How to Be a Self-Storage Leader, Regardless of Your Job Position

Regardless of your position on the self-storage totem pole, you can demonstrate and hone your leadership abilities. It’ll help you in business and in life! Here are four skills and three traits that drive success in the industry for part-time managers to owners and everyone in between.

Too often, when we think of “leadership,” we envision someone being in charge and overseeing a team of people. But leadership can be evident in any job position. It’s about identifying and cultivating certain skills and traits.

In the self-storage business, you can demonstrate and hone your leadership abilities whether you work as a part-time maintenance worker, a full-time facility manager, a regional manager, an owner, or in any other role. Let’s see how.

Four Essential Abilities

If you want to succeed in business or in life, you need to embrace and refine the following four skills:

Empowering people. People often excel when given the opportunity. A good leader urges others to take risks and become their best selves. This sometimes means we must let people make mistakes, and that’s OK. For example, if you’re a self-storage manager and you’re training part-time help, you may be worried about giving a new person access to the facility-management software. A leader will cheer his trainee in attempting a move-in or taking a payment in the system, even if it means he has to fix an error down the line.

Inspiring people. Leaders set a good example for others, carrying out the most difficult tasks with a positive attitude and motivating others to contribute. In self-storage, we can show our coworkers the way by training, teaching or sharing advice, and then encouraging the heck out of them as they perspire their way through tasks, growing with each one.

Creating a shared vision. Being able to communicate a shared objective or idea is one of the most important leadership skills and, thankfully, one of the easiest to develop. Just letting others know what the goal is and how you’re going get there is excellent. If you can clearly articulate the destination, everyone can pull together in the same direction.

Driving change. Be the one in your self-storage organization who’s first to embrace and even make change. For many, change is a scary proposition; but it provides new experiences and an opportunity to develop skills, build relationships, make achievements, etc. Your ability to traverse unchartered waters will be an advantage to you and can be a great comfort to others who aren’t as intrepid. Again, lead by example!

Three Key Traits

In addition to the above skills, good leaders demonstrate a range of shared personality traits. Here are what I consider three of the most critical:

Accountability. People who demonstrate leadership hold themselves accountable for their actions. Doing so gives others the courage and motivation to take responsibility and do the same.

For example, do you have gossips at your self-storage operation or folks who like to tear others down? I had a colleague who walked out of meeting in which the owner was badmouthing a coworker behind his back. This simple action of walking away spoke volumes. He did so at the risk of retaliation, but he held himself accountable for this role in that situation and did not wish to take part.

Positivity. Remaining positive in the face of adversity is a developed skill. It takes courage and the ability to filter negative thoughts and actions and replace them with the opposite. It’s so very easy to commiserate with a coworker or continue a downward cycle. It’s far more difficult to go against the grain and turn the negative to a positive.

For example, consider your self-storage facility’s rules and regulations. Most people feel rules are restricting, but it’s all about how you look at it. A sign that reads “No Parking” or “No Smoking” could be interpreted as “Feel free to park/smoke elsewhere.”

Intentionality. In his book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” Rick Warren demonstrates the importance of living with intent. That means we have to think and do. For example, it’s one thing to think about calling a friend; it’s a another to actually pick up the phone and call. At the end of that call, you’ll likely both say “Hey, we should do this again sometime!” It’s a leader who offers a date and time for the next conversation and sends an invite.

You don’t have to be a in a top-level position to demonstrate leadership in the self-storage industry. Regardless of your role, you can empower and inspire others, communicate a shared goal or vision, drive change, take responsibility, be positive, and act with intention. Do these things, and you’ll be a leader at any step of your journey. 

RK Kliebenstein is principal of Coast-to-Coast Realty Advisors LLC. He has more than 30 years of self-storage industry experience, from creating business strategies to disposing of mature assets and everything in between. He’s the author of several books, including publications on how to invest and make money in self-storage. He’s also a frequent speaker at industry events, For more information, call 561.797.2721; e-mail; visit

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