Lykken on Leadership

At the end of the day, all we want to know is how to succeed. We want to know how to meet our sales goals, how to exceed our investors' expectations, and how to gain more market share over the competition. Since this is inevitably the end game in business, we tend to seek solutions toward that end. We want to know secrets, tips and tricks that can directly contribute to success. The problem, though, is that I don't think success is that linear. Success, for a business, is much like happiness for the individual—you cannot get at it directly; rather, it comes as the inevitable result of doing other things.

In my consulting business, I place an enormous amount of focus on helping organizations define and develop their core values. In the tradition of Simon Sinek's Start With Why, I work with organizations to uncover their ultimate purpose—the reason that they exist in the marketplace. Why do I do this? What does it have to do with the success that all organizations ultimately seek? Well, it is my belief that the strength of the purpose driving an organization is that very thing that must be properly refined before success can even be possible.

Trying to achieve success without understanding your purpose is putting the cart before the horse. It's like wanting to build the ornate roof of a skyscraper for everyone to see before you've even bothered to build the foundation. The fundamentals make everything that comes after possible. In the mortgage industry, people approach me all the time with questions about how to succeed? In my mind, these folks are asking the second question first. The primary question that should be asked is, "What is my purpose?" Once you've clearly understood and articulated the answer to that question, everything else should fall into place. Here are six questions to get you started in that journey of discovery that inevitably leads to success.

1. Why do you exist?

This first question is perhaps the most obvious and fundamental. Why are you in business in the first place? What is your reason for competing in the mortgage industry? This question may sound ubiquitous, but you would be surprised how many people go through their entire careers without giving it any thought. Maybe your company was started as a sort of accident. Perhaps your founders had some link to the industry and thought it would be a good way to make money. But how you came to exist is not the same thing as why you exist now. You always have the chance to redefine yourself. So, think about what your purpose is now and what you want it to be. This is the starting point, because everything else—every other decision you make in your organization—will go back to how you answer this question.

2. What are your values?

A second important question to ask yourself is, “What do you believe?” This sort of question can lead to developing your own internal "code of ethics." This, of course, is above and beyond what is necessary for compliance. Great leaders are accountable not only to regulators, but also to their own high moral standards. Knowing what your values are takes much of the risk out of doing business. As long as you are sticking to the guidelines you've laid out for yourself, you'll know that you aren't cutting any corners. If, on the other hand, you don't have any clearly defined values, then you never know where you might end up.

3. How do you work?

After you've gotten the basics of why you exist down, the next step is to move on to how you work. When you ask this question, you are asking about your process. How do you go about carrying out your mission? What systems do you have in place that guide the day-to-day operations of your business? All too often, organizations work in a haphazard manner. There is no rhyme or reason to the process—it sort of just arises spontaneously. If you want to increase your chances for success, you've got to be more deliberate about how you get there. Take a look at your processes and see what could use some tweaking.

4. What do you offer?

The next question you might ask is often the question people start with, “What is your product?” What do you sell? What is it that your customers want that you can provide? Before you know what you sell, you should definitely know who you are. Why you are in business and how you operate should come first but, let's face, without a product you don't really have a business. At the end of the day, you need to have something to sell. What are the products that you can offer within the context of the mortgage industry? On one level, everyone will have relatively the same product, but you can be creative in what you offer in such a way that makes it unique? Oftentimes, the package is the product? How are you packaging what you sell?

5. Who is on your team?

A fifth question for you to ask if you want to know that fundamentals on which you will build success is this: “Who do you have working with you?” Business is a team sport. You might have coaches. You might even have star players, but success only happens when everyone crosses the finish line. How invested are you in developing your team? Too many organizations give little attention to this question. Of course, everyone says that they want the best people, but few are willing to really devote the resources required to hire and retain them. In the mortgage industry, one great employer is worth at least five mediocre ones. The industry can be complex on both an intellectual and social level, and you need to employees that can balance both. That means hiring the best for the job and then training them to be even better. So, what about you? Have you paid enough attention to the quality of your team?

6. What makes you different?

Even after you've ironed out your purpose, process, product and people, you are still left with a quandary when trying to compete with other organizations in the mortgage industry. When seeking to clarify a worthwhile purpose that serves as the foundation for success, you must ultimately ask the question, “What make us so special?” What are you doing that no one else is doing? What do you bring to the table? Of course, you believe you are unique, but is that fact obvious to those on the outside? Do investors see you any differently than any other organization in the industry? What about customers? It's not enough to be different; you also need to look different. This last question you must ask is how you differentiate yourself—how you refine your image to reflect a competitive advantage against others in the industry.

There are, of course, many more questions you could ask to help you understand your core purpose. Moreover, having solid answers for these questions won't necessarily give you success. It will, however, make success possible. When you can understand fully who you are, how you work, and what you do, you will have the necessary building blocks to work toward success. It may end with meeting sales goals, exceeding investors' expectations, or achieving the highest market share in your niche, but always remember … it all starts with why.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

Great leadership is often the deciding factor in whether an organization achieves extraordinary success or miserable failure. But all too often when we think of leadership, we hold too narrow a definition of what we mean. We may know the CEOs of several organizations. We may know the head coaches of our favorite sports teams. We may know the presidents, prime ministers and other world leaders in many countries. But, do we know the CFO or COO of those same organizations? Do we know the organization's vice president of sales? And what about sports teams—do we know the assistant coaches, offensive coaches and defensive coaches? We know the world leaders, but do we know their support staff—the ministers of the various departments that organize their respective countries?

While the single leader at the top of large businesses, sports franchises, and countries may have name recognition, most of them will tell you how largely they depend on the people working with them to manage their respective enterprises. Great leadership does indeed make the difference, but that doesn't just mean the leader at the top—it means the entire leadership team. If your organization is going to flourish, you need solid leadership positioned in every department. In this article, I would like to discuss some tips for building an unstoppable leadership team.

Keep it small
When you get too many people with strong opinions trying to move in the same direction, it can get messy. Your core leadership team should be small enough to allow everyone a voice and yet still permit you to be nimble in your decision-making. If you're in an hour-long meeting and everyone doesn't get a chance to talk, you've probably got too many people on your leadership team.

