I recall seeing an old episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy’s husband Ricky comes home to find Lucy crawling around on her hands and knees, searching for something in the family room. When he asks her what she’s doing, she replies that she’s looking for her earrings. “You lost your earrings in the living room?” He asks her. “No,” she replies. “I lost them in the bedroom, but the light is much better out here!”
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this whimsical scene: just because something is easier, that doesn’t mean that it is better. As a leader in your organization, it may be tempting to look for solutions where “the light is better.” In other words, you might want to only focus on the things you already know and the areas which you’ve already explored. Even if the problems or opportunities lie outside of that area, what’s the point in looking? It’s too dark to see, right?
The truth is that, if you are going to lead your organization to success, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time in the dark. Great leaders aren’t afraid to stick their necks out and find the problems where they are; they’re willing to brave the uncertainties and tread on uncharted terrain. If you want to stay the same, by all means, stay where you are. But if you want to move your organization forward and remain competitive into the future, you’ve got to be willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Success lies in the dark places that you have yet to shine a light on. Where are you looking for success?
One of the ideas I often like to use in my consulting practice is the principle of “Start with Why,” discussed by leadership expert Simon Sinek. Before you think about the product you are going to offer or how you are going to go about bringing it to market, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re producing it in the first place. Why are you in the business you are in? What drives you? What is your purpose? If you don’t ask this question, your work will end up mediocre at best, and catastrophic at worst.
This idea, however, extends beyond how we serve our customers. As important as it is for you to ask yourself why you do what you do, it’s also important as a leader for you to ask the same thing of your team. Why do your people do what they do? What drives them? What is their purpose? Have you even asked them? Think back to your last interview. What kinds of questions did you ask the person hired? Maybe you asked them about their experience. Maybe you asked them about their education. Maybe you asked them about skills specific to the position for which they were applying. These are all important questions, but did you remember to ask them, “Why?”
Perhaps the most important question you will ever ask a candidate in an interview is, “Why do you want to work for us?” The point is to get at the heart of what drives the job candidate. Is that person just looking for a job, or are they driven by a core set of values that they see mirrored in your company? Take a look at your team. Who is working for you just to have a job, and who is working for you because their “why” compels them to? Build a team dedicated to purpose, and you’ll have a company committed to success.
Things can quickly become complicated in the mortgage industry. Unlike some other industries dealing directly with consumers, the mortgage industry presents a very complex product. In most cases, borrowers don’t understand mortgages well enough to make decisions without the help of professionals. They can’t just pull a mortgage off the shelf, read the package, and put it into their cart. Rather, they often feel the need to ask questions—to try to figure out what they’re getting themselves into.
In many ways, the complexity of the product is exactly what makes selling mortgages a viable career–we become the package that people can read so that they can put mortgages into their carts. That’s obviously a great benefit to us, because it makes our careers possible; we bring something to the table. But, due to the level of complexity, it also means that a lot can go wrong. When trying to explain a product and buying process that is difficult to understand, there is plenty of room for catastrophic misunderstandings.
The biggest problems that occur in the mortgage industry, I would argue, are from misunderstandings. It isn’t that consumers are unreasonable and demanding; it also isn’t that lenders are greedy and conniving. When things go wrong, though, that’s how each side often sees the other. However, the truth is often that there has merely been some failure in communication. As representatives in the mortgage industry, we should always take responsibility for that. Want to eliminate misunderstandings in the loan process? Maintain constant communication with buyers. It’s a complicated product; make sure you’re clarifying it as much as you possibly can. Communication is everything.
If you’re like most people, you’ve had the experience of purchasing a product or service that was absolutely ordinary. It wasn’t a terrible experience–you didn’t feel angry enough to leave a negative review, file a lawsuit, or even ask for a refund. But it also wasn’t an amazing experience–you didn’t feel compelled to leave a good review or to spread the word to your friends and colleagues about the product or service. It was just a simple transaction. There was nothing special about it. It just met expectations.
