Every leader working in the mortgage industry today knows that January is a tough month. Getting your company moving in the right direction in the New Year is always a challenge and the numbers are never going to be good. But this year is one for the record books. Looking back over the past few years, there was always something that a good leader could build from, a wave of refinances on the horizon or a new loan program to attract additional borrowers. If you paid close attention to the market, you could always find something positive even in the darkest years of the downturn. But this year has been different. The industry is finally feeling the impact of years of historically low interest rates and tightening investor guidelines. Few who have a mortgage have the financial incentive to refinance and those who could benefit from a new mortgage are finding it very difficult to qualify. To get traction in 2011, leaders are going all the way back to the basics. Good leaders are focusing now on a few key priorities: Growth, relationships and resources. There’s an old adage that says companies are either growing or they’re dying. That’s exactly right. But growth is not necessarily measured by size. Our own company has been right-sizing for the past couple of years as a response to changing market conditions. We’ve trimmed from nearly 200 branches to less than 100, but our profits have surged during the same period. We have grown as a company by getting closer to our key values and building out a growing team of leading mortgage lending branch executives. Our key metrics have changed in the process. Instead of growing in terms of branches, we’ve grown in terms of attracting top talent and the results are showing in our financials. Today’s mortgage leaders must know what growth means for their own operations and be vigilant in moving their companies toward it. One area where we are always working on growing is in the number and quality of our relationships, both inside and outside of the firm. On the external side, building good relationships with your business sources has been a near constant mantra of the sales training gurus in our industry for years. Those firms that took those messages to heart and built those relationships are in a fairly good position right now. Those that didn’t are suffering. Building external relationships today, when it’s difficult to offer the value real estate sales people are seeking due to extremely high underwriting standards, is much more challenging then it was a year or two ago. Today, lenders either already have those relationships in place or they do not. Just as important are the internal relationships that a growing mortgage company builds upon. Leaders do not underestimate the importance of the relationships between the company’s loan officers, underwriters and managers, but rather see them as the essential building blocks that the firm is built upon. These relationships are so important in our company that we have set up a special Web site to make sure that our people know each other (iambenchmark.info) and we build and nurture loan officer-underwriter teams to streamline our operation and create excellent experiences for our customers. At a higher level, the relationship between the company and its branch executives is critical to everyone’s success. It requires a careful balance between the needs of the company and the needs of the branch. And this leads to the third focus for today’s leaders, keeping the required resources flowing into the company and on to the people who need them. Much more than an accounting function, this is where true leaders shine. With a careful focus on growth, relationships and resources, the best leaders in our industry have taken their teams through a very difficult January and on to a successful 2011. Jim McMahan is president and Stewart Hunter is core values officer for Dallas-based Benchmark Mortgage. You can find them both online at www.iambenchmark.info.