Give them autonomy
Leaders cannot truly lead unless they are allowed to make their own decisions for their teams. If you are at the top of your organization and you are trying to build a strong leadership team, you should give each leader the flexibility to run his or her own department. If they are worthy of the position they're in, they'll know their teams far better than you do. Empower them to make decisions for their own teams, and you'll get much better results.

Maintain shared values and goals
You don't want to micromanage your leadership team—you want to empower them to execute in the way that they think best for their departments. That's where autonomy comes in. That being said, there is a face of leadership in which you do want to control the behavior of your leadership team--and that is in how well they adhere to your mission. How they go about fulfilling the mission is one thing but, if you don't have every member of your team united under the same vision, your team will be pulled in each and every direction. You've got to make sure each member of your leadership team is striving for the same thing. You've got to have shared values you are striving to keep and goals you are striving to reach.

Foster an environment of trust
It really doesn't matter how competent your leaders are as individuals; if they don't trust each other, they will not be able to function as a team. Now, there are a few components to this. First, there's accountability. You have to make sure each member of your team has the competence and willingness to live up to his or her expectations. If any single member of your leadership team cannot be relied upon to get the job done, the entire team will suffer. So, your leadership team first and foremost must be dependable. The second component of trust is vulnerability. Basically, this means that the members of your leadership must be comfortable with one another. When leaders on a team put up walls, important information does not get communicated, factions form, and misunderstandings abound. You have to have a team that is open and honest in communication. The leaders on your team must be willing to get "naked," to strip away all of their defenses and reveal themselves for who they really are. Unless this happens, you cannot really have authentic trust.

Meet often
In some business circles, meetings are considered to be the great enemies of productivity. They are considered bureaucratic formalities that waste time that could be better spent getting things done. When you're talking about work, the thinking goes, you aren't actually working. This may be true in certain contexts but, when it comes to your leadership team, meeting as often as possible is absolutely essential. In a way, this all goes back to trust. It's fairly common knowledge that the more time you spend with people, the more you come to trust them. If the members of your leadership team only spend time in their own departments and never meet with other leaders, how can they really begin to trust one another? Another important reasons that leaders should continually meet together, though, is inter-departmental communication. Misunderstandings are all too easy in the workplace. If your leadership team seldom gets together to discuss what's going on in the business, how are the supposed to know what's going on in each department? Meeting together on a regular basis gives the team members the opportunity to understand the business from one another's perspective.

Share resources and insights
It's important that the members of your leadership team view themselves more collaboratively than they do competitively. When they see one another as threats, they will conceal information from each other. Then, because each department is doing its own work in isolation, you end up duplicating a lot of expenses and procedures. When the members of your team see themselves as an actual team, though, they will share resources and insights with one another. When this happens, you will find redundancies in your organization that you can eliminate and your organization will be made better off all around. The members of your team must be of the mindset that if it's better for the organization, then it's better for them as well.

Value commitment
One final thing to call attention to is the importance of placing committed individuals on your leadership team. You want to have people in place who have demonstrated a long-term dedication to your organization and its values. Otherwise, you will constantly find yourself having to retrain people and backfill the implementation of strategic objectives. When you can, promote from within. People who have worked in your organization for years not only know your organization well, but they have also demonstrated loyalty and you can trust that they will likely stick around. If you must hire for your leadership team from outside your organization, try to seek out candidates who have been with their previous employers for a reasonable length of time. Leadership is all about the long game; you need people on your team who can stick it out.

There are many other important factors in building a strong leadership team, but this should be a good start. The important thing is to remember that there really is no such thing as the "self-made man" (or woman). Every leader relies on others to support their success. As a leader, you are only as good as those with whom you surround yourself. Build a great leadership team, and you will truly be unstoppable.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

Perhaps the greatest leadership lessons of all can be learned from children. If you've ever been around a young child for a long period of time, you've probably been both energized and annoyed by their level of curiosity. When we're adults, we sometimes tend to be satisfied with the simple answers to questions. We seldom feel the need to dig deeper; rather, we shrug our shoulders, say "it is what it is," and move on to the subject. Kids don't seem to have this in them. Instead, they never seem to be satisfied. When they've latched onto something they're trying to figure out, they never stop asking why—no matter how many answers you give.

There's something in this continual asking of "why?" that gets at the heart of what it means to be a leader. Until you really know who you are and why you do what you do, you can't really expect others to follow you. Without a great deal of introspection on your part, you become the very definition of "the blind leading the blind." How can people know why they're following you if you don't even know why you're going where you're going? Asking yourself "why" is elemental. Until you do this, nothing else will make sense.

One of my favorite books on leadership, and one that I'm continuing to integrate into my consulting and coaching, is Simon Sinek's Start With Why. In this book, Sinek explains the concept of the "Golden Circle." The outer ring—what most people see—is "what" you do. It's your product—what you have to show for in your work. Just inside that is "how" you do what you do—the process or methodology by which you accomplish your "what." But the most important part, the center of the circle, is your "why." Your "why" is what motivated you to do what you do. If you haven't spent a great deal of time figuring out what this is, your "how" and your "what" will quickly become hollow as a result. In this article, I would like to discuss a few important "why" questions you might start asking as a leader in the mortgage industry.

1. Why are you in the mortgage business?
When you ask this question, understand that it is a different question than "How did I get into the mortgage business?" We get into the mortgage industry by all sorts of avenues. To some of us, it's the family business. Perhaps our parents were involved in the industry, so we followed in their footsteps. Maybe some of us just happened to land a job in the industry and then decided to make a career of it. But forget how you got here and instead ask this question: Why am I still here? In other words, what drives you to remain in the mortgage industry when there are other industries in which you could be working? What is it about the mortgage industry that drives you? How does it get you excited? If every leader in the mortgage industry started asking this question, I guarantee you we would all be much better off.

2. Why are you in a leadership role?
Just because you are in the mortgage business, that doesn't mean you have to be a leader. You could just put your head down and do your job but, if you're taking the time to read this, I'm betting that you are a leader in some capacity within your organization. Why did you choose to become a leader? Of course, your answer to this question must go beyond perks such as earning more money or getting more vacation time. What gets you passionate about serving in the role of a leader? Why do you like to lead? Is it the thrill of knowing people are counting on you? Is it the feeling you get from inspiring others in their work? Is it knowing that what you are doing really makes a difference? Maybe it's a combination of all these things, but you'll never know unless you ask.