Even though these kinds of transactions happen quite often, you’re probably struggling with thinking of a specific occasion and you aren’t likely to remember the name of the company. Why? Because they’re so forgettable. Nothing sets them apart. They lack that something extra that keeps bringing them to the top of your mind. Companies that merely meet expectations are not companies that we deliberately return to. We only become loyal to companies that blow us away. Good enough simply isn’t good enough.
Now, consider this truth as a leader in the mortgage industry. If all you do is offer great rates and the same sort of service that other companies in the industry are offering, how can you expect people to remember you? It isn’t enough to meet expectations. That’s how you become forgettable. No, to be remembered, you have to exceed expectations. You have to go beyond the obvious. You have to blow people away with your extraordinary service. Otherwise, you will be forgotten. So, ask yourself: what creative angle does your company offer that gets peoples’ attention and compels them to come back to you in the future?
I was involved in facilitating an athletic even for a school some time ago, and the coach for the wrestling team asked me to introduce the members of the opposing team who were coming in from out of town. I didn’t really think much of it. I was felt at ease using a microphone and speaking in front of a crowd, so I agreed to do it without question. I didn’t even bother doing any research. What was the worst that could happen?
When it came time to introduce the wrestlers, though, I stumbled and stammered my way all through the introduction. Why? Because, although I hadn’t realized it, they were all Czechoslovakian and I couldn’t pronounce their names! It was an embarrassing moment for me that I’ve never been able to forget, but it taught me an important lesson…
Sometimes, it seems that we commit too quickly. As leaders, it is natural for us to want to help. We see opportunities to serve, and we jump on them. That excitement and eagerness is a good thing, but it can also get us into a lot of trouble if not tempered with some caution and discretion.
We should never commit to something if we aren’t able to deliver on it. In the end, it’s better to say no than it is to commit to something that we don’t end up following through on. You’ve heard the expression “under promise, and over deliver.” Well, that’s exactly what the best leaders among us do. They know what they’re getting themselves into before they commit to things. Learn from my mistakes: if you haven’t learned how to pronounce the names, don’t agree to make the introductions!
Sometimes, we run into people who seem like they can do just about anything. Maybe it’s someone who works in our company-someone who’s great at speaking, writing, working with numbers, and so on. Or, maybe it’s someone we know in our personal life–perhaps a “Mr. Fix It” type who knows everything from plumbing to carpentry to electrical work. We often call a person like this a “jack of all trades,” but it can sure seem like they’re a “master of all trades.”
While we often tend to admire people who can do everything, we also sometimes tend to scoff at them. Everyone should focus on his strengths and hone his core competencies, we argue. We should specialize in what we’re good at rather than spread ourselves too thinly. Of course, I think there are merits to both of these lines of reasoning. But, as the world becomes more complex and the market more volatile, perhaps there is some merit after all to becoming a “jack of all trades.”
As a leader, it can really pay off to be more versatile. Sure, you will be better at some things than you are at others, but it’s a great idea to be at least a little good at everything. Why? Because the speed of change is such that, if you aren’t versatile in your strengths, you won’t be able to adapt. What you are best at may no longer be relevant tomorrow. Will you have the versatility to pivot into something new when there’s a sudden change of scenery? If you can adapt, then you can survive.
Closing time in the mortgage industry can be a period of great anxiety. When the lender is sitting at the table at the end of the process with the title company, the realtor, the buyer, and whoever else may be involved, a lot can go awry. You may have spent months working with the realtor and buyer to get them to the table but, regardless of how hard you’ve worked up to this point, this is where you lay it all on the line. It’s at the closing where you go home the hero…or you go home the villain.
What do you do, for example, if you’re all sitting down ready to close the deal and then you are notified that the funding isn’t there? Chances are, you’ve found yourself in such a scenario. The buyer becomes exasperated and, as a result, your relationship with the realtor may become strained. It doesn’t matter how great they’ve thought you to be up to this point; if you can’t finish, you leave the table as the villain. So, how do you ensure you go home with great reviews instead of poor ones?
