Luxury Roundtable


3 leadership qualities I find indispensable for success

March 15, 2024

Leading from the front with focus, decisiveness and communication clarity are key to organizational and personal success Leading from the front with focus, decisiveness and communication clarity are key to organizational and personal success


As I look to embark on my next corporate leadership role, I thought to articulate the principles and qualities that help me as a leader of organizations that I was hired to run or have founded over the years.

Now I am not saying this is the only way to go about leading organizations – I’m not the rooster taking credit for the sunrise – but I have learned from some very smart people over the years.

I’ve worked with some of the world’s leading brands – as clients, speakers, commentators – to recognize best practice. The list spans thousands of organizations, including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Cartier, Pomellato, Tiffany, Piaget, Bentley Motors, De Beers, Moët Hennessy, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Harrods, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton in luxury and Apple, Walmart, Target, Microsoft, Facebook, Sephora and Coca-Cola in non-luxury.

The leaders I most admire are those that steer their organizations and brands with grace under pressure, showing a remarkable degree of foresight and magnanimity.

Mickey ALAM KHAN is founder/CEO of Luxury Roundtable Mickey ALAM KHAN is a brand builder and a corporate turnaround specialist

I’ve had the privilege of founding brands and organizations such as Luxury Daily, Mobile Marketer, Mobile Commerce Daily, American Marketer and Luxury Roundtable, building entire ecosystems around them – news, research, events, awards, white papers and collaborations. I’ve also led DM News, then the world’s largest direct marketing media brand, followed by a stint being the editor in chief of Emarketer, a top research company now owned by Germany’s Axel Springer.

From 2020 to 2023, I ran Luxury Portfolio International, the world’s leading network of independently-run luxury real estate brokerages with 150,000 agents across nearly 40 countries generating an estimated $300 billion in annual home sales. I turned it around with the support of a highly cooperative board of directors and parent company CEO, and with the help of one of the smartest teams I assembled in luxury real estate.

One caveat: Forgive the heavy use of the word “I”. I’m not coming from a place of arrogance, but simply self-awareness. I couldn’t have accomplished much as a leader without the help of the right team members by my side. My accomplishments are theirs.

So here, among many others, are three qualities that have helped me as a leader of organizations in such diverse sectors as luxury real estate, media, research, events, marketing and technology:

This tops the list. I have long believed in focusing on one objective or one sector and drilling deep. You can’t be all things to everyone, because then you stand for nothing. So how did I put that into practice?

For Luxury Daily, I decided we needed to own coverage of luxury marketing and retail. For Mobile Marketer, it was mobile advertising, marketing and media, for Mobile Commerce Daily it was mobile commerce and shopping. For Luxury Roundtable, it is networking, connections and upskilling for luxury professionals.

With DM News, we made it even more indispensable for the world’s leading catalogers, retailers with direct-to-consumer and direct-to-business operations, ad agencies and list brokers. The coverage was taut and timely.

Similarly, with Emarketer, I had to refocus the research reports’ slant to include actual examples to support the data. So, I asked the analysts to talk to brands, retailers and advertisers to include their case studies and anecdotes. I also had them streamline the reports. Research often falls prey to the weight of words and siren call of charts.

For the real estate network, I had to build the teams almost from scratch, revamp all the marketing materials, upgrade the technology, relaunch the magazine and digital communications, clean the mailing lists, introduce brand collaborations and partnerships, debut master classes and playbooks, participate in trophy property pitches and offer advisory services to broker members and their agents.

In addition, I had to change the customer service approach. The digital and in-person events were completely retooled to reflect luxury brands and top personalities in the business. The PR agencies were given a clearer mandate. New proprietary research surveying affluent consumers in 28 countries was introduced. And I did one more thing: institutionalize the process to minimize disruption if key personnel left.

I had one goal: we had to be the best luxury resource for our member brokers as their agents went to pitch homeowners to list their properties with them and not their bold-faced competitors. Their network had to support them across every area: marketing, PR, social media, training, research, brand collaborations, magazine, you name it.

For that to happen, I decided to hire people not just from real estate, but from the world of luxury. You can’t offer luxury service if your team members don’t reflect the industry’s ethic. So I hired folks from luxury retailers and brands, design shops and auctioneers. We also recruited people who worked for luxury brokerages and trade media who understood speed and the lingua franca of the business.

How did I gauge the turnaround was successful? Improved employee loyalty, membership growth, advertiser and sponsor retention and addition, and vastly increased engagement with brokers and agents. Agents are independent contractors and need to be highly motivated to make listings pitches and property sales.

Most important of all, we were focused on the brokers and agents’ needs: knowledge, community and tools to help them become better real estate professionals.

Focus is seeing the wood for the trees. It is playing to your strengths while being attentive to your customers’ needs. Focus is depth and forward movement. And what you leave off the table is as important as what you leave on. You can’t be a mile wide and an inch deep.

Timely and decisive decision-making
Paralysis analysis is a real threat to business. Sitting on decisions for too long, I believe, is a sign of disrespect. You can’t wait endlessly for all the input and points of view. And no, sleeping on it for too long doesn’t make you anymore smarter in your call.

