Cory Jo Vasquez of Realty ONE Group: “Don’t fear making mistakes and pass your success on”

I would remind other women leaders that you are valuable. You have experience, great ideas and so much to offer that no one else can. Don’t fear making mistakes and pass your success on. Mentors, career coaches, life coaches, books, friends, workout buddies, whatever it is — you need a healthy support system. Make sure you surround yourself […]

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I would remind other women leaders that you are valuable. You have experience, great ideas and so much to offer that no one else can. Don’t fear making mistakes and pass your success on.

Mentors, career coaches, life coaches, books, friends, workout buddies, whatever it is — you need a healthy support system. Make sure you surround yourself with people who lift you up so can lift up others.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Cory Vasquez.

Cory Vasquez is a 23-year communication professional whose experience spans across non-profit fundraising, media relations, digital marketing, crisis communication, social media and beyond. She’s a national speaker and published author, and has won a number of awards for integrated public relations and marketing campaigns.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I began pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado as a Political Science major, believing I had an ambitious political career ahead of me. But, during a long night studying in the library I had a gut check. I realized I had no chance of passing the Bar exam — I’m a fabulous essay writer but a miserable test-taker — and that I cared incredibly (and still do, to a fault) what people think of me. That a politician does not make. Eventually, I graduated with a double major in Political Science and Journalism and started a career that I have loved and cherished in the always-changing world of communications.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you joined Realty ONE?

See below for the same answer!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had been with Realty ONE Group for only a year when our CEO and Founder, Kuba Jewgieniew, and President, Vinnie Tracey, called me in to a meeting unexpectedly. Kuba asked me if I wanted to be an executive of the company, at which point I launched into a long diatribe about my professional goals and the steps I was taking to one day join the C-Suite.

I mistook their question as hypothetical but, I soon realized — after a long, awkward pause — that they meant now. Like now, I would become an executive. They were promoting me to Chief Marketing Officer after only a year with the company.

I learned two important lessons that day. One — it won’t take long for the right people to recognize your potential and to see your worth. And two — I still don’t have enough faith in myself. I have a lot of work to do to believe in myself as much as others do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My family and my faith are the reason I’m able to do what I do every day. I would not be here without them. But beyond that and an amazing group of friends, I’ve made it a point to have spirited, insightful mentors who coach and guide me along the way.

One of those mentors is a successful entrepreneur, a devoted family man and a spiritual leader. But Kerron Stokes is also what I would call a fire-starter. I’ve seen him repeatedly ignite flames in people that become all-out brush fires. He’s certainly done that for me.

He’s taught me that I have certain God-given talents that I need to share with the world, and that I have no excuse to not use them. Because of him, I know that I have an obligation to explore those paths that I’m passionate about and that will help me impact others.

Kerron and other mentors, like Kathy Baker, who I’m privileged to work with at Realty ONE Group, have immeasurably influenced my career and my life. And because of them, I will continue to plead with others to seek out their own mentors.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

One of the keys for me in learning how to deal with stress has been to accept it. It sounds simple, but it’s been a game-changer for me. I used to absolutely dread the onslaught of stress, and I know now that looking for ways to avoid it and waiting for it to hit probably only made it worse.

Now, I tell myself daily that I will encounter stress, while at the same time, reminding myself that I can manage it. Stress, in the form of challenges and change, actually helps us grow. It’s a simple affirmation, but it’s made all the difference for me.

Also, I believe in the Laws of Attraction and that we create our own reality. So, I spend a lot of time focusing on the world I create. Some of my favorite authors, Jen Sincero, Joseph Murphy, and Joyce Meyer, will help you build the world around you too if you believe in it and work at it.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

U.S. companies and organizations serve a beautifully diverse nation, and I believe, whole-heartedly, that we can’t do that without representing and promoting that same diversity from the inside out.

For example, Realty ONE Group recruits thousands (soon to be bazillions) of real estate professionals in markets everywhere, and we seek to represent them in everything we do, just as they seek to represent their very diverse buyers and sellers. But we can’t do that if we don’t fully represent them in our messaging, branding and really, in our purpose and beliefs.

It’s my job to continue to encourage this through our company and brand, and I take that responsibility very seriously. It’s a challenge because the only minority population I represent is women in business. So again, I can’t possibly assume how others feel and what they want to see from our brand. I’ve spent a lot of this past year just listening, and I encourage others to do the same.

