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Barbara Corcoran's Leadership Style: Rainbows and Steel-Toe Boots Case study: Barbara Corcoran's business management style is uniquely her own.

By Christopher Hann

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Special Report - LeadershipIn more than two decades spent building the largest residential brokerage firm in New York, Barbara Corcoran all but commanded her more than 1,000 employees and salespeople to have fun on the job.

The founder and former CEO of The Corcoran Group, which she sold in 2001 for $66 million, Corcoran considers her ability to create an enjoyable workplace a keystone of her leadership style. "It's the most underutilized tool in the tool belt," she says.

Corcoran never relied on a business mentor to shape her notion of leadership. Instead, she took lessons learned from her mother, Florence, who ran a working-class household in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Years later, Corcoran, the second of 10 kids, memorialized her mother's homespun wisdom in a bestselling book, If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails & Other Lessons I Learned From My Mom.

"I never thought of it as leadership, but I knew I wanted to be loved by the people who worked for me," Corcoran says. "I built the business exactly the way my mother built and ran her family. I wanted a replication of the big, happy family I grew up in. I wanted happy people having fun."

Barbara CorcoranFor the most part, she got it. Corcoran's company parties are the stuff of legend in New York real estate circles. Her winter bashes had a dress theme--Broadway, 1940s, pajamas--and summer picnics featured circus animals, hot-air balloons and, once, an all-female motorcycle gang ripping up the lawn while Corcoran, feigning outrage, threatened to call the cops.

Recounting the story from inside her Park Avenue office, Corcoran lets go with a big laugh. "I found the more fun I created in the company, the more creative and innovative it became," she says. "That was the big kahuna--the fun piece. That's what built that culture upside down and inside out. You got innovation. You got loyalty. You got people who would recruit for you."