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How Important is Character in Today's Mortgage Industry?

David Lykken
May 26, 2011

I recently posted the above question and the following on the blog section of National Mortgage Professional Magazine’s Web site: “In October of 2010, Angelo Mozilo, the former iconic leader of not only Countrywide Financial Corporation, but of the industry, agreed to a $67.5 million settlement to avoid civil trial on fraud and insider trading charges brought by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). Over this past weekend, it was determined by investigators that the former Countrywide chief executive will not face charges after being the subject of a criminal investigation. In spite of what may seem to be vindication for Angelo, he has lost something far more valuable than all the riches he gained. He lost the respect of an industry. Character compromised, costs more than fortunes made. What good does it do to gain the whole world if you lose your soul (i.e. your character)? Character has always been synonymous with leadership. We need to return to valuing character and what things it brings rather than valuing things at the cost of character.” I ended my blog with these questions: “What are your thoughts on leadership? What do look for in a company and its management before going to work for them? What do you look for in a leader?” The feedback and responses were encouraging. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to log-in to this blog by clicking here and read the comment trail that followed. I want to believe that the comments posted in that blog represent the vast majority of Americans who seem to have a good sense of what makes for good “character” and what doesn’t. Here are a few of the comments that were posted on the blog. ►Tim posted a reply expressing his astonishment and dismay that Angelo was getting away with “millions of dollars that he swindled out of Americans.” This sentiment is shared by millions of Americans and thousands of hard-working mortgage professionals who are disgusted with the apparent attitude that “greed is good” and that we were duped into believing that guys like Angelo were leaders that we should respect. The pendulum is definitely swinging back to honoring and valuing those who work hard, make a decent living and live within their means. And for those who have been blessed with an unusual amount of success, Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind, we all respect and celebrate their extraordinary philanthropic efforts. In spite of Bill Gates’ “Take no prisoners” approach to competitors, most Americans have given him “a pass” on his vicious business practices largely because of his commitment to give away the vast majority of his wealth before he passes away. As a result, Bill Gates is universally recognized as a leader. ►R. Nolan commented that “Character = Backbone” and “Whether you are faced with tough economic times, physical threats or personal trials, you need backbone to face the storms.” R. Nolan went on to write about what some men (referring to Angelo Mozilo) are willing to give up in exchange for “the almighty dollar.” ►I loved Andrew Berman's response quoting Abraham Lincoln that “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” For many, man’s struggle with extraordinary success and wealth seems to validate what the historian and moralist, Lord Acton, espoused when he wrote in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In an earlier article on this topic, I wrote that in times of economic and social upheaval that we see significant shifts in power and wealth. Old leaders fall and new leaders rise along with the companies they represent. Angelo Mozilo represents one of the “old fallen leaders.” The bigger question is: Who is rising up to take his place? It is important that we as an industry make sure that the next leader(s) do not suffer from the same character flaws. Considering what Lord Acton believed, this may seem idealistic. But I would ask Lord Acton this, “Shouldn’t we keep trying to overcome our human weaknesses?” Leaders will come and go, both good and bad. What concerns me the most is whether or not we will be equipped to recognize a true leader. That is the reason I am writing this series of articles. I was encouraged by Jillayne’s blog post response where she outlined the character traits she admires in others. She wrote that she admires people who understand “responsibility” … those who conduct their affairs in such a way as to demonstrate “respect, justice, compassion, beneficence, non-malfeasance, loyalty, fidelity and integrity.” She went on to say that she also admires “people who have made mistakes and aren't afraid to talk about what they learned from their mistakes.” She mentioned “the virtue of being humble” and other virtues, such as “patience, courage, being a good listener.” Like many of us, Jillayne recognizes that “there are people (leaders) who could care less about becoming a virtuous person or a good leader, but instead, care only about money and profits.” Given Lord Acton’s admonition, it is imperative that we recognize this human weakness and promote leaders that embrace the characteristics that Jillayne outlined. Furthermore, we as an industry need to hold our leaders accountable when we see them drifting off the standards of what makes for good character. Leaders need accountability partners. A good leader is open and accountable to those in their organization. I’ll be writing more on that topic in future articles.  Last month, I wrote how we as a nation, and for that matter, we as an industry, are facing a serious leadership crisis. That is not to say that we do not have leaders out there walking among us, but again, my concern is that many, if not most, people struggle to recognize true leadership. As one person said to me after I recently spoke on this topic, “I am not sure if I could recognize a good leader if he or she walked up to me and slapped me in the face.” This person was really frustrated with who he thought were leaders … his leadership role models had let him down. It is for this very reason that I am reading and writing extensively on the subject of “leadership” and “leaders.” If you missed reading the previous articles I wrote on this topic, go back and retrieve them from the archives and read them. Also, watch for my blog posts on this topic throughout the month. In order to recognize our future leaders, we need to understand the seven basic characteristics (the “7-Cs”) of a strong leader. This month, the focus is on number one characteristic, “Character.” 1. Character Of the 7-Cs, “Character” is what matters the most. Good character should always be synonymous with true leadership. More times than not, character is hammered out in adversity. Henry David Thoreau said, “You cannot dream yourself into character; you must hammer and forge your self to one.” It is a developed deep within by choice, and not found by chance. A lesser known Johann Wofgang von Goethe said, “Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.” Simply put, tough times create a good environment where strong character can be built. If there is anything good about the difficulties that lie ahead, it is that we will see the opportunity for the development of strong and good character. While those with a good or strong character are often viewed as intelligent, strong character doesn't come through intellect. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Character is higher than intellect.” Next month, I will be writing about the importance of “Conviction” which is second on the list of 7-Cs. 2. Conviction As a leader, what you believe is critical, and the extent to which you believe it will make the difference between success or failure. A strong leader has to believe deeply in their mission and this belief has to come from deep in their heart. If you follow someone with deep convictions, but tat person is anchored in a poor or compromised character, the mission is most likely doomed to fail. That is why it is essential that we first focus on character. Then, over the coming months, I will be writing about the remaining 7-Cs of leadership which are as follows: 3. Confidence: A strong leader is one that is highly confident, but not arrogant. Arrogance is a counterfeit byproduct of confidence. 4. Charismatic: Tomorrow’s leaders will have a genuine warmth about them. They will be “real,” as well as “relatable.” 5. Clear and Concise: A strong leader knows where he or she is going and can communicate that plan clearly and concisely to others. 6. Conversant in the Facts: A strong leader has a thorough understanding of all aspects of any issue and is able to effectively communicate their knowledge on that topic in a way that makes it easy for everyone in the organization to understand and take the appropriate action. 7. Compassionate: A compassionate leader is not a weak leader. The strongest leaders are some of the most compassionate. They can emotionally connect with those struggling without getting caught up in their struggles. So, what are your thoughts on all of this? Are you aspiring to be one of the leaders we so desperately need in our industry? If so, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at [email protected] to comment. If you are looking for a speaker at your next industry event, please call me at (512) 977-9900, ext. 101. I welcome the opportunity to speak at your next industry event, and remember to check out my radio program, “Lykken on Lending,” by logging on to www.lykkenonlending.com. David Lykken is president of mortgage strategies and managing partner with Mortgage Banking Solutions. He has more than 35 years of industry experience and has garnered a national reputation, and has become a frequent guest on FOX Business News with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney, Liz Claman and Dave Asman with additional guest appearances on the CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV and radio. He may be reached by phone at (512) 977-9900, ext. 101 or e-mail [email protected]  
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