Leadership means many things to many people. When we think of great leaders, we often think of people who have accomplished great things. We think of of superstar athletes or titans of industry, of award-winning actors or prominent political figures. In other words, we look at the amount of talent or possessed by an individual and then say to ourselves, “That’s what it means to be a leader.”
There is another aspect of leadership, though, that is important to us—and I would argue that it is the foundation of what it means to really be a leader. And that is how we inspire others. Sure, talent and accomplishments can get us into the spotlight, but it takes a deep connection with our audience in order to stay there. We’ve seen many people we thought were greater leaders fall from grace because of the way they treat their audience. Athletes who prove to be poor role models lose fans. Controversial authors lose contracts. And, finally, business executives that don’t treat people well get replaced.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you know or how much you can do–if you can’t deal well with people, it’s all for naught. Why is that the case? Because, by its very definition, leadership requires followers. If people aren’t following you, it doesn’t matter what kind of title you put on your business card–you aren’t a leader. If you want to be a great leader, focus on developing relationships with those whom you are leading. You are a leader, not when you think you are, but rather when your people say you are. Inspiring your people is the cornerstone of leadership.
I once saw a cartoon that really made me pause and think about what it means to be a leader. In the first frame, there is a man called “The Boss” sitting at his desk and pointing forward. The desk is sitting on top of a giant block, being pulled forward by three other people. In the second frame, we see the same three men pulling the large block, but there is one difference. There is no desk sitting on top of the block; instead, the man who had been at the desk is now out in front helping the workers pull the block forward. In this frame, the man is called “The Leader.”
In the mortgage industry, it’s very easy to get caught up in the “boss” mentality—sitting at our desk in the corner office and barking out orders. We may even feel sometimes like we’re entitled to such a position. We worked hard to get where we are, so why do it any other way? The simple answer: the success of our organizations depend on it.
People will only do the bare minimum for a “boss,” but they will willingly bend over backwards for a leader. And the difference between a leader and a boss is that the leader is willing to get his hands dirty. The boss says, “Go!” But the leader says, “Let’s go!” If you aren’t willing to get out in front of your people and show them how to get the job done, then they aren’t following you; they’re dragging you. Work with your people, and they will work with you. So, what approach are you taking in your organization?
We all like a good underdog story. It’s not all that impressive to us when a person “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” becomes a success. When the odds are in your favor, of course you’re going to succeed. What really impresses us is the one who rises to a higher level with the odds stacked against him, the one who makes something of himself even though he comes from nothing, the one who defies expectations. That’s the kind of leader we cheer for.
The housing crisis and recession of the last decade was difficult for all of us involved in the mortgage industry—even more so the often excessive regulation that has followed. However, I think the challenging environment has done one good thing for us–it has separated the wheat from the chaff. It has turned us all into underdogs who must overcome overwhelming odds to become successful.
Pressure is the crucible in which truly great leaders emerge triumphantly. It puts our feet to the fire and tells us whether or not we really have what it takes. Those who don’t have what it takes will not be able to adapt and will falter under pressure. If you want to develop into a great leader, you’ve got to change how you deal with challenging situations. It’s easy to look good when everything is going according to plan, but how do you look when things go awry? Expose yourself to a little risk and take some chances–that’s really the only way to see if you’ve got what it takes.