3. Why do you work for the company you work for?
Like the first question, don't confuse this question with, "How did I get this job?" As you grow in your capacity as a leader, your buying power as an employee will grow with it. If you're not at the point where you can start "playing the field" for better opportunities, you will be eventually. When you're at that point, you've got to ask yourself the question, "why am I staying with this company?" What is it about the philosophy or mission of your company that gets under your skin and makes you proud to be an employee? Or, maybe you're an entrepreneur—maybe you're in the company because it's your company. If that's the case, the question only becomes more important. Why are you building the company the way you are? What about it makes you proud that your name is on it? Whether you own your company or you are an employee of your company, you've got to ask this question. Why is your job more than a job?

4. Why do you work with the people you work with?
As a leader in the mortgage industry, you likely have some say over who is on your team. Why do you choose to build your team the way you do? This question is really a deep question, because it means you're not only focusing on your own why; you're also focusing on the "why" of others. Have you asked your people why they do what they do and why they want to work for you? What drives the members of your team to show up for work day in and day out to get the job done? If you don't have much control over who you work with, then you can still ask yourself why you stay on the team when you could go work somewhere else. What is it about your colleagues and/or employees that make you want to keep working for your company?

5. Why do you serve the customers you serve?
If you've had any training in marketing, you'll know the golden rule: you can't please everyone. Your target customer is not likely "everyone." If you cast your net that broadly, you want catch much. So, why do you aim to serve the customers you do? What is it about the people you are trying to reach that makes you want to serve them, and not some other segment of the market? If you can ask this question on an ongoing basis, it will almost certainly help you grow your business.

6. Why do you partner with the vendors you partner with?
In addition to asking why you serve your customers, you'll want to ask why you are choosing to be a customer of the vendors you've hired. If you are a leader in any capacity, you have likely played a role in making purchasing decisions for technology companies, training companies, consulting companies, and so on. Why did you choose the vendors you chose? What is it about their "why" that aligns with your "why?" Great partners can make an enormous difference. Do you know why you've hired the partners you've hired?

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

On a recent episode of my Lykken on Lending podcast, we had the privilege of interviewing Dale Vermillion on leadership in the mortgage industry. During our conversation, we discussed something that is central to Dale's philosophy and gets at the heart of something that all great leaders in the industry value. One of Dale's great passions is his work with Mortgage Professionals Providing Hope (MPPH), a non-profit organization that facilities service projects connecting professionals in the mortgage industry with people in need of help.

The MPPH is a great example of the kind of thing that the best leaders in our industry seek out. Why? Because the greatest leaders among us recognize how blessed they are in the opportunities they have and respond by developing the desire to give back. Giving back to society is certainly good for business, providing humanitarian aid helps bolster our public image and that of our company. However, whether people can see the good work that we do or not, we'll do it if we're great leaders because it reveals the kind of integrity we must necessarily possess to be the great leaders we are.

Maybe you're getting to be successful in the industry, and you're looking for ways that you can give back. Surely, the MPPH is a great place to start. But giving money or volunteering for social services isn't the only way to give back. You can give back by the way you treat your employees, customers and everyone else you come into contact ways. In this article, I want to briefly highlight just a few ideas for you to take back to the office and implement as you seek to become a more generous leader. There are of course countless more things you can do, but these will get you started …

1. Sponsor a cause
The first and perhaps simplest thing you can do is write a check. A lot of companies do this and if yours isn't one of them, you are missing out on a serious opportunity. Importantly, the organization to whom you choose to give must say something about your organizational values. A good question you might ask before where you choose to give your money is, "What do your stakeholders value?" What causes do your customers, partners, employees and investors care about? Give to those causes, and you'll show that you are indeed a generous leader.

2. Do something for your community
Writing a check is easy. Sure, it costs money and it affects the bottom line. But it takes little investment of your time and energy—which are the most valuable resources you have as a leader. If you really want to show you care and that you're grateful for the society that has provided the opportunities for you to succeed, you'll be willing to get your hands dirty. Certainly, you can get involved with projects facilitated by the Mortgage Professionals Providing Hope, but there are also opportunities in your own community for you to give back. You can organize a team to go around the neighborhood picking up dresses, get a small group to go visit sick kids in a hospital, or work a few hours in a soup kitchen providing food for the homeless in your area. There are countless opportunities for you to give back right in your own backyard. Take advantage of them.

3. Teach a class for free
Not all the work you do to give back to your community has to be physical. Not only can you serve others with your hands … you can also serve them with your mind. As a leader in the mortgage industry, you have certain knowledge that can be helpful for people in your community. Have you ever considered partnering with your local library or community college to offer a class on financial literacy? When people are not educated on proper financial management, entire communities and the general economy can suffer dramatically as a result. As a leader in the mortgage industry, you have the unique opportunity to plug up that leak before it bursts. Do people in your community understand personal finances? If not, you can be the one to teach them.

4. Take your employees to lunch
Giving back to your community is important. If you possess the humility and gratitude that make a great leader, you understand that you were blessed to be part of a culture that ultimately lead you to success. You didn't do it alone. But it isn't just your community or general society that helped you succeed—it's the people sitting right outside your office door. Giving back to your employees is an absolutely essential step to becoming a generous leader. Many employees, as they're trying to scramble their way up the ladder of success, are quietly craving the appreciate and recognition of their superiors. And yet, too many managers in business ignore their employees—barricading themselves in their offices and focusing on higher-level strategic goals to the neglect of the very people who are helping them accomplish those goals. One simple way to show your employees that you notice them and that you care about their work is to take them to lunch. You have to eat, don't you? Monday through Friday, there's an opportunity for you to take the time to get to know five of your employees and to give back to them for their efforts by showing them that they matter.

5. Say thank you
Along with the last point, one simple way that you can become more generous in your leadership style is to constantly thank your employees for their work. But it doesn't have to end with your employees. Great leaders continually thank everyone for everything. Take the time to thank your employees for their efforts, but also thank your other stakeholders. Thank your investors for taking a chance on your company. Thank your customers for choosing you over your competitors. Thank your vendors for agreeing to partner with you and providing you with the great products and services that help you do your great work. Merely saying the words "thank you" is a magical thing. You may be grateful, but people don't know until you actually say the words. So, say thanks. Always.

