We live in a very hectic society today. In our always-on, twenty-four seven, never let up culture, it can be easy to get sucked into the frenzy. As leaders in the mortgage industry, we always want to be first. We want to be the fastest to adopt the new technology, the fastest to enter into an emerging market, the fastest to hire the most talented employees, and so on. Whatever it is, we move quickly because we want to get there first.
Don’t get me wrong. There is certainly something to be said for speed. Being more responsive and proactive than competitors has obvious benefits, and we should always be aware of the opportunities available to us by reacting as quickly as possible. That being said, we need to also be aware of the risks. It is possible sometimes to move too quickly. What if we make a decision too quickly and then new information comes to light that, in retrospect, renders it a bad decision? Or, what if we commit to quickly to something and end up missing a better opportunity that comes along later?
As leaders in the mortgage industry, there is a place for strategic patience. Waiting isn’t necessarily a sign of laziness or complacency; waiting can also be a strategy. Taking thoughtful, measured steps can be better in the long run than taking quick, erratic leaps. We want to move as quickly as possible, but we also want our decisions to make sense. At the end of the day, great leaders don’t just move with speed; they also move with purpose.
Have you ever heard someone use the slogan, “No Plan B?” Usually, when people are trying to convince themselves and others that they are full committed to a certain path, they’ll take up this mantra to prove it. Of course, there is something to be said for persistence, confidence, and resilience in you work. You don’t want to do anything halfheartedly. On the other hand, in business, having “no plan B” could be perceived as a sign of commitment, but it might also be perceived as a sign of carelessness.
The mortgage industry has had plenty of ups and downs over the last decade and, with the incoming Presidency, it is uncertain how the industry will evolve. Some say that President Trump will introduce a more volatile market, while others suggest that he will be more pro-business. Whatever the case may be, one thing is sure: putting all of our eggs into one basket will not be an effective strategy. More than ever, we need contingency plans so that we’ll be able to adapt if our initial plans don’t work out.
Consider your particular place in the industry. Think about the business your currently engaged in and your plans for the near future. The smallest regulatory change can come out of nowhere and completely upset the foundation of how we do business in the industry. Are you ready for the next time that inevitably happens? Do you have Plan B? If you don’t, it’s probably time to get busy drawing one up. Remember: fortunate favors the prepared, not the ones who think they’re too unstoppable to need preparation.
In the mortgage industry, it used to be that customers collaborated more closely with loan officers from the very beginning of the process. Once the conversation started, LOs could feel confident that prospective borrowers wouldn’t likely leave for another lender. Now, with the open access to information available to consumers on the Internet, people looking for mortgages are shopping multiple lenders before making their purchasing decisions.
It can be helpful for us to ask a simple question. If we’re losing potential customers to the competition, we might begin asking, “What went wrong?” Why do consumers choose one lender over another? When you ask people directly, they will offer a myriad of reasons: the other lender had a better rate, the other lender was closer, and so on. But answers such as these don’t really get to the heart of why we’re losing business. Might there be a deeper reason why customers are dropping out of the pipeline?
Here’s a phrase I’ve always loved: people may never remember what you so or what you do, but they will always remember how you make them feel. I think that, more often than not, the reason organizations lose business is because they fail to establish that emotional connection with their customers. It’s easy to leave when there are no hurt feelings, but it’s a lot harder when there are real relationships involved. A competitor could offer the best rate in the market, but if you have a close enough bond with your customers, they’ll pick you every time. At the heart of it, losing business is not about rates or geography; it’s all about how you make people feel.
As in every industry, leaders in the mortgage industry eventually run into some kind of setback. It could be lost revenue; it could be problems with compliance; it could be regional economic challenges. Whatever it is, it’s only naturally when these things occur to start looking for the cause. Who’s to blame for what has happened?
The first thing we often do is look to our employees. Which employees were responsible for the problems? If we replace or reprimand those employees, the problems should sort themselves out, right? Well, not necessarily. We typically think of monitoring employee performance as a means of understanding how well our employees are doing. What if, instead, we thought of it as a metric for ourselves? How well are we doing as leaders of those employees?
