Ed Pettinella learned about following his gut instinct early in his career.

Pettinella, CEO of Home Properties, was working as CFO of a bank prior to a large commercial crash in the early 1990s when he learned his biggest management lesson: Speak truth to authority, regardless of the consequences.

“We were putting out loans (that) I just was not as comfortable with and I was a young CFO and I should have pushed harder,” he says. “I was right. I wasn’t always right, I made my own mistakes, but that one was a costly one.”

He feels he should been more firm when discussing how to minimize risk with the CEO and was worried about getting push-back for his opinion.

“I didn’t want to take the risk but in business when you’re running a public company, whether it’s a bank or real estate, you’ve got to make those tough decisions and you can’t wait too long or they’ll eat your lunch.”

Being a leader takes time and some make more mistakes than others.

“If you’re CFO, or CEO you’re going to get blamed for it anyway,” he said. “You better make it your own problem because it’s going to be your problem whether you did it or not.”

During a session at the MFE Conference in Las Vegas on Sept. 9, Pettinella was joined by several other CEOs and discussed some of their life lessons as they rose through the ranks.

Tom Toomey was handed a lesson as he began to learn how to manage people. Today, Toomey works as CEO of UDR, a company with about 1,600 employees. But when he was just starting out, Toomey says often confused management for leadership, and was too harsh, which didn't facilitate an open environment.

“I probably was too hard when I was young on people and results,” he said.

Honesty is one of the most important factors he evaluates when he takes a look at the team he has.

“(You want people who) can tell you the truth whether it’s good or bad,” he said.

Rick Graf noted it took him a while to realize that while a leader should take responsibility and be held accountable, he or she should also recognize the team supporting the executives.

“I think so often we make it about us and it’s really not,” he said. “There are all sorts of people that we represent that really make it happen at the property level, at the regional level and the back office level that really make our companies whatever level of success we’ve had.”

Graf, who was named President of Pinnacle in 2008, said his personal success wouldn’t have been possible without his team and he’s learned to recognize and embrace the support.

“I know in my early years, I don’t think that I exemplified that but certainly as I get older, it makes a whole lot more sense,” he said.

Lindsay Machak is an Assistant Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.