Management

Interested in Developing Leadership Skills? This Manager Has Tips That Can Help

person with a bun standing in front of a city skyline
Aelana Freeman, a training and development manager at Better.
| Courtesy of Better

Aelana Freeman’s first job out of college was in advertising sales—and though she learned a lot, she quickly realized it wasn’t the career path for her.

“I found myself longing to be a part of a company’s big-picture vision from the ground level,” she says. “I didn’t want to just enjoy the fruits of the labor and hop into an already well-oiled machine; I wanted to share my ideas, learn from the planting and the watering, and contribute to the growth process and success.”

Enter the homeownership company Better, which Freeman joined in 2019. Less than three years later, she has transitioned from helping clients refinance mortgages to overseeing training and development for Better Real Estate.

Here, she talks about how Better helps its employees grow in their careers, the management skills she swears by, and why resourcefulness goes a long way.

How did you know Better would be a good fit for you?

From the moment I had my first phone interview with Elizabeth Root, the Director of Purchase Sales, I knew I wanted to work at Better. It was such a casual conversation, and she was exceptionally down-to-earth. I felt no pressure, and the energy she gave off was so welcoming. That translated to my in-person interviews with other team members as well.

Culture is a priority of mine, and it was not always present in previous spaces I had been in up to that point. If I’m going be around these people all day, they need to at least be enjoyable to interact with! Having an effortlessly positive experience with the leadership team, both on the phone and in person, sealed the deal for me.

You’ve held five different roles since joining Better. How is your experience emblematic of the way the company invests in its employees?

Better has always supported my goals and growth, whether by providing me the resources and materials to study for my NMLS license or listening when I expressed interest in transitioning into a more creative role (even though, at the time, I was the top performer in the sales department). 

I led our training of the refinance sales team for a while before being asked to help build out the training department for our then-new affiliate business, Better Real Estate (BRE). I was responsible for revamping the curriculum and onboarding 200-plus people by myself for a few months before having the opportunity to create a team of my own to support learning and development at BRE.

In each role, I have felt acknowledged for my efforts and earned opportunities to take my skills to the next level. The growth I’ve witnessed in myself, as well as my fellow coworkers from my hiring class (shoutout Feb5!), is incredible and keeps me telling everyone I know to come work for Better.

What are you responsible for in your role?

I facilitate and oversee the onboarding and continued training of BRE transaction coordinators and managers based in the U.S. and India. Transaction coordinators make up the real estate agent’s support team and are responsible for things like reaching out to clients, scheduling home tours and inspections, and drafting offers. My training team supports BRE production, as well as all BRE training for pilot programs, continuing education, offers/discount programs, new services, etc. We work closely with teams in production, strategy, market expansion, and other enablement partners.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

I was waiting for this question! Right now, I’m looking to shift our core training sessions into digital module-based learning. Essentially, sessions regarding Real Estate 101 and how to use our internal platforms will no longer be led by an instructor and will instead be independent learning courses that new hires will complete prior to onboarding. My team has done a fantastic job at creating these courses, which will provide a benefit not only to the learner, but also to the training team.

These pre-onboarding courses allow the learner to gain some confidence by having the opportunity to nail down the basics with interactive modules and self-assessments in advance. This allows their virtual onboarding experience with live trainers to be more role-specific, and it also provides the training team with more time and the bandwidth to support other department initiatives that are currently on the back burner.

For instance, instead of teaching the same introductory course every week, my team can focus on projects like building out content for our Cash Offer program and hosting continuing education sessions for tenured employees to ensure that everyone is aligned on all new and existing processes. These efficiencies add up and, ultimately, result in the company growth that we continue to see each day.

What makes the company culture at Better stand out?

I’ve had three managers throughout my time at Better, and I have connected with and have grown my professional brand thanks to all three. The leadership that I’ve been under as I transitioned roles at this company has always supported my personal and professional growth, and I feel like that is a very rare find in corporate America.

I’ve also had such an overwhelmingly positive experience with my coworkers. Everyone genuinely wants the other person to win. I’ve felt supported and encouraged by my peers, even in a sales role, which is typically unheard of. (My teammates would even take client calls for me and help them lock in their mortgage rate while I was assisting another client!) My colleagues have always celebrated my wins, and I feel that a healthy and inclusive environment like that is hard to come by.

What are some of the keys to your success as a manager?

I think the statistics say we spend about a third of our lives working. In my role as a manager, I realized that I have partial power in ensuring that my team enjoys their day-to-day and walks away with positive experiences during that third.

The first director I had in my role as a manager, Shona Killoughery, was a strong proponent of Clifton Strengths, and I do this with my team as well. This practice is based on assigning tasks and projects that match an individual’s personal strengths, instead of assigning things that consistently create barriers for their personality and work style. People want to feel that they are making effective and valuable contributions to their team.

Supporting my team in doing meaningful work is important, but even bigger than that are connection and empathy. Take out all the processes, workflows, slide decks, and team syncs, and you’re left with an individual—a real person. It’s so important to have conversations around things like why they choose to be a trainer instead of doing anything else, how they prefer to receive feedback, and how they like to be recognized for good work. I thrive off of understanding people’s why and who they are as a person. Relationship building clues me in to who needs a mental health day, who is struggling with what, and who needs me to be there just as a friend to support them on that particular day. Realizing that people require different types of support is a key factor in building a culture of trust and productivity.

What does it take to succeed in the real estate division at Better?

All members on the BRE team are super resourceful. A lot of them have told me they hear me in the back of their minds saying “Did you check your resources first?” whenever they hit a roadblock. Our team members have to be meticulous when it comes to processes like offer drafting and scheduling home tours. Empathy is key, too, because purchasing a home is often one of the most pivotal and expensive decisions in a person’s life!

Technical skills play a significant role as well, since the real estate division is constantly using different platforms for our CRM, the online document management system, the MLS, and more.

Possessing the ability to prioritize is also one of the strengths of our successful team members. Which tasks are high intent versus low intent? Which tasks are time sensitive? Should I reach out to this appraisal company or help my agent submit an offer on a property first? Knowing the answers to these questions throughout the workday is key.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

My answer to this isn’t so much career advice I personally received as it is a combination of an Instagram caption I read once and feedback I’ve received from new hires in a post-training survey. The words of wisdom are: The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.

There were plenty of days that I would hop on Zoom to train new hires with 5% energy, many deliverables due, a scattered brain, and personal stressors plaguing my mind. I was concerned that I wasn’t consistently putting my best foot forward, but I tried to leave the weight of the negativity behind me as soon as I pressed the Zoom link. At the end of training, I received feedback from new hires saying how my energy, engagement, and positivity contributed to their success, and it made me think I should switch to a career in acting!

I’m not encouraging anyone to wear a mask all day long and suppress your emotions, but I am encouraging you to be cognizant of how you are presenting yourself because it truly leaves an impact on those around you.

Are you someone people look to as a leader? Are you enjoyable to collaborate with? Do you spice up what typically would be a boring meeting? These questions don’t revolve around what technical platform you excel in or how many words you can type per minute; they relate to how you make people feel. If people like you, they’re more inclined to want to be around you, buy into your ideas, recommend you for opportunities, and support your personal and professional growth.