Leadership means owning the failure. When things go wrong, we don’t just seek out an employee to blame. We ask what we should have done differently as leaders. Perhaps we didn’t provide enough training; maybe we didn’t give our employees the right incentives; it’s possible that we didn’t put the right people in the right positions. Whatever it is, we as leaders necessarily play a role in every failure.
Next time we run into another setback, let’s think about the incident as a learning moment—not just for our employees who were involved but also for ourselves. How can we set up our employees for success the next time around? This is the kind of question the best leaders will be asking.
I spend a great deal of time and effort writing, speaking, consulting, and coaching one single topic. It’s something everyone in the mortgage industry (and everywhere else, for that matter) wants for their businesses and their lives. It’s the goal for which we’re all striving—the reason why all of us get up in the morning. Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about “success.”
It comes natural to us, I think, to frame everything in terms of how it will or will not help us achieve success in our lives and in our work. However, I think the way we talk about success sometimes detracts from what it really means to be successful. All too often, we see success as the summit of some great mountain we are climbing. Once we’re there, we’re done.
We have an obsession in our society with arriving.
We finish the college degree, and we’ve arrived. We don’t have to learn anymore.
We get the job, and we’ve arrived. We don’t have to focus on professional development anymore.
We get married, and we’ve arrived. We no longer have to impress our spouses.
Great leaders never stop improving. They know that success is not a destination; it’s a way. Success is a way of moving in the world. We can always become more successful, but we can never really “achieve success.” Success is not the summit of the mountain—success is rising to the next ridge.
So, what about you? How do you think about success in your organization? Are you pushing your people to “achieve success,” or are you pushing them to “become more successful.” This small distinction can make a world of difference in what you accomplish as you move forward…
As a coach and consultant to leaders in the mortgage industry, I get to have conversations with people in a lot of different organizations. One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is that the organizations that have demonstrated the greatest growth are often those who place the greatest amount of emphasis on sales. These organizations spare no expense to give their originators the resources they need to go out and bring in new business. Revenue is the fuel that keeps a company going, and the best companies develop originators that are good at filling up the tank.
That being said, I have noticed a trend in some organizations that works against revenue generation. While originators may be great at going out and generating new business, they often miss opportunities by neglecting past customers. In recent years, technology in the mortgage industry has enabled most companies to keep thorough databases of their past customers. And yet, many loan originators still fail to mine these databases for leads on new business.
There are essentially two ways of getting business: waiting for customers to come to you or going out and finding them. Most originators wait for inquiries from home buyers, but the best originators will maintain relationships with previous home buyers and leverage that relationship into more lead generation.
So, what about you and your organization? Do your originators look at past customers as sources for referrals? Your past customers can turn out to be your best prospects, because you’ve already laid the groundwork of building the relationship. And once you have that trust, everything else will fall into place.
Take a moment and think of the top athletes of all-time in a few different sports. If you’re a sports fan, this may come easy to you. But, even if you’re not, you should recognize some names. In basketball, you may mention Michael Jordan or Lebron James. In baseball, you may mention Babe Ruth. You might mention Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, and Muhammed Ali in swimming, golf, and boxing. But, for the most part, it doesn’t matter which athlete you mention; they will have on thing in common—all of them have excelled at only one sport.
Muhammed Ali, so far as we know, never won a medal in swimming. Tiger Woods never scored a goal in hockey. Michael Jordan gave baseball a shot, but it didn’t work out too well. No, for the greatest athletes, they become great by focusing on one thing and ignoring the rest.
A long time family friend spent his entire career as a quarterback in the NFL. I once asked him how he got so good at football that he was able to achieve the level of excellence that most boys can only dream. What he told me has stuck with me to this day. When he was in high school, he told me that he had wanted to play baseball. He was a decent baseball player, but he was an even better quarterback during football season. At one point, his football coach gave him some advice: stop trying to play both sports and focus on the one he was best at. The rest is history. Would he have made it to the NFL if he had stuck with baseball, too? Probably not.
