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Are Leaders Born or Can Someone be Taught to Lead?

Les Acree
May 19, 2014

We have all heard the phrase, “He or she is a born leader,” but I am not convinced. For me, it’s like saying a military leader realizes his or her goals without ever being a soldier, studying military history or attending the military academy. It could happen, but it’s highly unlikely. I do not believe our life’s work is predetermined for us when we are born. I prefer to think our experiences and the opportunities we create guide us toward our chosen professions. I do believe that leaders know, at an early age, that they did not come into this world to sit on the bench … they came to play. To be an effective leader, we must understand what it means to follow and the importance of what each member contributes to the team. Following is a learning experience, especially under sometimes often ineffective leadership. In those cases, I recommend staying positive and remaining focused on producing good work. Always be that team player who fully commits to a common goal. Half-hearted efforts eventually become apparent. A good leader will acknowledge this and either inspire, redirect or eliminate.   My first experience with great leadership was through athletics. My coach was an effective communicator and had a clear vision for the team’s success. He knew that having the right people in the right place who were doing the right thing at the right time made for a great team. At that point in my life, I was keenly aware of which of my team members were buying into the goal, versus those who were out for themselves or just passing time. These are just a few of the lessons from my experiences that have withstood the test of time and have transcended into both my personal and professional lives. The net is, however, you are exposed to leadership and learn from their experience. I believe all good leaders experience effective and ineffective leadership. A true leader understands the differences and then applies what works to his or her personal style. I have learned to be flexible because you are always evaluating and need to quickly determine what’s working and what’s not. A true leader fosters a positive environment and promotes participation and leadership at all levels of the company. In today’s mortgage business, leaders must do their homework, build their strategy and develop the team to enable production. This works for all channels in the industry, whether it be retail, wholesale or correspondent, origination and servicing. Someone once said the only real training for leadership is leadership. Leaders arise in times of crisis. Most leaders have what I call the “Likeability Factor.” Years ago, I found it difficult to find the good and take away anything positive from someone I did not like. I just could not get past the fact that I did not like them. However, being a leader is not a popularity contest. Any leader who says they have no detractors either has not been a leader for any length of time or he has not fulfilled his role as a leader. What personality traits do you feel are most important to be a leader? Leaders need to be strong. They cannot run and hide from difficult decisions. They cannot avoid them. My least favorite decisions are the ones that not only affect people’s careers, but also their families. In these situations, a leader must accept the responsibility and move forward for the good of the team. The best decision is not always clear, not always black and white. It may be the least unfavorable of the available options. At times, a leader has to summon the courage to buck market trends. Several years ago, when the mortgage industry was flush with high-risk products, my company took a different path. We trusted our instincts, “drew a line in the sand” and retreated from the “products of the day.” It was an incredibly challenging period for us, especially as we risked losing some of our top sales force. Thankfully, most of the mortgage companies that did pull away from high-risk products before others were able to survive and many are now thriving. Leaders never stop striving for improvement. They never settle for the status quo. I become anxious with the status quo. When change needs to happen, we assess the situation, look at it from different sides, come up with a plan and exert influence to make things happen. Influence must be combined with integrity. For me, integrity means you are who you say you are and you do what you say you are going to do. This is what gives you the credibility necessary to have influence throughout the organization How do you find leaders in your organization? At my company, we foster an environment that promotes leadership at all levels. Our production may have the best people and great plan for success but, without the team’s commitment and sense of urgency, we will not be successful. I am adamant that all of my managers bring a “sense of urgency” to our work. Whatever our strategy for success, there will be unforeseen obstacles that we must overcome as soon as possible! If there is a problem—we solve it—fast. In our organization, the leaders usually find me. They stand out, they rise to the occasion and become invested in the success of a project. And they attract people to join them. For a leader’s vision to be successful, team members must buy into   the leader long before they buy into the vision. Jim Rohn said, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude, be kind, but not weak, be bold, but not a bully, be thoughtful, but not lazy, be humble, but not timid, be proud, but not be arrogant, have humor, but without folly.” Once you find a leader how do you keep them? Those who are passionate about what they do appreciate working in an environment where they their ideas are encouraged and supported. When your team does well its ripple effect and the positive energy grows. Your team can sense that. They gain a sense of ownership and feel like a valued member of the company by participating and knowing their views are heard. Once you build Esprit de Corps, it’s more than a job, it’s a shared vision to a common goal people feel as if they are part of something and not just punching the clock. Les Acree has served as a senior vice president of wholesale production since 1989. Les joined Freedom Mortgage in September of 2006 when Freedom acquired the mortgage assets and technology platform of Indiana-based Irwin Mortgage. He may be reached by e-mail at les.acree@freedommortgage.com.
Published
May 19, 2014
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