Pantry”: Grab something if you need it, drop off something if you’ve got some to spare.

Keeping the Team Together

I took a 75 percent pay cut for the duration of the crisis. I asked our management team to accept a 5 percent cut; in response, they offered 10. They also offered to halt their retirement savings payments so that the company could save on our 401k match program. We are running on fumes, operating in short-term crisis mode; hoarding cash that doesn’t need to go out the door. We are focusing on payroll and small business vendors and covering bills that would threaten our credit worthiness or expose us to liability if they went unpaid. Everything else — property taxes, utilities, scores of other invoices — have been put on ice.

As for the rest of the staff, we are resetting the financial clock every 14 days in order to guarantee their salaries for the following six weeks. We’re still offering 100 percent employer paid benefits and health care. My financial models are continually evolving. There is no long-term financial plan because that would be an exercise in futility and frustration, given things are changing so quickly. But we know nonetheless that nothing will be the same once we emerge from this crisis, and so a long-term vision for our company is emerging, driven by a staff that is incredibly, doggedly motivated to make it work.

nestThe Flock team celebrating together.

Profitability Means Good Jobs

I’ve always known that any company I started would be anchored in generosity. To that end, I’ve always measured profit not in dollars but in the number of good jobs we create; good jobs that mean people can not just pay their bills but enjoy their lives. I want to create career paths and provide healthcare and ensure people have time with their families both now and in the future. So even when faced with this imminent and shocking loss of revenue, the math was simple: since profitability means good jobs, then we’ll remain profitable as long as we can.

I’ve always measured profit not in dollars but in the number of good jobs we create; good jobs that mean people can not just pay their bills but enjoy their lives. I want to create career paths and provide healthcare and ensure people have time with their families both now and in the future.

Those Impossible, Unthinkable Words

The hardest moment I’ve ever experienced in any job anywhere came just two weeks ago, when I had to tell my employees that we needed to be worried for our livelihoods. I told them the leadership team was working on continuity and I shared our short-term planning in great detail. I told them I was thinking of them twenty-four seven.

I was alone in my home office, saying these impossible, unthinkable words, and knowing in my heart of hearts that despite these dark circumstances this was also one of the greatest moments of my professional life. I was occupying the intersection of concern, ingenuity and innovation, panic, anxiety and adrenaline, uncertainty and grief, exhaustion and sophisticated planning. In that moment, I was my very best self.

What do these leaders have in common?

These leaders are part of Small Giants companies — companies that prioritize their purpose and culture and invest in their emerging leaders.

One way Small Giants companies invest in their next generation of leaders is by enrolling them in the Small Giants Leadership Academy. This robust one-year certification program consists of virtual learning sessions with expert leaders and coaches, an extensive resource library, on-the-ground meetups with your cohort, a leadership assessment, and your event ticket to two Small Giants gatherings.

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