Lead, follow or get out of the wayArt Swiatkowskileadership skills, success tips, motivation "The Art of Leadership"; it's an interesting and thought-provoking theme for this year's National Association of Mortgage Brokers annual convention. What does it mean to you? How does it relate to you? Let me give you some food for thought and a warning. Recently, after teaching a commercial lending course in Arkansas, I had the misfortune of missing my flight out of Little Rock (a story for another time). To wile away the hours I would have to spend in the airport waiting for the next flight home, I purchased a book. The title was, "The Top 10 Mistakes Leaders Make," by Hans Finzel. Mr. Finzel does a nice job of helping the reader understand what good leadership is and why there are so few great leaders in the corporate world today. His definition of leadership is rather simple. He says, "Leadership is influence. Anyone who influences someone to do something has led that person." I enjoyed the book, but I felt that it missed an important dimension. Leadership is not just about leading people. It really starts with our ability to influence ourselves--motivating ourselves to push beyond existing limitations. Leadership is getting ourselves to stretch, to grow and to achieve in spite of challenges that will inevitably arise--in other words, personal leadership. Part of the problem in developing personal leadership is that most people don't know what leadership is. As the author says, "Like love, leadership continues to be something everyone knows exists but nobody can define." Research on the subject shows more than 350 definitions and theories on leadership. And since people don't know what leadership is, they also don't know what good leadership looks like. Most attempts to define personal leadership would include concepts like: goal setting, formulating action plans and creating "to do" lists. While personal leadership does include these critically important elements of success, it also encompasses concepts that go well beyond them. To really develop the personal leadership we need to succeed, we must be able to utilize self-motivation, self-analysis and self-discipline. When goals are not achieved, when plans are not executed, when lists are left undone, you will usually find a lack of these virtues as the reason. Self-motivation is about "the why." Why do you get up in the morning? Why are you in the mortgage business? Why have you set $300,000 as your financial goal? (You do have written goals, don't you?) You must have answers. It's very hard to get excited about a goal if you aren't clear on what pleasure you will derive or pain you will avoid by achieving it. This is the stage when you give meaning and an emotional charge to your goals and objectives. Self-analysis is the ability to look in the "mirror of our life" and be honest. You need to see and acknowledge your strengths and limitations as they relate to your goals. This is where you will recognize potential obstacles, many of which are self-created. (There are also situational obstacles that are not of our own creation, but these can be more readily handled in the action-planning process.) Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to do the necessary things to reach your goals, even when you encounter obstacles or other tempting options that steal your attention. It is about leveraging your strengths and formulating ways for eliminating or reducing the impact of your limitations. What strategies and tactics can you employ to keep you on the path to your goal? More than just will power, the strategies must be practiced in order to form the habits that will support you on the journey to your goal. The aforementioned three qualities are important to developing personal leadership, and personal leadership is a major ingredient in the formula for your success. But I want to alert you to one concept that, if permitted, can wreak havoc on your efforts to develop personal leadership: change. In his book, Finzel states that one of the major mistakes poor leaders make is that they fail to focus on the future. Change is a part of nature, a part of the business world, a part of everyone's personal life. In today's world, future is change. Accordingly, this mistake applies to personal leadership as well. Change is often the reason why we don't use self-analysis, fail to develop "the why" of self-motivation, and lack the self-discipline we need to reach our goals. It keeps us off balance, makes our goals moving targets, and provides us with the excuses we need to justify avoidance of these critical components of personal leadership. Look at the issues facing the mortgage industry that are precipitating change: the economy, rising interest rates, consumer privacy issues, RESPA reform, accelerating technology advancements, predatory lending legislation, fraud, emerging markets, and on and on. How will you deal with these issues as they impact your business? Unfortunately, most people enter the future kicking and screaming (or at least complaining a great deal). They see themselves as victims. Many will become casualties of change in the mortgage business. Some will exercise their leadership skills. They will get involved with others to work on the challenges to our industry. They will formulate plans in their business to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves as a result of change. So, what is it that makes change such a villain in the minds of so many people? Change itself is not the problem. The real problem is fear--fear of being pushed from our comfort zone, of losing our status quo. Let me give you an example. We are all aware of the loss of refinance volume as a result of the rise in interest rates. In my travels, I have the opportunity to talk to residential brokers and originators from all across the United States. When I ask if they have considered doing commercial loans to replace lost refi business, I get several predictable answers. They tell me that they think commercial loans are too complex or too time-consuming relative to residential loans. Some say that they've had a bad experience with a commercial deal in the past. Many state it's too difficult locating the correct sources to get a commercial deal funded or marketing for commercial leads. For a long time it was, "I'm too busy with my residential business." I don't hear that one much lately. With further conversation, it became obvious that these were excuses, not reasons. More in-depth questioning revealed that in most cases, the underlying issue was fear (fear of the unknown, fear of looking bad, etc.) Unfortunately, many will stay stuck in the fear and suffer with the consequences. On the flip side, I've also talked to brokers and originators who saw change on the horizon and have already started taking steps to add commercial loans, reverse mortgages or sub-prime loans to their available products. Some have begun to focus on emerging markets or otherwise diversify their business. The point is that they didn't let fear prevent them from embracing change. They have exercised their personal leadership to tap into the opportunities that accompany change. My friends, the future is upon us. What will you do? Will you practice the art of personal leadership to ensure your success? I hope so. Art "Ski" Swiatkowski is business development manager for InterBay Funding LLC. He may be reached at (215) 283-4520 or e-mail [email protected].