Have you ever heard the expression, “prevention is the best medicine?” Well, it works that way in business too. The best way to get out of a bad situation is to plan in such a way that you never end up in the situation at all. In your organization, do you have a contingency plan–or are you just making things up as you go? Planning can mean the difference between going home the hero and going home the villain. Don’t wait until your blindsided at the finish line; have a plan for everything that might go wrong.
There’s an old adage in business: you can’t have it done fast or you can have it done right, but you can’t have both. Of course, it’s not that simple. There’s a continuum of how well you do something—just as there is a continuum of how quickly you do it. It’s not either/or. However, this adage does point to a profound truth in business—there is always a trade-off between speed and accuracy in our work. Improving one often does mean cutting back on the other. So, which is more important?
Of course, when it comes to regulatory issues, the answer may be quite obvious. We can’t afford to overlook the details when we risk incurring fines from regulatory agencies, not to mention how our reputations can negatively impacted but such oversights. But, apart from these matters, I still think it pays to go over everything twice to make sure you’ve got it right. Why is this the case? Isn’t “double checking” just a redundant waste of time? Shouldn’t you just do it right the first time and not have to worry about going over it again?
The problem is that we are often poor judges of our own work. All of us are a little biased toward our own abilities, and we tend to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We’re much quicker to catch the mistakes of others than we are to catch our own. When we double check ourselves, we can stand a better chance of catching the mistakes we missed the first time.
By not reviewing our work, we may tell ourselves that we’re just “saving time,” but the truth is often that we don’t want to doubt our ability to do it right the first time. But, we’ve got to swallow our pride and be willing to examine our work. Success is worth much more than the pride that risks preventing it.
The general public doesn’t always have the highest perception of the mortgage industry. Often, it can feel like we don’t exactly known for being selfless. We are, after all, in business to make a profit. We provide a service and expect to be compensated for it. We and are people have bills to be and goals to accomplish in our lives. We aren’t operating a charity, are we? That being said, we are helping people by what we do in the same way that other professionals are; so, there isn’t any reason why we couldn’t garner a less self-serving reputation.
The real problem with having a selfish reputation, though, has less to do with what the general public thinks of us and more to do with what our own people think of us. I think it is important that the members of our team don’t see us as merely self-serving. Otherwise, they will see themselves as replaceable and will be less likely to believe that they are valuable as employees. And when our people don’t feel important, they will less inclined to work hard and even less inclined to remain loyal to the organization. If we want to keep people, they must feel like they matter.
For leadership, making people feel important can mean taking a cut in compensation for the good of the company. Is this a good thing to do? Different organizations believe different things on this matter, but I will say that it is definitely a way to gain the respect and admiration of your people if you’re willing to sacrifice some of your own gain to make them better off. And I can’t help but think that the mortgage industry will be improved by making employees feel like their companies are great places to work…
All too often, organizations in every industry think of training in a limited fashion. For many organizations, the only training that is ever offered occurs at the time of hire. Employees are first starting off in an organization, and they need to be taught how the organization works. So, they go through a period of training for the first few weeks on the job–and then they’re turned loose.
I think an initial period of training is absolutely essential. You always want to get your employees started off on the right foot, making sure they understand your purpose and values as well as how they will contribute to the team. That being said, while essential, I don’t the initial training that most organizations provide is quite enough. Training, if it is to be effective, isn’t a “one and done” sort of thing. The best training is ongoing training.
In all sorts of ways, the mortgage industry is constantly evolving. There are changing regulations that employees need to be made aware, new technologies employees need to understand, new process they need to learn, and new techniques they need to try out. The opportunities for learning don’t end after orientation; they go on forever.
As leaders in our organizations, we need to be willing to invest in training. Our team is only going to be as good as we’ve trained them to be. So, what about you? Is training something you just do with new employees, or is something you continually invest in as the industry chances and your employees develop in your organization?