I love that cartoon where an alien walks into a 7-11 and says, “Take me to your liter.”
Okay, that has nothing to do with being a leader, but it’s funny.
When I first started my mortgage broker business, all I wanted was to work from my house and be left alone. I had never been much of a “leader” in any of my past jobs. I had supervisors that I hated and who were morons. I just wanted no bosses. Never did I ever plan to run a huge organization and have to be a leader. I was forced into it as the company grew.
Did you ever think about how a king becomes a king? I mean, first starting out, not inheriting the crown. I always imagined it started in a small village. Everyone did their own jobs; no one was really in charge. But then, some smart person realizes, things would be better if they organized. He convinces the group to work together for an irrigation system, to train for self-defense, that things would go smoother if people were honest with each other and there should be a penalty if they weren’t. Basically, it is the person who thinks ahead of everyone else. People follow him, not due to charisma, but because he is right most of the time. He is wiser.
Not a jerk
The best form of government is not a democracy … it is a benevolent dictatorship. The top person is a leader with everyone’s best interest in his heart. Someone who can resolve disputes fairly, someone you can trust, someone with the same values as you, someone smarter than you. Someone who will take charge when there is a need and stand back when there isn’t. When the guy at the top is a jerk, everyone down the line will tend to be, also. You want that “not jerk” guy to run things.
Envision a ship on the ocean. You have the people steering, the people who take care of the sails, the person cooking the meals. But you have to have one person who is constantly looking at the horizon steering the ship clear of foul weather and dangerous reefs ahead. The crew listens to him because he sees the big picture. They trust him with their lives. It is kind of like who you choose to be the banker when you play Monopoly. A leader must be someone you can trust.
As the owner of the mortgage company, I was constantly confronted with “King Solomon” decisions I had to make. Always, it seemed, the administration people and the loan officers were fighting over something. I explained that they were two sides of the same coin. One could not function without the other. Imagine your kidney and your liver got into a fight. Whose side do you take? I think it was best summed up by a Japanese-American interned during World War II. They asked him which side did he wanted to win. He said, “When your mother and father fight, which side do you take? Neither, you just want them to stop fighting.”
Don’t do what I say
As the owner of the company, I was constantly on the lookout for a “leader” to promote as manager. You cannot promote a manager to leader. You can only promote a leader to manager. As the company grew, I used to hold “Bowling Parties” as a way to get everyone together and develop an esprit d’corps. But as we expanded, the employees in the other states felt left out. One loan officer took it upon himself to organize a bowling party of his own in West Virginia. When I called him, he was afraid he was getting fired for overstepping his bounds. Instead, he was promoted. I told him, “I am not looking for people who do what I say, but people who do it before I say.” That is a leader.
I think the thing that prepared me the most for leadership was being a father. Every employee became one of my children. I worried about their well-being, them getting ahead and what made them happy. If you take care of your people, they will take care of you. As they get ahead, your organization gets ahead. The more they make, the more you make.
Being a successful leader doesn’t make you smarter, prettier or a better person, no matter what your sycophant employees will tell you. You are doing a job on the ship, no less valuable than the lowest deckhand or receptionist in your office. You just do different jobs and are paid differently. Have no doubt; you can both be replaced if someone better comes along. For managers that look down on their employees or maltreat them, I say, pride is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason.
Forget about being a leader
And being a leader is not all fun and games. It was one of the hardest jobs I could ever imagine. Imagine having to cut off a limb to save your body. It is easy to hire someone, give them wages to support their family, boost their self-esteem and raise them to a new level of prosperity. Now, think of the reverse when you have to let them go. Especially, since they were loyal, hardworking good friends during the good times. A leader has to make the hard decisions. More than anything, I think that is why my company failed during the tough times. I did not have the heart to make the cuts I should have when the economy tanked.
Be careful what you wish for, being a leader is not all that great sometimes. I am way happier just being a loan officer, doing my own thing and not having the burden of 2,000 people on my shoulders. The pay was good, but the stress was horrible. The idea is not to be the richest man in the cemetery, but to enjoy your life. Now, I am enjoying mine.
Eric Weinstein worked in banking, on the commercial real estate side until 1991, when he fell in love with residential lending. In 1995, he started a small mortgage company in his basement called Carteret Mortgage Corporation, which in 2003, grew to one of the largest mortgage broker companies in the United States. These days, Eric is semi-retired, doing mortgages by referral only. As he likes to put it, “He is either saving people money per month or helping them buy a new home. What a great job!” He may be reached by phone at (703) 505-8692 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.