When many of us hear the word, "leader," we confuse the term with manager, boss, supervisor or other leadership titles. The fact is, having a leadership title doesn't make someone a leader. We've all worked for people anointed with leadership titles who have absolutely no leadership skills. We've also worked with people who, after three days on the job, seem to have extraordinary leadership potential, and naturally know how to lead through example and inspiration.
The quality of your leadership will make or break your company
Team your best loan originator (LO) with a crummy manager and what do you get? A resignation letter and loads of business that could have been yours going to your competitor. Team a highly-trained and skilled manager with a group of average-to-slightly above-average employees and you'll soon have enthusiastic and highly-motivated team players willing to bleed for your company. In no time, you'll earn a great reputation in your market and industry, and most importantly, you'll grow.
It's a fact that the quality of leadership has a direct impact on your brand's reputation and bottom line. And it makes sense—people who enjoy working for their manager consistently perform at peak levels. It's a sad fact that too many people are placed into leadership positions based on all the wrong reasons—such as industry knowledge, tenure, or technical abilities—and then fail.
To be an effective leader requires a very specific set of skills. Read on …
Are leaders born or made?
It's the million dollar question, and arguments can be made for both sides. We are all leaders in that we make decisions for ourselves. However, managing a sea of diverse personalities, motivating individual people to consistently give their best, building teams, creating synergies in groups, and knowing how to efficiently resolve conflict where everyone "wins" (feeling as if their needs have been met) are skills that very few people intuitively have. These are skills that must be refined or taught from the ground up, especially when you consider that most of us developed our leadership styles based on leaders we personally admire or believe to be effective. And herein lies the trap—in the absence of leadership training where proven management techniques are taught, managers rely on trial and error with many different leadership styles until they find one they believe works. It's this trial and error leadership style that frustrates employees and perpetuates already dysfunctional manager/employee relationships.
What makes a great leader?
There are a number of characteristics that make up the fabric of good leaders, and it starts with having a high E.Q. (Empathy Quotient, a.k.a. Emotional Intelligence).
What does this mean? Think about the last three people you know who were fired. Did they lose their jobs due to their lack of product, company or industry knowledge? Or were they fired due to their inability to get along with others, be a team player or a team leader?
Leaders with higher E.Q.s, develop cultures in suit where people naturally work and communicate better with each other. In other words, interpersonal conflict is either low or non-existent.
Great leaders are great active listeners—they have mastered the art of acknowledging and feeding back what they hear to confirm understanding. Where many people in conversation are simply thinking of what they want to say and waiting until one person is finished talking so that he or she may speak, active listening involves focusing one's attention on the function and purpose of a conversation. It cannot be faked. It builds trust, deepens relationships and is the most sincere form of communication there is. One of the greatest active listeners I know actually walks out from behind his desk, sits down at a small table away from his computer, turns off the ringer on his cell phone and gives their undivided attention to the person with whom they are speaking. How would you feel if your manager did this for you?
Great leaders also encourage open communication without roadblocking. Roadblocking occurs when we order, warn, moralize, suggest, use logic, criticize, praise, label, analyze, reassure, question and recommend. In other words, roadblocking is steering a conversation toward our direction and way of thinking, inhibiting open and candid conversation. We have all been roadblocked and know how offensive and irritating it can be. Think of it this way: Roadblocking is the number one reason why teenagers don't talk to their parents!
Great leaders don't solve problems … they see to it that problems get solved. When people come to us with their problems, some of us cannot wait to jump in and tell the person who owns the problem how to fix it. Nothing could be worse for three reasons:
►The person who owns the problem may very well dump all of their problems on you in the future;
►You may offend them because you are indirectly telling him or her that they do not have the intelligence to fix things on their own; and
►Once you, the manager, gets involved, you immediately assume responsibility for the problem and the consequences of the advice given.
The better approach is to employ active listening to facilitate the problem-solving process, as the one who owns the problem is in the best position to resolve it!
The age factor
Let us assume for a few minutes that you are the young leader who is managing people who are not just a few years your senior, but some who are old enough to be your parent. Not only do you need to prove your worth as a manager, you need to earn and retain the respect of those who may view you as someone who has "no clue" and "little experience." At times, when you have conflict with an older generation employee, it can become personal.
This is precisely when you will need to practice those skills I identified a few minutes ago. They are fundamental and proven leadership skills that will help you identify core problems and work toward solutions. There will be times when you will need to confront problems head on, and early on, to get them solved. The way you manage those conversations and facilitate solutions will determine your success or failure. In my opinion, one of the best leadership books ever written is L.E.T. by Dr. Thomas Gordon. He doesn't just write about leadership, he also teaches leadership skills.
Attracting and retaining strong leaders
Most companies are structured with one Grand Poobah—usually the chairman, chief executive officer or owner—with lieutenants below.
Great leadership needs to start at the top, which is why I am a huge proponent of leadership training. CEOs are a special breed—they take risks, push themselves hard, can smell the blood of new business, and know how to negotiate and close deals. And then they get back to the office and have to deal with egos, attitudes, under-performers, complainers, and a host of other issues they would rather ignore, or don't know how to deal with and, thus, it wears on their patience. You know what happens next. Failing to deal with these issues makes matters worse and the hole in the ship only gets bigger.
If you are looking to attract strong leaders within your organization, as the CEO you will need to prove that you have a culture where leaders can grow and flourish. Hint: Strong leaders will not work for the micromanaging CEO. Nor will they work for those who lead through fear and intimidation. If you fall into one of these categories, your reputation will one day precede you and finding good people will become increasingly challenging.
The mortgage industry is, was, and will continue to be very competitive. Some say cutthroat. As the CEO or owner of your company, you need to fight the good fight every day to compete and succeed. And, you also need to find, hire and retain the best mortgage professionals you can find. Your leadership style will determine the success or failure of your company and the people you have representing and selling your brand.
Remember, team your best LO with a crummy manager and you will get a resignation letter and loads of business that could have been yours going to your competitor. Team a highly-trained and skilled manager with a group of average- to-slightly-above-average employees and you'll soon have enthusiastic and highly-motivated team players who are willing to bleed for your company.
Scott Seroka is a principal and certified brand strategist at Seroka, a brand development and strategic communications firm based in Milwaukee, Wis. Scott is also a contributing blogger for Gordon Training International in San Diego, Calif. He may be reached by phone at (262) 523-3761 or e-mail [email protected]