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Lykken on Leadership: Seven Transformations Every Leader Must Undergo to Move From Good to Great

Dec 30, 2015
After 40-plus years in the mortgage industry, I've discovered that the development of great leadership in the business really boils down to one thing: Growth

After 40-plus years in the mortgage industry, I've discovered that the development of great leadership in the business really boils down to one thing: Growth. Those who achieve their highest potential are those who are focused on personal development. They aren't stagnant; they aren't just waiting around for the weekend—or for retirement. They're always moving—always looking for the next opportunity to excel. In short, these leaders are focused on transforming themselves.

In this article, I would like to share with you a few observations on what transformation in leadership really means on a concrete level. In other words, what kind of transformations must a leader undergo? In what ways does a leader need to be transformed? While this certainly isn't an exhaustive list, I believe that if you can transform these seven areas in your life and work, you'll have what it takes to move from the realm of mediocrity to the realm of greatness.

First, if you want to be the best leader you can be you've got to transform how you see yourself. Perception is a powerful thing. Henry Ford is famous for saying, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." He was certainly on to something. When leaders stop believing in themselves, they stop taking the necessary actions to develop themselves into better leaders. When you don't really think you can be successful, you won't even try. On the other hand, if you see yourself as having potential for success, you'll do the necessary work to realize that potential. Moreover, how you see yourself influences how other people see you. If you don't have confidence in your ability to lead, how can you expect those you are leading to have confidence in you? How you see yourself is the foundation on which all other transformation is based.

Second, you've got to transform how spend your time. You've heard it before. We all have the same 24 hours, 1,444 minutes, and 86,400 seconds in a day. What sets us apart is how we use that time. It's like getting a huge deposit of money every day that must be spent by the day's end. Two different people getting the same amount of money can come away with very different outcomes by the way they've spent it. So, how do you transform the way you spend your time? First, you've got to stop seeing yourself as a prisoner to time. Manage your time … don't let it manage you. Don't tell yourself that you have to do X, Y or Z. Tell yourself that you've chosen to do those things. Once you take responsibility for your time, you can then work on investing it more valuably.

Third, if you want to excel as a great leader, you've got to transform how you interact with others. The thing about leadership is that it doesn't matter how much you know or how much you can do—if you cannot deal well with people, it's all for naught. Why is that the case? Because, by its very definition, leadership requires followers. If people aren't following you, it doesn't matter what it says on your business card—you aren't a leader. Making the transition from a mediocre leader to a great one is very much about developing the way you interact with people. This could mean your employees, but it could also mean many others on whom you have an influence—investors, suppliers, customers, the general public and even competitors. If you want to be a great leader, focus on developing relationships with those whom you are leading.

Fourth, you've got to transform how you handle pressure. The housing crisis and recession of the last decade has been hard on all of us in the mortgage industry. However, I think the challenging environment has done one good thing for the industry—it has separated the wheat from the chaff. Pressure is the crucible in which truly great leaders emerge triumphantly. Those who don't have what it takes will not be able to adapt and will falter under pressure. If you want to develop into a great leader, you've got to change how you deal with challenging situations. It's easy to look good when everything is going according to plan, but how do you look when things go awry? Exposure yourself to a little risk and take some chances—that's really the only way to see if you've got what it takes.

Fifth, if you want to reach your highest potential, you've got to transform how you deal with unethical behavior. If there is one area in which leaders in our industry need to place an emphasis, this is it. Since the financial crisis, the CFPB and other regulatory organizations have placed quite a substantial burden on the industry. And, arguably, the limitations on lending have unnecessarily slowed recovery. However, I think we as industry leaders can sometimes complain when we should be taking responsibility. I think we sometimes need to place greater importance on our reputations and the public perception of the mortgage industry. In a more concrete sense, that could mean blowing the whistle in our organizations or having the willingness to take some sort of stand against unethical behavior. Wrong is wrong, and truly great leaders will call it when they see it.

Sixth, you've got to transform how you embrace technology. In today's day and age, we are operating in a more competitive market than we ever have before. Lucky for us, the revolution in technology has spread to the industry and there are countless vendors offering solutions from which we can benefit. If you want to survive as a leader in the mortgage industry, you've got to stay on the cutting edge of technological developments. Those who reach their highest potential are those who aren't afraid to experiment with new tools and systems. Moreover, they are often the first ones do it. Technology can be the leader's secret weapon. The sooner you warm up to it, the sooner you'll become the great leader you are striving to be.

Finally, for a seventh way you can make that leap from good to great in your leadership, you've got to transform how you see your work. If you simply want to earn a good living and retire as soon as possible, punching in and out, and flying under the radar, you can simply see your work as a job. However, if you want to become a truly great leader, you've got to see your profession as a calling. Your work has to matter to you not just as a means to paycheck but also as an end in itself. Great leaders care about impact they have on their industry and the legacy they leave behind through their actions. They see working in the mortgage business as their own small way of making the world a better place. If you want to become a great leader, you've got to transform how you see your work. It cannot just be for the money. Your work has got to become a mission for which you live and breathe. Only then can it develop into the kind of work that moves you from good to great.

David Lykken, a 43-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is president of Transformational Mortgage Solutions (TMS), a management consulting firm that provides transformative business strategies to owners and “C-Level” executives via consulting, executive coaching and various communications strategies. He is a frequent guest on FOX Business News and hosts his own weekly podcast called “Lykken on Lending” heard Monday’s at 1:00 p.m. ET at David’s phone number is (512) 759-0999 and his e-mail is [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

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