6. Give unexpected rewards
One interesting way to show you're grateful for your employees, customers, and others is to give them prizes. I'm not talking about incentives. I'm talking about giving them rewards that they didn't know they were getting. There's a difference. Incentives have their place, but they are ultimately earned. You aren't giving anything away. If you really want to show you're grateful for people, giving them something without them even expecting it. Send your top employee for the quarter on a two week vacation to Hawaii—just to show you're grateful for the work they do.

7. Never take the credit
As a leader in your organization, this is important. People are naturally going to credit the leaders of organizations for any success the company achieves. Don't give into the temptation to accept that credit. If you really want to become a more generous leader, never take the bait of believing that you are responsible for your own success. Always think of someone else to give the credit for your success. Whenever someone is praising your greatness, give them someone else to praise. In the end, generosity is all about humility. And if you exhibit that characteristic, you will undoubtedly be the kind of leader that everyone wants to follow.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

There are many characteristics that are vital to becoming a great leader, and I've written about them before in great detail. Character, compassion, communication, and many other qualities can propel you to the top and help you lead your organization forward into a successful future. But even if you have all of the necessary traits of a great leader, you can fail miserably if you don't have something else. No matter how well you have mastered your role as a “leader” in your organization, you cannot succeed unless you have a solid support group around you to help. You cannot be a great leader without a great leadership team.

So, while our tendency is to focus on self-improvement—developing our own qualities so that we can become better leaders—it is also important to turn our focus outward. In addition to striving to become better leaders, we must consider how we might surround ourselves with better leaders. No President has even been successful without a great Cabinet. No head coach can manage without assistant coaches. No general has ever been victorious without competent lieutenants and majors. In the same way, we as leaders of our organizations in the mortgage industry need to surround ourselves with great leadership teams in order for us to be successful. So, how do we do that? I suggest six ways ...

1. We need to gather the right people
I began this article discussing the personal characteristics you try to develop in yourself as a leader. In general, you want to be a person of integrity. You want to be strong and dependable, so that you don't let down the people who are looking up to you and trusting in you to move your organization forward. The relevant question here is: are you looking for those same qualities in the people you select for your leadership team? If you are going to be successful, you want to bring people in who have the same drive toward integrity and dependability that you do. You want people on your team who are just as interested in self-improvement and professional development. Take a look at your leadership team right now. Do you have the right people? Do you have, for example, people who are selfish or people who are always complaining about everything? Or, do you have people who are conscientious and who are constantly trying to improve themselves as well as the organization? The first step toward building a great leadership team is making sure you have the right people on it.

2. Putting people into the right positions
After you've determined you've got the right people, the next step is putting them into the right positions. What's important here is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the people your leadership team. All of them should have the desire to be better leaders, but not all of them will have the capabilities to lead equally well in every area. You've got to be able to "put your aces in their places," and determine who is best suited for which responsibilities. The leaders on your team with great people skills shouldn't be shut up in an office and, vice versa, the leaders who excel in quantitative thinking shouldn't be out mixing and mingling with the public. More than likely, you have a diverse range of people on your team. Learn where they fit best, and you'll have everything you need.

3. Assign priorities
After you have the right people and you've put them into the right positions, you've got to give them the right priorities. This step is all about getting your leadership team on board with fulfilling the mission of your organization. As the leader, you've got to be the one who sets the strategic vision for your team. One of the biggest problems that could occur on a leadership team involves its members losing sight of the big picture. As each member of your team gets wrapped up their individual roles, they may lose sight of the broader objectives they're working toward. You've got to be the one to keep these priorities fresh in their minds, so they can always be aware of the fact that they're working toward a common goal.

4. Following the right processes
The fourth step in developing a strong leadership team is to make sure your team members are following the right processes. Every organization has a system that enables it to operate smoothly, minimizing bottlenecks and permitting each department to be as effective and efficient as possible. Since leaders tend to have strong personalities, the temptation will always be there for the members of your leadership team to become too cavalier. They may begin to feel at times that they're in charge, so they can make their own rules and do what they want. If this happens too often, the result can quickly become utter chaos in your organization. You've got to make sure the people on your leadership team are commit to the system in your organization. They've got to be willing to follow the processes that lead to organizational success.

5. Growth through participation
The fifth step in building a solid leadership team is bringing the people on your team together in participation. It doesn't matter how competent your team members are individually. If they never get together to spent time with one another, it isn't exactly accurate to call them a team. In his book Death by Meeting, one of my favorite leadership experts Patrick Lencioni suggests committing to a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly meeting to make sure your team members are working out their differences to be on the same page. Whether or not such frequency is feasible for you, I do think it's important to commit to some consistent meeting times to bring your team together. Thinking of meetings as practice before the big game. Teams that don't practice together aren't likely to play well together when it's game time.

6. Commit to progress
The final step in building the best leadership team possible is to get the members of your team to commit to progress. This last step involves the ongoing training and development of your team. It's not enough to build a team of people who are great at what they do—you've got to build a team of people who are devoted to getting even better at what they do. Of course, this final step never ends. Training must continue on, and the members of your team must be lifelong learners. When I talk about commitment to progress, I'm talking about each member of your team being committed to professional development in their areas of expertise. But, if each team member is devoted to individual progress, the inevitable result will be progress for the entire team. Are you committed to providing your leadership team with the resources they need for continual improvement? If you want to best team you can get, you've got to be willing to push them to get better.

So, to sum up, building a solid leadership team is all about putting the right people into the right positions and giving them the right priorities to—by following the right processes, agreeing to the right amount of participation, and committing to the right amount of progress—achieve success for your organization. Does this sound like the way you are building your team? If not, what needs to change?

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken On Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.


Civilization has come a long way over the last century, especially over the last several decades

Civilization has come a long way over the last century, especially over the last several decades. Our technological advancements have made it possible to accomplish things that generations before could not have even dreamed. We've turned space travel into a routine activity. We've made it possible to have real-time, face-to-face conversations with people on the opposite side of the planet. We've cured diseases that once wiped out entire populations. We've been able to do all sorts of great things, but there is one thing that has remained exactly the same. And, no matter how sophisticated or powerful we become, we'll never be able to change it. Despite our technological prowess, we still have precisely the same amount of hours in a day as we've had throughout all human history. Try as we may, we cannot manufacture more time.