As leaders in the mortgage industry, we can’t afford to spread ourselves too thinly. We can’t be good at everything, but we can be great at something. Let’s find that one thing and focus on it exclusively. Specialization is the road to excellence.
In the mortgage industry, we as leaders face a difficult dilemma. We want our employees to feel the freedom to be creative. We want to enable them to take risks and have failures in order grow. However, due to the regulatory nature of our industry, there are some risk that cannot be taken; the breaking of some rules can be catastrophic.
Due to the fear of falling out of compliance, we are often tempted to make it all about the rules. We develop systems that include safeguards for staying within compliance, and we expect our people to work within those systems. Thinking outside of the box isn’t often considered an asset in the mortgage industry but, rather, a liability. In our line of work, it can be very easy to buy into the idea that a good employee is an employee who follows the rules.
There are a few problems with this model. First, playing it safe and limiting ourselves to the same systems cannot lead to growth. If you can’t think outside the box, then the box will never get any bigger than it is. Growth comes from expanding the possibilities and developing the systems beyond their current capabilities. Only if employees feel they have the autonomy to take some healthy risks will they express any interest in growth.
More importantly, though, autonomy attracts the right kind of people to our organizations. If we attract only people who are interested in following the rules, we are attracting people with no ambition or passion for their work. The people who are passionate about what they do are also the people who take risks and push possibilities. These are the kind of people we want on our team. Do we need to be careful? Of course we do. But we can never let fear prevent us from moving in a positive direction. How do you juggle to tension between staying compliant and enabling your people to take healthy risks?
One of my favorite stories is the classic research study that was conducted in schools in order to determine the effect that teachers have on their students. At the beginning of the year, teachers were told which of their students were the brightest and which were not. At the end of the year, they measured the students’ scores and found that the “brightest” students had gotten even better after their teachers had been informed of their intelligence.
The catch in the story is that the “bright” students weren’t actually any more intelligent, on average, than the other students. The students had actually been assigned intelligence levels at random, and the only difference between them was what their teachers had been led to believe. So, how did the students improve if they weren’t actually any more intelligent than the ones who did not? Because their teachers expected them to.
There is a powerful lesson in leadership to be found in this story: our people will grow to the extent that we expect them to grow. If we don’t think very highly of our people, they will shrink into complacently and only do the bare minimum. On the other hand, if we have great expectations of our people and go out of our way to communicate those expectations to them, they will inevitably become invaluable assets to the team.
As is the case with many things, it all starts with leadership. How high are your expectations for your people? Do you communicate those expectations on a regular basis?
Nobody likes being criticized. Nobody likes being told they’re wrong. Nobody likes being told that there are things about them that they need to change. As leaders in our organizations, it can be really easy to escape that discomfort. Most of the people who come into contact with us each day are probably more interested in flattering us than they are in critiquing us. So, why wouldn’t we take advantage of our position and avoid the discomfort of feedback?
Well, if we’ve risen to positions of leadership in our organizations, we probably already know the answer to this question: without feedback, we can’t improve. We can’t grow. We can’t become better leaders. The fact that so many people are trying to avoid criticism of us isn’t a benefit; it’s actually a disadvantage. If we don’t have people who are willing to tell us where we’re going wrong, then how are we supposed to turn things around and continue heading in the right direction?
Here’s my advice: always be soliciting feedback from your people. At the end of every conversation, ask your people if they agree with you and why they feel the way they do. Conduct anonymous surveys periodically on the policies you are implementing. Have an open door policy and let your people come to you when they have suggestions. Feedback may feel uncomfortable in the short term, but it strengthens us in the long term. Being a great leader often means we’ve made a lot of mistakes…and then fixed them. Find people who are willing to point out your mistakes to you–that’s how you become a stronger leader.