Decision-making is rooted in confidence. Not that I’ve had oodles of confidence all the time. But I know most of the time I’m up to the task if I have the knowledge, tools and skills to support me.

With decisions, you’re either right or you’re wrong. If you’re right, then you’re on your way. If you’re wrong, then as long as it’s not a life-and-death situation, everything can be rectified if addressed quickly enough. There’s a reason for erasers on top of pencils. If a decision leads to sour results, cut your losses quickly and move on with lessons learned.

I’ve made plenty of timely decisions regarding launch of products and services, names of brands, technology deployed, conference focus, expansions into allied areas, partnerships and collaborations, buying and selling, corporate colors and logos, you name it.

To me, the most important decision you’ll ever make as a leader is hiring the right people. If you find the right person, don’t hesitate. You can’t accomplish any of your goals if you don’t surround yourself with teams who know their snuff.

When I hire team members, I know that people responding to the ad in the first week matter the most – because it’s urgent for them. I also know that some of the folks who are the last to answer may not have seen the ad and are taking a chance. I’ve made the best hiring decisions by recruiting from the first week’s applicants and the last couple to send in their CVs. Of course, the more senior the position, the more the chance that connections, networking and referrals play in hiring.

I make most decisions within 48 hours, after reviewing the facts, conducting my own due diligence and asking around for third-party opinions. I’m certainly not a victim of the last person to whisper in my ear. I narrow choices to three and then to two very quickly, if I have that luxury.

What I find highly annoying these days – and it has definitely worsened – is people, including business partners, clients and associates, taking ages to deliver a decision for no ostensible reason other than pleading lack of time. Nonsense. If you don’t have time to make decisions, you shouldn’t be a leader or sit in a decision-maker’s role.

Confidence is key to decisive decision-making. As they riff about surgeons: often wrong, seldom doubtful.

Communicating with clarity and empathy
A leader’s job is to lead. Sometimes it involves calling balls and strikes, and other times it entails pitching and batting. But you lead from the front, and the directives have to clear.

I like knowing my mandate. This is what we have to work with, this is what we expect you to do, this is the result we anticipate if all things work out. Plain and simple. That is also my ask of people with whom I work.

Let’s be clear: talking shouldn’t be confused with communicating.

I am not a big fan of long meetings. Whichever organizations I have led, I schedule my weekly all-hands meeting in-person or digitally for Mondays at 11 a.m. to last 30 to 45 minutes. I like now that the free Zoom account allows only 40 minutes per session. I think that’s about right to get a large group to communicate their key points amongst themselves.

I believe a leader’s job is to let others speak first, and then comment and add value to the discussion after gathering disparate points of view. There is less pressure on the participants that way. If you as the leader go first, your word is taken as the diktat, even if you don’t intend it. Not surprisingly, people attend such leader-first meetings knowing their point of view does not much matter.

I also prefer picking up the phone to discuss important and urgent matters rather than playing email tic-tac-toe. A quick phone call clears the air and hastens the decision-making process. I even recommend quick Zoom or Teams for these off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment discussions.

It goes without saying that I follow the chain of command in most cases. I don’t like going over my subordinates’ head. My personal management style is hand’s-off: I outline the mandate, go over the processes that will come into play, and deliver the expectations. Then I let the teams do their jobs and stay out of their way.

I also believe leaders should have fewer direct reports so as not to clog-up the communication channel and decision-making process. The more you delegate, the more you empower your teams with authority, responsibility and accompanying accountability.

Reading the room or the individual is also central to leadership. Displaying warmth, showing concern and being respectful of diversity of opinion and lifestyle are hallmarks of admirable leaders. Everyone wants to be part of a bigger picture and gain acknowledgment for their contribution. Give praise where due, and tips to improve where necessary. But show your teams that you care – not everyone is intuitive.

The leader is the locomotive of the organization, taking it forward to a common purpose to serve a desired objective and goal. My approach is simple: do all the stakeholders – employees, partners, clients and shareholders – know what I know? Are we on the same page?

THERE ARE MANY other qualities that leaders need to possess. I found that focus, timely and decisive decision-making, and communicating with clarity and empathy are my top three to retaining the loyalty of employees, partners and customers. Leadership comes with training, observation and an open mind.

I always remind myself: I’m not leading computers, data and products. I’m leading human beings – and that to me is paramount, as someone to whom they look up for meeting their professional goals. As a leader, you have to earn your colleagues’ loyalty every day, sometimes with praise, other times with tough love, but all times with firm resolve in shared purpose to make a difference.

I’m not the first to say this, but people leave leaders, not companies.

Mickey ALAM KHAN has run several organizations across industries as a brand builder and corporate turnaround specialist. He most recently led Luxury Portfolio International, the world’s leading network of independently-run luxury real estate brokerages with 150,000 agents across nearly 40 countries. He is also the founder of Luxury Daily, Mobile Marketer, Mobile Commerce Daily, American Marketer and Luxury Roundtable. Previously he was editor in chief of Emarketer and DM News, as well as correspondent on AdAge. He is based in New York. Reach him at