In the mortgage industry, as in much of the business world, time constraints are felt especially strongly. We've come up with all sorts of ways to make businesses more efficient. Technology continues to be a central focus of contemporary organizations seeking to gain a competitive edge. And, the best organizations have adapted the latest technology to improve their operations and squeeze as much out of their days as they can. Nevertheless, we still face that same good old-fashioned constraint of time. The sun rises and the sun sets, regardless of the technologies we employ. So, the question is this: How can we, as leaders in the mortgage industry, best take advantage of the time that we do have? Here are seven tips for leaders in the mortgage industry to manage time more effectively …

1. Keep track of how you spend your time
When we start to measure something, we are often surprised by the results. For example, when people go on diets and start counting calories, they realize that they've been eating much more than they had thought before they started keeping track of it. Something amazing happens when we start measuring how we spend your time—we realize just how wasteful we've been! When we're busy in the hustle and bustle of everyday activities, the high stress and flurry of motion can make us feel that we're accomplishing more than we actually are. When we actually start keeping track of how our time is spent, we start to understand that being busy isn't the same thing as being productive.

When you have a firm handle on how your time is being spent, you'll be able to make positive changes that align your time allocation more closely with your priorities. All too often, we allow things that aren't as important to us to take up too much of our time. Measuring how we spend our time can help us focus more of our time and attention on what really matters.

2. Get up early in the morning
It's probably true that some people are "morning people," and some people just are not. I've met some people who sleep in as late as possible and simply have more energy late at night. Nevertheless, I think there is some truth to the saying, "The early bird gets the worm." When you get up early in the morning and start preparing your work day before everyone else is even out of bed, you'll be much less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen events. Extra time in the morning allows you to collect your thoughts, plan your day, and think strategically about where your organization is headed. Besides, in the modern world, breaking news happens overnight. If you can at least get the headlines before getting into the office, you may be able to make some important spur-of-the-moment decisions with the information you receive from having gotten up early enough to review it.

3. Take advantage of idle time
When you first start keeping track of how you spend your time, what will probably surprise you most is how much time you spend accomplishing nothing. Of course, there are many things throughout the course of your daily life that you must do in order to meet some sort of end, but these everyday activities can sure feel like a waste of time. These include your daily commute, mowing your lawn, walking your dog, waiting in lines, riding on the plane, and so on. You can probably name a specific activity in your life that falls into this category. What if, instead of writing this time off as lost time, you did something more with it? You could, for example, use this idle time to catch up on some of the latest news, do some strategic planning, or make some key phone calls. In short, there is probably a significant portion of your time that you can use to accomplish multiple things at once. Use all of it that you can.

4. Pay attention to diet and exercise
This may seem like something that doesn't below in a leadership article, let alone leadership in the mortgage industry. And I'm not a nutritionist or a fitness expert, but it does seem pretty clear from decades of research that diet and exercise does influence productivity. You know the old adage, "You are what you eat." Eating well and staying active can prevent us from becoming sluggish and enable us to have more energy in our work. Making the most of time isn't just about having more time, it's also about having more energy to use that time effectively. Diet and exercise, I think, can certainly help.

5. Pay attention to your sleep schedule
Another thing related to your physical well-being that can impact your performance in the workplace is your sleep schedule. I don't know what the right amount of sleep is, and it probably depends on the person. Most experts say you need more sleep, but you also hear about highly successful people thriving on just a few hours each night. One thing that I think is important, though, is consistency. Go to sleep at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Doing so will get your body used to a certain pattern and prevent you from becoming too tired or, worse, getting sick. When you're trying to squeeze out every hour in a day, you really don't want to lose a week due to illness.

6. Be more cautious with your commitments
It's hard for a person in a leadership position to say, "No." But, when you start to measure how you allocate your time, you'll realize that you're probably committing to things you shouldn't be. Obviously, you want to be as giving as possible with your time. The best leaders go out of their way to serve others and aid them in their success. That being said, we've got to realize that time is a zero sum game. Time spent in one area is time deprived from another. Commit to the things that matter the most, and don't be afraid to say, "No," when something more important deserves your attention.

7. Schedule leisure time for yourself
One last thing to keep in mind is what often gets neglected … your personal time. With leaders in the mortgage industry, as in many others, we often place too much of an emphasis on work and not enough on our personal lives. We can become neglectful of our families, friends, religious organizations or other commitments that comprise who we are as human beings. But, if we really want to have the kind of integrity to which great leaders aspire, we'll take commitments outside of work just as seriously as the ones we do in the workplace. If we wouldn't miss that 10 o'clock appointment at the office, then we shouldn't miss that seven o'clock appointment at our child's school. Leaders are people too. And, if we don't take care of ourselves personally and socially, that neglect will inevitably sooner or later bleed itself into the workplace.


David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken On Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

The mortgage industry has had its share of ups and downs over the past decade. Since the financial crisis, the regulatory environment has produced a seemingly unending array of legislative challenges that are making it increasingly difficult for the mortgage industry to operate. On top of that, we have sociological challenges with Millennials, economic challenges with wage stagnation, and geopolitical challenges with all of the things that are happening in other countries. All of this comes back to apply more and more pressure on the industry.

For those who have made in this far without losing out in any big way, you might want to count your blessings. But, more importantly, you might want to start thinking about how to prepare for the inevitable failure that's bound to come your way soon enough. We all fail. Even when conditions are perfect and we're at the top of our game, anything can happen that can throw our business out of balance and leave us scrambling to put things back together. The risk of failure is even greater for us now that we know what we're up against. The question isn't whether or not you'll fail … the question is what you'll do when it happens.

We all love a good underdog story. We like our heroes to go against the odds to overcome setbacks and recover from failures in order to achieve his goals. In real life, we face the choice of deciding which kind of heroes we're going to be every day. In the mortgage industry, we will face setbacks. We will fall and we will fail. What we need to ask ourselves is: Do we want to be the hero that falls and never gets back up, or do we want to be the hero that falls and rises again?

There's a saying that I've always appreciated: "If you haven't failed, then you probably haven't been in business long enough." I've heard that, in the Silicon Valley, if you haven't failed at least a few times, investors won't even take you seriously. In other words, failure is normal. It's only devastating if you allow it to be. And now, if you haven't yet faced that life-threatening failure in your organization, you have the unique opportunity to be ready for it. What can you do now to ensure that you'll survive when the inevitable failure comes? I suggest a few things ...