I believe the self-reckoning we’ve had to do this year was a reminder that we can’t passively tackle issues of diversity, equality, race, and inclusion. It needs to be an active, always-on mentality. We have a lot of work to do.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

One of the theories I’ve heard and whole-heartedly subscribe to is, “we can’t think we know.” We can’t think we know how it feels to be someone of a different race, sexual preference, religious ideology, etc. It’s that assumption that blinds us to their realities.

So, step number one for me is to talk less, listen more. One of the most powerful things I’ve heard and will continue to share is that we need to ask to hear from others; ask them to share their experiences and their perspective.

For example, when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, the outstanding Broker/Owner of our Andover, MN, Realty ONE Group office didn’t rush to make a statement or even take action. He listened. He simply listened as his agents came to him with their thoughts and concerns. He created coffee meetings, even virtual, to allow all of his agents to have a voice. He and his wife have since invited them to take action together, creating a foundation called ONE Voice, meant to help close the racial homeownership gap. I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done and of their ongoing commitment to change.

(A recent REALTOR® Magazine article on Realty ONE Group Choice.)

And that, is step two — to take action. But it can be the most difficult. Knowing how to make real change — change that can even save lives — is daunting. But we have to try.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

An executive of a company has to be more than just a doer, implementer, executer. An executive has to be the influencer, innovator, motivator, riser-upper, inventor, level-setter, budgeter, sometimes therapist, never a friend (ahh shucks!) and more.

One of my beloved teammates recently sent me a graphic that you can find all over the internet. It has two pie graphs. The first pie graph is completely filled in with grey and is titled “What people think leadership is.” The one, full piece is ‘telling people what to do.’ Juxtaposed, is the second pie graph which is cut in varying pieces of all different colors and is titled ‘What leadership really is.” The legend of colors shows the various attributes as integrity, cast a vision, use of influence, use of power, praise your team, self-awareness, listen first and speak last, and empathy.

I’ll be vulnerable and tell you that leadership is scary, and I’m not convinced I’ve got it right. But if I can do all these things on this pie chart, I hope I can affect people positively and permanently while helping this company and all of our beautiful, talented real estate professionals succeed. What an accomplishment that would be!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think one of the biggest myths about being an executive is that it’s all first-class flying and fine dining. I’m sure in some circumstances it is, but I think for most of us, it’s a lot of hard work, late hours, and stress. I can tell you this, I’ve been in a VIP hotel suite maybe once or twice, and was way too tired to enjoy it.

Another myth about being an executive is that we’re all done learning. I’ve actually found a tremendous amount of joy in getting older. I never thought I’d say that, but I have. As we get older, we get wiser and for me that’s led to a lot more peace in who I am and what I’m doing. I know more and more every day that a higher power is in control and that I have survived rough waters and can do so in the future.

In fact, the older I get, the more I know how much more I have (get) to know and learn.

I see myself helping teammates through challenges that don’t feel that difficult to me. Then I imagine my grandma, at 97, laughing at the things I think are challenging and scary. It actually makes me excited about getting older as it’s a chance to learn and do more and be even more at peace.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

This may sound crazy, but it still frustrates me to board a plane and see the entire first class filled with middle-aged businessmen. I mean look, I know they’ve earned their place there- if first class is still a seat to be coveted — but I’ll celebrate the day when I get on a flight where first class is even half filled with gritty, ambitious, slightly salty women professionals.

I’m grateful for a number of women I know personally, as well those with a prominent, public platform who have put splinters in the glass ceiling. But we still have some work to do.

First, while I think women are slowly finding their seat at the table, it’s still difficult for us to be heard when we’re there. We need to be strong, be brave and to continue to speak up. Some of us are born ready to do this and others, like me, have to learn. I have a career coach who is teaching me actual strategies so that I can be a more assertive and meaningful part of the conversations. By the way, my friends, it’s not a weakness to have a career coach. I think it’s a weakness to not seek out others who can make you better.

Second, we have to ask for what we know we deserve. You know what I’m talking about. It’s money. The right pay for the job. I’ve read so many articles and so many chapters in books that explain how women make less because we don’t ask for it.

