Zillow CEO Rich Barton on leadership in unprecedented times

“Technology is going to rewrite the rules.”

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Zillow CEO Rich Barton wearing navy blue sportcoat, his arms crossed over his waist

What does it take to successfully lead a company during the era of COVID-19? At a recent virtual panel discussion produced by Geekwire, Zillow CEO Rich Barton shared his thoughts on how to build an enduring culture during these challenging times. Here are excerpts of his observations on leadership and the importance of a “learning organization.”

Respond and adapt

“Leadership means continuing to steer the boat even when it’s foggy. It’s very easy to be inert and not make decisions. The organizations that are able to succeed in these times are ones that are learning organizations, where there are eyes looking out from all parts of an organization. Those eyes — be they robotic or human — are able to take what they’re seeing back to the bridge, to the captains who are steering the ship. Change is difficult. But the great organizations embrace it and emerge from change stronger.”

Look for the moment

“I am a person who thinks about catalysts for change, for real revolution, for real technology-driven revolution. My whole career has been about identifying those transition points where technology was going to rewrite the rules, where it was going to give power to the people. This is one of those moments. This is a really interesting opportunity to rethink everything about the way we work, where we work, who we work with, why we work, and how much satisfaction we get from our work.”

Lean into the good

“I have this idea that this crisis is causing a great reshuffling. It’s making people move to different places and work in different ways. We saw that in the data (a rebound in listings and sales in April), and we let the game on the field dictate our plans and strategy. We saw what was happening, we weren’t afraid to see good news, and when we saw good news we leaned into it.”

Be a leader and a helper

“We’re the technology people who are creating the future. At the beginning of this thing, we did not know for sure if the whole real estate market was going to freeze. But it turns out shelter is primal. Zillow customers want to move. We are here to help them move. It is our job as leaders to not just wring our hands and reach for tissues but say ‘here are solutions for how to get going,’ safely and electronically.”