The first thing you need to do if you want to prepare yourself for a big failure is to plan for it. You are only as good as your contingency plan. Ask yourself: if what you were doing right now no longer worked, what would you be doing instead? If you wait until you fail to make that decisions, you'll be scrambling at the last minute to come up with something that works. However, if you have a plan in place already, you'll be able to pivot into and waste a minimal amount of resources making that transition. Priding yourself on having "no Plan B" in order to show how committed you are is all well and good until Plan A fails. Then, you will wish you would have developed that "Plan B" after all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having another plan in place for your business in the event that your current course of operations no longer works. If you don't have such a plan, it means that you probably don't really believe you can fail. It's a nice sentiment, but it's unrealistic. We all fail; those who ultimately succeed aren't those who deny the fact but, rather, those who prepare for it. Fortune favors the prepared.

A second, and related, thing you may want to do in order to prepare for failure is to diversify your current operations. If you are only in one kind of business or only serving one market, you are taking a greater risk than you need to. Every organization has its cash cows. There's nothing wrong with focusing on one particular segment, if that's what works for you. But it's a good idea to at least dabble in an array of areas. You've heard the adage: don't put all your eggs in one basket. In times of success in any given area, there is always the temptation to put everything you have into that one direction. Don't give into that temptation. You never want to be the position that losing one thing causes you to lose everything. As much as possible, diversify your activities. The more you're involved with, the quicker you can respond to the failure when it comes.

A third important step to taking in bracing yourself for failure is to focus on building a solid team. A leader is only good as those who follow. When your organization faces failure, the question isn't so much how you will respond but, rather, how your team will respond. Will your people be able to quickly adapt and move in a new direction? If you do have team that responds quickly to failure, then you can survive almost anything. If not, then it doesn't matter what other plan you have in place—it won't work. So, how do you build the team needed to weather the storm? It all has to do with how you hire and develop your team. Obviously, certain team members need to have some level of expertise in their respective fields. But, the more you can cross-train, the better. You want to have people who can adapt to changes. If you don't, you may have to let people go when certain aspects of the business don't pan out—and that could lead to loss of morale. Whatever you do, don't neglect to put a heavy focus on your people. The captain can never survive the storm without his crew.

A fourth way to be prepared for failure is to stay informed about what's going on in the industry and in the world. This all goes back to planning. If you are aware enough of the issues to project what kinds of regulations, economic situations, and sociological trends that will be occurring in the future, you can build your contingency plan around those things. Having that kind of business intelligence will give you the insight to give yourself a buffer against the changes when they come. Failure is almost always more devastating when you don't see it coming. Stay informed, and you won't be blindsided when the inevitable failure comes your way.

One final way to always be prepared for failure is perhaps the most important: You've got to stay positive. While this may sound cliché and overdone as a piece of advice, it should not be taken lightly. If you lose your positive attitude, everything else will go with it. Negativity is a poison. It will lead you to put all of your eggs into one basket, out of fear. It will spread to your team and lower morale. It will skew whatever information you take in while you're building your plans for the future. Staying positive isn't about being touchy-feely; it's about always focusing on what you can do to improve your situation rather than finding excuses and wallowing in self-pity. Positive thinking is powerful, not merely because it makes you feel good, but because it leads to positive action. If you allow positivity to pervade everything you do, you will be ready when the failure comes. Stay positive ... and you might just stay alive.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

After 40-plus years in the mortgage industry, I've discovered that the development of great leadership in the business really boils down to one thing: Growth

After 40-plus years in the mortgage industry, I've discovered that the development of great leadership in the business really boils down to one thing: Growth. Those who achieve their highest potential are those who are focused on personal development. They aren't stagnant; they aren't just waiting around for the weekend—or for retirement. They're always moving—always looking for the next opportunity to excel. In short, these leaders are focused on transforming themselves.

In this article, I would like to share with you a few observations on what transformation in leadership really means on a concrete level. In other words, what kind of transformations must a leader undergo? In what ways does a leader need to be transformed? While this certainly isn't an exhaustive list, I believe that if you can transform these seven areas in your life and work, you'll have what it takes to move from the realm of mediocrity to the realm of greatness.

First, if you want to be the best leader you can be you've got to transform how you see yourself. Perception is a powerful thing. Henry Ford is famous for saying, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." He was certainly on to something. When leaders stop believing in themselves, they stop taking the necessary actions to develop themselves into better leaders. When you don't really think you can be successful, you won't even try. On the other hand, if you see yourself as having potential for success, you'll do the necessary work to realize that potential. Moreover, how you see yourself influences how other people see you. If you don't have confidence in your ability to lead, how can you expect those you are leading to have confidence in you? How you see yourself is the foundation on which all other transformation is based.

Second, you've got to transform how spend your time. You've heard it before. We all have the same 24 hours, 1,444 minutes, and 86,400 seconds in a day. What sets us apart is how we use that time. It's like getting a huge deposit of money every day that must be spent by the day's end. Two different people getting the same amount of money can come away with very different outcomes by the way they've spent it. So, how do you transform the way you spend your time? First, you've got to stop seeing yourself as a prisoner to time. Manage your time … don't let it manage you. Don't tell yourself that you have to do X, Y or Z. Tell yourself that you've chosen to do those things. Once you take responsibility for your time, you can then work on investing it more valuably.

Third, if you want to excel as a great leader, you've got to transform how you interact with others. The thing about leadership is that it doesn't matter how much you know or how much you can do—if you cannot 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 it says on your business card—you aren't a leader. Making the transition from a mediocre leader to a great one is very much about developing the way you interact with people. This could mean your employees, but it could also mean many others on whom you have an influence—investors, suppliers, customers, the general public and even competitors. If you want to be a great leader, focus on developing relationships with those whom you are leading.

Fourth, you've got to transform how you handle pressure. The housing crisis and recession of the last decade has been hard on all of us in the mortgage industry. However, I think the challenging environment has done one good thing for the industry—it has separated the wheat from the chaff. Pressure is the crucible in which truly great leaders emerge triumphantly. 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? Exposure yourself to a little risk and take some chances—that's really the only way to see if you've got what it takes.