Third, we need to not accept being treated any less than we deserve. I actually had a salesman visit last year who did not want to shake my hand. Cleary he was hoping that he would be meeting with a male executive “who’s in charge of decision-making.” I spent a brief 15 minutes with him, thanked him for his time, ushered him out, and will not be doing business with him.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I devote an exceptional amount of time to encouraging, mentoring and sometimes even counseling members of my team and organization mostly because I love them and want them to succeed. (PS — it’s also not a weakness to love your team members and people who work for you). But also, I do this because I sincerely believe if they feel needed and appreciated, they’ll give the very best of themselves and be the kind of employees, and people, I know they can be. While it is something I absolutely take the most pride and joy in doing, it is one of the most challenging parts of my job and that is building up my team and others.

Beyond this, being an executive is a lot more challenging than I imagined it would be. Always looking at the bigger, broader picture, knowing that most of your decisions matter and that the success of your department and the company begin and end with you, and knowing that you can and probably should make mistakes is a boatload of pressure. Luckily, like I said, age and wisdom has afforded me a sort of peace about it. Knowing that unless you actually have a person on an operating table, your decisions are most likely not life or death.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I’d really hate to think that someone doesn’t have it in them to be an executive. Maybe it’s naïve, but I feel like people can do just about anything if they really want to.

I do think some of the characteristics of an executive are, as mentioned before, to be a constant learner, empathetic, decisive, innovative, and impassioned among others. But, just like other members of the team, I think a diverse team of Executives can really move a company forward. Like our Realty ONE Group Executives, who bring their own, individual flavor of experience, wisdom, and leadership to the table. We each contribute in our own meaningful way and complement each other so well. I’m so proud to be a part of this awesome team.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would remind other women leaders that you are valuable. You have experience, great ideas and so much to offer that no one else can. Don’t fear making mistakes and pass your success on.

Mentors, career coaches, life coaches, books, friends, workout buddies, whatever it is — you need a healthy support system. Make sure you surround yourself with people who lift you up so can lift up others.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I once worked as a Development Director at an animal shelter and became a foster for dogs needing a home. At one point, a lovely woman and her husband from Greely, Colorado, adopt a beautiful black chow I was fostering. Years later, she wrote me and said that not only was the dog thriving in her new home, but that the woman had become an active volunteer at the local shelter. In fact, she began driving the spay and neuter van, recruiting more fosters and volunteers and served on the shelter’s board of directors. My one act of fostering that dog and connecting with her new owner somehow exponentially, positively impacted so many others — dogs and people!

So, while I’d love to be helping so many on a much bigger scale, saving the world doing something incredible, I’m hopeful that there are things I’m doing now, and will do, that will make an impact.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

№1 — Mistakes are a must. You literally have to make mistakes to learn and grow. If not, we’re stagnant. I was a figure skater for nearly twenty years and realized that I spent my life training to get a perfect score. And while that works for the sport, that doesn’t work in life.

№2 — By letting go, we’re empowering others. I’m both a people-pleaser and a lifelong codependent, which I learned, only years ago, is not serving myself or others. In fact, I’m usually doing more harm than good. I’m still working on shedding these qualities, but I hope to enlighten others like me in the process.

№3 — Confidence looks different on different people. I spent so much of my young professional career trying to mimic the characteristics and mannerisms of other professionals who I thought embodied confidence. Learning that confidence looks different on different people has literally changed my life. I’ve cried at work. I’m a hugger (of course not now, during the pandemic). And, I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong (and will do it sometimes even when I’m not). Now I know clearly that confidence comes from within and that none of these things that I do or even say determine my level of confidence.

№4 — Getting older is pretty freaking cool. It really is. Normally we just think of our physical and mental decline when we think about getting old. I still believe a lot of that is within our control. But now I know that getting old means we’ve had more adventures, made more beautiful memories, learned more, and had more time to grow and to be at peace with who we are.

№5 — Kindness matters — We’ve actually always been told that, but it’s something I wish we could all live every day. And while it’s also cliché, no act of kindness is too small. Period.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

See, even then, I shudder. I don’t consider myself a person of great influence and yet, I do think we all have the power to influence and do something monumental.

Because we all have passions and causes near and dear to our heart, if I could contribute to the greater good, it would be uniting people with shelter pets. I’d love to find a way to end pet overpopulation, not only in the US but across the globe. Obviously, we’d save animal lives but also, I’ve seen so many people become better human beings with fuller, richer lives because of their pets.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Brian Buffini is one of the preeminent coaches in real estate, but his words truly touch my soul. I’ve watched him speak in large auditoriums before and I’ve literally been the last one sitting, softly crying. I’ve read his books and listen to his podcast because he literally just speaks to me. My friends tease me that I may be a bit of a stalker but when you find someone that moves you, you follow.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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