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Leaders Are Survivors

David Lykken
Feb 10, 2014

Have you ever taken the time to notice what kind of books make the best-seller list? You know, those books that are on display at the ends of aisles at Wal-Mart, Target and even Barnes & Noble? Of course, there's always fiction. There's the latest teen fantasy saga. And there's always a string of crime and suspense novels. There are your romance stories and your Stephen King books, but what about non-fiction? What kind of non-fiction books really sell? There are always a good bit of political and self-help books on the best-seller list. And there's always a significant number of history books. But if there's one genre that always seems to sell—it's the memoir. When people tell stories about their lives and experiences, we tend to listen. We're convicted, moved and inspired. But what is it about these personal stories that we find so compelling? On The New York Times best-seller list, at the time of this writing, the list of books that could be classified as memoirs includes titles such as I Am Malala, The Death of Santini, Lean In, Undisputed Truth, and The Reason I Jump. What do all of these titles have in common? They are survivor stories. We love a good survivor story. We love a story in which the hero emerges against all odds. I Am Malala is a story about a girl surviving an oppressive culture. The Death of Santini is about a boy surviving an abusive relationship. Lean In is about woman surviving an industry dominated by men. Undisputed Truth is about a man surviving poverty and violence to enter into professional sports. The Reason I Jump is about a boy surviving autism. We love these survivor stories, because they fill us with hope. We put ourselves in the shoes of these protagonists. We begin to think, "If they can make it, so can we." These survivors are our heroes. These survivors are great examples to us. These survivors are leaders. The mortgage banking industry is facing challenges today that pose threats to its very existence. The increasingly strenuous economy is making it difficult for people to afford homes. Increased regulation is adding to the strain by significantly limiting the pool of people available who can buy homes and adding significant costs to the companies who sell them. Sometimes, it can look bleak. But, then again, that's where the really good stories come from. Our industry could use some survivor stories. In the mortgage banking industry, it is the truly great leaders who will break through the obstacles and achieve success. Obstacles only serve to make victory that much more glorious. Leaders thrive on their challenges. Leaders don't back down … leaders are survivors. In this article, I want to give you a few tips on how to turn your tragedy into a survivor story. I want to show you how to turn yourself and your company from becoming a victim of the circumstances into becoming a leader for the industry. No matter what challenges arise, there are three guiding principles that can keep you on the right track and shelter you against the storms. These principles are: ►Seize opportunities; ►Be adaptable; and ►Maintain integrity. Have you ever seen the movie Antz? The 1998 computer-animated film was the first produced by Dreamworks and featured a well-known cast of voices, including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone and Dan Akroyd, just to name a few. In the story, "Z" (voiced by Woody Allen) is one of a countless number of worker ants in a totalitarian ant colony that places very little value on its individuals. Desiring to win the affection of the queen, Z convinces a befriended soldier ant to trade places with him. As he joins the military, he uncovers a conspiracy by the colony's general to take over the colony and eliminate the weaker ants. Through a series of events and a cast of characters coming to his aid, Z is able to overpower the malicious general and save his colony. It's the classic underdog story. And it has a powerful lesson to teach us as leaders in the mortgage banking industry. All too often, I hear mortgage professionals tell me that there is not enough opportunity. "We can't change the regulation, Dave," and "I'm just a little guy in Canton, Ohio, Dave … what can I do?" The truth is that, even in the current climate, opportunity abounds. But the opportunity isn't for everyone. The gold isn't just lying around waiting to be taken. There are indeed great opportunities, but they are for a select few true leaders who seek in adversity the opportunities that such adversity represents. Great leaders see the opportunities embedded in challenges. Great leaders thrive on such challenges that will inevitably crush others. Just like the character "Z" in the movie Antz, you might be just a small fish in a big pond. You might be a David in a world of Goliaths. But great opportunities often shine the brightest in the eyes of the oppressed and persecuted. Sometimes, when you're at the bottom, you have the clearest view of the top. Look for the opportunities around you to exploit the situation and emerge victoriously. Take advantage of every chance you get. Be a survivor. The second key to surviving the current environment in the mortgage industry is to be adaptable. Often, when faced with adversity, our gut reaction is to change everything and do a complete "180." But that isn't necessarily the best option. Sometimes, we don't need to completely reengineer our strategy. Sometimes, we just need to be a pivot. To be adaptable, you don't have to change everything. Being adaptable means being responsive. It doesn't mean being reactive. If, every time you face a challenge, you run scared in the other direction, you are letting circumstances control you. Instead of turning around a running, you simply need to "dodge" the obstacle and push on. You will never know whether or not a strategy will work if you don't give it enough time. Perhaps victory is right around the corner but, if you give up too soon, how will you know? If you've committed to a strategy, do all you can to see it through. But that doesn't mean your strategy can't be flexible. Leave room for unknowns. Have a responsive strategy that allows you to pursue the same goals, but with varying tactics. Being adaptable doesn't mean changing everything, but it does mean being willing to change some things. Change only what you must in order to proceed, but change it quickly and confidently. Being adaptable means being flexible with your strategy. It means dodging, not retreating. The final key to surviving challenges in the mortgage banking industry is to maintain integrity. In an age of increasing regulation, this principle can be the most difficult to sustain. One well-known case of failed integrity involves a recent investigation of a mortgage baking company by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This company perhaps thought itself too small to end up on the radar of the CFPB. The company, whether through intentional deceit or simple negligence, wrote a sloppy policy. As Benjamin Franklin has said, "Well done is better than well said." This company said something well, but it didn't do what it said. As a result, it was sued and its reputation was severely damaged. If there is one thing you don't want called into question, it's your integrity. An organization with mediocre performance but exceptional integrity will stand a greater chance of living to fight another day than an organization with outstanding performance but questionable integrity. You can bounce back from losing your revenue, but cannot quite bounce back from losing your soul. So, in an age of increasing regulation, how do you survive as a business and still maintain integrity? Leverage your high integrity as a differentiating factor. Position yourself against those who neglect integrity. You don't necessarily have to advertise the poor integrity of other companies, but you should promote your high integrity. Collect stories from customers and partners about your honest and trustworthy business practices. Incorporate these stories into the ethos of who you are as a business. Look at the regulatory environment and embrace it. Become known in the industry as a company that keeps its promises. Maintain your integrity and let everyone know you're serious about it. If your company were to write a memoir, would anyone want to read it? Would it be a best-seller? Would it be the kind of story that inspires? Would it be a survivor story? Great leaders are destined survivors. The toughest times are when true leaders prove themselves. When you look at the environment in the mortgage banking industry, recognize it for what it is—an opportunity for you to prove yourself. If you can adapt and survive, you will have proved to yourself and the marketplace that you are a true leader. Now, go forth … and lead. 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. 10, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]
Feb 10, 2014