Fifth, if you want to reach your highest potential, you've got to transform how you deal with unethical behavior. If there is one area in which leaders in our industry need to place an emphasis, this is it. Since the financial crisis, the CFPB and other regulatory organizations have placed quite a substantial burden on the industry. And, arguably, the limitations on lending have unnecessarily slowed recovery. However, I think we as industry leaders can sometimes complain when we should be taking responsibility. I think we sometimes need to place greater importance on our reputations and the public perception of the mortgage industry. In a more concrete sense, that could mean blowing the whistle in our organizations or having the willingness to take some sort of stand against unethical behavior. Wrong is wrong, and truly great leaders will call it when they see it.

Sixth, you've got to transform how you embrace technology. In today's day and age, we are operating in a more competitive market than we ever have before. Lucky for us, the revolution in technology has spread to the industry and there are countless vendors offering solutions from which we can benefit. If you want to survive as a leader in the mortgage industry, you've got to stay on the cutting edge of technological developments. Those who reach their highest potential are those who aren't afraid to experiment with new tools and systems. Moreover, they are often the first ones do it. Technology can be the leader's secret weapon. The sooner you warm up to it, the sooner you'll become the great leader you are striving to be.

Finally, for a seventh way you can make that leap from good to great in your leadership, you've got to transform how you see your work. If you simply want to earn a good living and retire as soon as possible, punching in and out, and flying under the radar, you can simply see your work as a job. However, if you want to become a truly great leader, you've got to see your profession as a calling. Your work has to matter to you not just as a means to paycheck but also as an end in itself. Great leaders care about impact they have on their industry and the legacy they leave behind through their actions. They see working in the mortgage business as their own small way of making the world a better place. If you want to become a great leader, you've got to transform how you see your work. It cannot just be for the money. Your work has got to become a mission for which you live and breathe. Only then can it develop into the kind of work that moves you from good to great.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

In the mortgage industry, as in many others, one of most talked about concepts is that of innovation. As many readers may know, I host a weekly Internet radio show called Lykken on Lending in which my colleagues and I discuss various topics related to the mortgage industry. Over the last four to six weeks on the program, we have talked exclusively about the subject of innovation—interviewing leaders from various aspects of the industry on how innovation plays a role in their areas of expertise. What I find so astonishing is the breadth of areas to which innovation is applicable. Innovation isn't just about software or technology, it is, or at least it should be, a vital aspect every part of the mortgage industry

So, what exactly is innovation? As I mentioned, most of us think of innovation within the context of computer technology. Apple, of course, is the company that always readily comes to mind. In the mortgage industry, we'll often think of cutting software vendors and mortgage companies who use them as being particularly innovative. But, at its base, innovation is more than simply its application. The root word of innovation is "new," and it was originally used to mean restoration or renewal. In short, what innovation really means is change something for the better—to improve it. And, as we all know, there are many aspects of our organizations in the mortgage industry that could use improvement. As leaders in our space, we've got to rise to the challenge of addressing all of them.

First, let's address the technological aspect of innovation. While I don't think that technology is the only area in which innovation to matter to us, I would agree that it is extremely important. I am continually amazed by the forward-thinking development of vendors in our industry to make the mortgage business more efficient. There are some innovative software and information system technologies that are really bringing the industry into the 21st century. Those who refuse to adopt these technologies are being left in the dust, while the leaders who are willing to take the risk of bringing these innovations into their organizations are thriving. Change is difficult and risky and, with that change being technological in nature, it can also be costly. There is such a thing as too risky—some are chasing after the next thing without any clue as to whether or not it will work. But, as a whole, I think our industry suffers more from the problem of adopting new technologies too slowly. Great leaders will know the right time to make the change but, as a rule, the time is typically sooner rather than later.

If there's one subject in recent years that has gotten more mentions than innovation in the mortgage industry grapevine, it's compliance. While the chatter surrounding TRID has begun to die down, its presence is still felt and organizations are still adapting to its demands. The CFPB is alive and well. As we head into the next presidential election, the issue of economic hardship is bound to have some effect on regulation—in one direction or the other. Like or not, ever-changing regulation is likely going to be simply part of the business going forward. But, even within the context of regulation and compliance, there are ways to be innovative. The best organizations have begun building their legal and compliance team—whether they be in the form of staff or partners—to find ways to work successfully within the system. Innovation can work in the legal department in two ways: Members of your legal team can find unique ways to adapt to new legislation when it occurs, and members of your legal team can assist in lobbying for legislation reform that makes the industry work more effectively. In either case, if you aren't forward-thinking with your legal team, you'll be left behind by those who are.

Aside from technology (and maybe even in conjunction with technology), one of the most obvious areas of innovation occurs in operations. Oftentimes, the organization can be improved substantially just by reinventing the process through which the work is done. Organizations stand or fall based on the robustness of their systems. The way in which a mortgage flows through your business can be done sloppily—or it can be done with remarkable efficiency. Great leaders explore ways that can simplify the communications and the hand-offs between vendors, employees, and customers. Sometimes, all it really takes is clarity. People handling each component of the business need to know what they're supposed to, why they're supposed to do it, and how it's related to the what everyone else is doing. Getting everyone on the same page may sound simple, but it sure isn't easy. Great leaders look for innovative solutions to introduce clarity and cohesion into operations to make the process of handling mortgage more efficient.

Another area in which innovation is vitally important is in your human resources department. No matter what systems you have in place or the technology you have to implement it, nothing will get done without having solid people in place to see it through. A good coach focuses on developing the playbook, but a great coach focuses on developing the team. If you can build a solid team, you can trust them to carry out the work that leads to success. And building a solid team takes an innovative approach. Have you thought about introducing innovation into your hiring process? Do you hire people the same way you've always done or the same way that others in the industry do? Maybe you should try something new. What about your training and development? Do you stick to industry or company norms, or do you have feelers out there for programs that may take a more effective approach? I believe that people want to do their jobs better—they just need help. Great leaders look for innovative ways to develop their team.

One final area I would like to discuss in terms of innovation is marketing. With the advent of the Internet and social media, there has been much written on taking innovative approaches to marketing; however, most of it has been outside of the mortgage industry. In our industry, we seem to be uncomfortable with some of the new approaches to reaching prospects that are gladly being taken up by other businesses. Especially as Millennials grow about become the new generation of home buyers, we've got to be open to new methods of communication. Here's a key principle to remember in order to be innovative in your marketing: Stop trying to reach people the way you like to reach them, and start trying to reach them the way they want to be reached. In marketing, innovation starts with listening. What are the people you are paying attention to? Go where the customer is, and he might just follow you back to where you are.

