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Posted on Nov 10, 2017

Values in Leadership: Protecting the Public Interest

Values in Leadership: Protecting the Public Interest

How are values viewed by those leading a government agency? We obtained some great insight into the role and view of values from the leader of a North Carolina agency.

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission (NCREC) was create in 1957, by law, to regulate real estate brokers and salespeople. At the time there were only a few thousands brokers. Today there are over 100,000 licensees, made up of approximately 91,00 individuals and 11,000 firms.

The main mission of the NCREC is to protect the public interest in real estate brokerage transactions. Of note, even though the NCREC is a government agency, it is fee-funded and independent.

In my interview with Miriam Baer, Executive Director of the NCREC, she states that everything the Commission does is focused on ensuring licensees are doing right by their customers, and that licensees are continually meeting specific criteria.

A Focus on Ethics

As with all government agencies in North Carolina, there is an official Code of Ethics that Miriam and her team must follow. There is also an Ethics Commission that provides oversight on this important topic.

Within the North Carolina General Statutes, there are many, many different statutes that govern state employees and state agencies, like the NCREC. Miriam says the purpose of the statutes is to ensure everyone who works in government is behaving in an ethical way.

I applaud the work that has gone into creating these statutes. However, based on the volume and their complexity, I wonder how many employees really know – and understand – all of these statutes to ensure their decisions and behaviors are always aligned. To me, this signals another important aspect of the role of leadership in government agencies: helping employees understand what truly matters and why.


Two Important Values

Miriam says the NCREC does not have a set of core values written down, in the way many companies might do it. What is clearly outlined are the Commission’s Mission and Goals.

In our interview, Miriam references two core values that the Commission has embraced since it first began.

  1. Competency. Miriam says this relates to the fact that one should not be helping a consumer with the biggest transaction of their life, or in a commercial situation working on a large dollar transaction that effects business and commerce, without some basic skills and knowledge about how real estate works, about how contracts work, and how agency works.
  2. Fitness. Miriam talks about how the qualifications to practice as a licensed broker or salesperson have changed over time. For example, she says the Commission has always looked at criminal convictions, when assessing fitness to practice, as one measure of a person’s integrity and ability to proceed. But over time, she says the way this has been measured has changed. Years ago, if someone had particular convictions or a felony, they would be told they were simply not eligible to have a real estate license. Today, each applicant is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Reference to these values can be found in the NCERC overview booklet.

Personally, I’m intrigued that this booklet includes a section titled Requirement to Demonstrate Good Character. Here it clearly states that applicants must possesses “…the honesty, integrity, good moral character, and general fitness, including mental and emotional fitness, necessary to protect the public interest and promote public confidence in the real estate brokerage business.”

I would suggest Competency and Fitness and two powerful differentiating values that set the NCREC apart from other agencies and/or real estate organizations.

Values in Leadership

When considering if someone is a good leader, Miriam suggests examining if they lead by example. If a leader expects the best behavior, she says the leader needs to demonstrate the best behavior themselves. She goes on to state that good leaders also need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and “do the work“ rather than “dictate from on high” on how others should do the work.

Miriam also says she is a big believer in a cooperative leadership style – also known as a democratic leadership style – where a leader seeks out different points of view from their team. She also suggests that if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, or a particular response that needs to be made that’s out-of-the-ordinary, then a leader must discuss it first with their team.

In her role as Executive Director of the NCREC, Miriam feels she is in a unique situation. On the one hand she is considered the leader of her organization, as the Chief of Staff. On the other hand, she is governed by 9 commission members – 7 who are appointed by the Governor, 1 by the Senate President Pro-Tem, and 1 by the Speaker of the House.

With such a large governing body, this means Miriam may often be assessing whether there’s a new direction to consider, and if so, what that direction should be. In such cases, she will seek input from her staff, obtaining lots of different points of view on a particular topic. When she then finally reaches a conclusion, Miriam is ready to make a recommendation to the higher governing body.

I would observe that while leading a government agency has different challenges, there are some similarities to leading in the corporate world. A (good) leader is always accountable to someone else – whether it is customers or protecting the public interest.

To listen to the whole interview with Miriam, visit: Values in Leadership.


This is a new Business Leader Series called Values in Leadership, where I share relevant insights gleaned from interviews with successful business leaders. I welcome your comments or questions by emailing: