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How Will You Know When You Find a Leader?

Casey Fleming
Jun 22, 2016

Every company wants to hire leaders, but in my opinion, most companies think too small when they pursue potential candidates. While every company needs to bring tomorrow’s leaders in today if they are going to thrive in the long term, most invariably pursue those who will give them a significant, but temporary boost in their production. By doing this, they miss out on the leaders who would give them longer-term, more effective contributions. What do I mean?

Almost every company pursues producing teams in order to boost production as quickly as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that, because the fact that someone has been able to assemble a productive team means they are a good leader, right?

Not necessarily. Someone who is able to build a productive team certainly has some of the skills needed for leadership, but perhaps only one or two. The leader that’s going to build a region, or a division for you, has to have it all. One loan officer, no matter how productive, can ever produce as much as an entire region of competent, moderately-producing journeyman-level mortgage professionals.

What are the character traits that a true leader has, and how will you recognize them?

It’s hard to become successful in this business without being very competent. Hard, but not impossible. We all know highly successful loan officers that are great at sales but still don’t know much about guidelines or how to analyze a client’s financial situation. Maybe he hires a great processor to worry about guidelines—there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe as long as he knows how to sell certain loan products he figures he doesn’t need to worry that much about being a financial expert. There arguably is something wrong with that, but as long as he produces we let him slide.

That loan officer will make you money, until another lender makes him a better offer. But he will never build more than a small team. The journeymen that will make up the core of your company want someone who is—above all—thoroughly competent to look up to and learn from. Competence leaves evidence, and that will draw in the core that will make up the vast majority of your production.

Above all, your leader is someone who can dissect a client’s circumstances and concerns, has a deep understanding of the financial ramifications of loan options, keeps up with changes in underwriting guidelines and regulations, and takes leadership roles in professional organizations to stay ahead of trends.

How do you recognize this? Your interview questions should include asking your candidate to analyze a hypothetical client’s situation to see if he or she understands the long-term financial implications if their recommended solutions.

Work ethic
Leaders are not the last one in the door in the morning or the first one out the door at night. Leaders show up early, use their time effectively, and work until their work is done. They are not clock-driven, but rather they finish their work no matter what it takes. Their team does the same, because they will always mirror their leader’s work ethic.

Ask your candidates how they manager their calendar, and you’ll see if they are organized, focused and committed.

Drive rather than ambition
Most companies want ambitious leaders. They want leaders who are hungry for financial success, because that will drive them to bring in the revenues they need to achieve their goals. That’s true, except what ambitious loan officers tend to want is to make more for themselves than ever before—everyone else is secondary.

Leaders, on the other hand, know that their success comes from making others successful. They have a very high drive for accomplishment as a team, rather than financial success for themselves. They want to produce more revenue for the company and enable their team to make more than ever before. They want to do this by constantly improving their own skills so they can be better at what they do for their clients, and they want that for their team as well, because they know serving clients well breeds success. They want to promote the company because they want to work for an outstanding organization that is recognized as a leader in the field, and they want their team to feel proud of being part of it.

Essentially, leaders want to do everything they can to see the company and their team members become more successful, knowing that in doing so they too will achieve financial success far beyond what they can do themselves.

It’s a fine, but important distinction. True leaders focus less on how much money they can make, and more on what they can accomplish and how good they can become, and by doing so, make more money for themselves too.

Ask your candidates what drives them. What is their why? In their answers, look for clues that their primary motivation is making more money for themselves. Avoid those candidates. Leaders want to become successful by helping others.

The first question companies ask me when interviewing is “How many people will follow you if we hire you?” You might get a team this way, but they’ll be gone as soon as you turn around. A true leader puts ethics above all else—even getting the juicy position or making more loans. Ethical leaders don’t steal their company’s employees, nor do they raid their company’s data base of clients.

It is especially true once your leader elevates to a position where a lot of folks look up to him or her. The team will mirror the leader’s values. A true leader—the ones that build highly productive, competent and ethical teams—are the ones who put ethics first above all else, even producing revenue.

If you want true leaders in your company, throw out that first question you always ask.

Support for team
Leaders care about how well their team does. They support the team in getting the education they need to become highly competent. They coach their team how to advance in their own careers and how to earn more by building a sustainable practice. The team will be more cohesive, more motivated and more productive if they feel totally supported by their leader.

Rather than ask candidates how many people will follow him, ask him how many of his previous team member have gone on to build teams of their own, and how they are doing.

Finally, for the most elusive quality of all, the leader must inspire her team. The words “inspire” and “spiritual” have the same root. People may work for a company, but they will die for a cause.

When the leader inspires their team to understand the human impact of their work, they will be more attentive and present to their task. They will care about the impact they have on clients.

When the leader inspires their team to become the best they can be, they will educate themselves and build whatever skills they need to make them better at building their practice.

When the leader inspires their team to understand they are all part of the same team working for the same cause, they will be more cohesive and more supportive of each other as they strive constantly to achieve the organization’s goals.

To determine if a candidate has what it takes to inspire their team, ask him what inspires them. Really make him go into detail. Ask why that inspires him, and how. You will learn more about that candidate in three minutes than anything else you can do.

Then, ask him for examples of his previous team members who exploded their own practice. Ask what made them do so well so quickly, and look for his ability to understand what motivated them.

True success is built one solid team member at a time. Hiring high-producing teams does boost revenues immediately, at least for a while. But hire a leader, and you’ll build much larger and more productive organizations with significantly less risk, and dramatically improve your company’s reputation at the same time.

Casey Fleming is a mortgage advisor with C2 Financial Corporation and was president of Silicon Valley Chapter of the California Association of Mortgage Professionals (CAMP) from 2012-2014. Casey authored the book, The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage (available on Amazon). He may be reached by phone at (408) 348-3442 or e-mail

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.

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