Innovation isn't a department—it's a philosophy that gets infused into all departments. If you want to be a great leader in preserve your organization through times of adversity, you've got to start seeing innovation in a broader context. From time to time, every aspect of the organization could use reinvention—not just the IT department. Great leaders are always looking for ways to improve—and that's precisely what makes them great.


David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken On Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

Leadership Pic

Are leaders born or made?
That's the question that many people are asking. And it's an important question. If you can't train people to become better leaders, why waste the effort? Now, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on genetics and human potential—on the whole nature versus nurture debate. But, from what I've read, it's usually not either/or. It's usually a bit of both. I believe there is an extent to which people are naturally born leaders and an extent to which people can improve the little talent they have to become better leaders. But, regardless of whether they're "born" or "made," I think people with good leadership potential will have demonstrated that potential in some way, shape, or form throughout their lives and careers.

When you're looking to recruit people into your executive team, finding solid leaders can be quite the challenge. More than ever—with the proliferation of social media and personal branding—people can market themselves to be larger than life even if they've accomplished nothing. And when it comes to landing a position in leadership, swaths of people will show up to sell themselves as well as they can. You've heard the expression: "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." I think it's also the case that often everyone wants to be a leader but nobody wants to lead.

Many people want the caché of being a leader. They like the spotlight and the recognition. They like the compensation and the feeling of being in authority. They enjoy the spoils of war—even if they may never have seen a battle. If you see such people, run screaming in the other direction. These people aren't leaders; they're charlatans. True leaders don't take shortcuts and they're far less interested in the rewards for their labors than they are in the work itself. True leaders demonstrate their leadership through actions. They don't talk about how great they are—they simply live greatness. And, if you look hard enough at the leaders you're evaluating, you'll be able to see who's the real deal and who's running a game on you. Here are a few things to consider …

Leaders leave behind trail that tells their story
If you can't find evidence of their leadership, chances are they're all talk. True leaders will have done things. They will have accomplished things. It doesn't matter if they've been in the industry two years or 20 years—they will have filled their time with action. And doers always leave something behind. True leaders will leave a legacy. People will remember them and tell stories about them. Projects will have arisen because of them. Revenue will have been generated. Competitors will have been vanquished. If you can find signs that they actually existed, you're on the right track. If you cannot even find that, you're probably dealing with someone who is simply beefing up the résumé to land the job.


Leaders take initiative
By definition, a leader is someone who is out in front. A good question to ask potential candidates you are considering adding to your team is this: what have you started? Yes, you want to know what people have done with the work given to them. But what about the work that they simply assumed responsibility for? Leaders will have led projects that were not part of their job descriptions. If they accomplish a great deal but all of it falls under the umbrella of "doing what they're told," they aren't leaders—they're just really good followers. Leaders assume the risk and responsibility of starting projects that they themselves are on the line for. If you come across someone who has taken the initiative to start things, you may have a winner.

Leaders stand for what's right
Sooner or later, we've all got to draw the line when it comes to integrity. All of us face incidents in our lives that test our character and reveal who we really are. How your potential candidate has responded to these events will tell you whether or not he is someone you want on your team. If a candidate was fired for taking a stand on an ethical issue, is that necessarily a bad thing? Think of it this way: Followers don't get fired. Followers conform and do what they're told, even if it's immoral. A true leader will have the integrity to stand for what's right—regardless of the consequences. Keep an eye out for these righteous rebels—they're the ones worth keeping.

Leaders don't cave under pressure
"These are the times that try men's souls," wrote Thomas Payne. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." The true leader is no "summer soldier" or "sunshine patriot. The true leader thrives under pressure and shines in a crisis. Leaders are the embodiment of the maxim, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." When you're considering a candidate, look at the times that he has faced an enormous amount of pressure. How did he handle it? A true leader faces the toughest challenges head on and comes out stronger on the other side.

Leaders don't take the credit
Harry Truman is quoted as saying, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit." True leaders are not in the game for the recognition. Not only do they not care if they get the credit for their accomplishments, but they go out of their way to make sure others get the credit instead. They recognize those who have helped them and express gratitude for everyone who contributed to their success. Did you ever notice how the most successful people often emphasis how lucky they feel? That's because true leaders don't need the glory. They want others to have it. They work in absolute humility—constantly praising others and not worrying about getting the attention themselves. Look for people who give credit to others—those are ones who will have been mostly likely to accomplish anything deserving of credit.

Leaders are constantly improving
I don't know whether leaders are born or made. But I firmly believe that they are both reborn and remade. By that, I mean that they are constantly reinventing themselves. They are restless for growth. They are lifelong learners. They seek out new experiences. They take on new ventures. They never settle. They're never complacent. They're always on the move. A good question to ask the candidates you're considering: how are you better now than you were a year ago? If they aren't growing, they aren't a leader you want on your team. You may be looking at a very good leader right now, but you want someone who is determined to be an even better leader down the road.

Are leaders born or made?
Whether or not they were destined to do so, true leaders will have shown by their actions that they're worthy of the title. You won't be able to look at their lives or careers and not see signs of their presence. They won't need to brag about themselves or oversell because their legacy alone will be enough. Look for leaders who have left behind a trail of their leadership. The next iteration of that very legacy could take place in your organization.

David Lykken is 40-year mortgage industry veteran who has been an owner operator in three mortgage banking companies and a software company. As a former business owner/operator, today David loves helping C-Level executives and business owners achieve extraordinary results via consulting, coaching and communications, with the objective of eliminating corporate dysfunction, establishing and communicating a clear corporate strategy while focusing on process improvement and operational efficiencies resulting in increased profitability. David has been a regular contributor on CNBC and Fox Business News and currently hosts a successful weekly radio program, “Lykken on Lending,” that is heard each Monday at noon (Central Standard Time) by thousands of mortgage professionals. He produces a daily one-minute video called “Today’s Mortgage Minute” that appears on hundreds of television, radio and newspaper Web sites across America. He may be reached by phone at (512) 501-2810 or by e-mail at

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.