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Built to Lead

Sarah Valentini
Jul 05, 2016

Walk through any Barnes & Noble and it should come as no surprise that an aisle comprised solely of self-help books exists—many of them on the subject of leadership, leadership on the field, leadership off the field and even leadership within the workplace. Though some of these are immensely beneficial and enriching, most say the same things only in different words. I think that may be why I don’t often read them. I’m regularly asked if I always knew that I wanted to be a leader while growing up. Honestly, I don’t think I did, although, if asked, my siblings would say I was always bossy.

There is also the debate whether people are born leaders or learn to become leaders. Surely, there are natural born leaders. Take a spin to a playground and you will see leadership in action. Or, just think of athletes and musicians—the prodigies often come to mind. Behind every prodigy is a superstar who was not born with the same innate abilities, but who worked hard and honed their skills to rise to the top. The same can be said about leadership.

Today, the mortgage business is as challenging as it’s ever been, as we work in an industry with no room for error. And now, more than ever, it’s become of paramount importance to attract, develop and retain great employees and identify great leaders. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go into the grocery store and pick employees off the shelf and put them in our cart? It is something we often joke (or cry) about in our office at radius financial group.

When looking from the outside in, the topic of age always seems to be at the forefront of our industry. If you look around, there are vast majority of middle aged white men—a stereotype screaming for diversity and young blood. Suffice it to say, there’s no doubt the meltdown of our industry forced many people out the door. And let’s face it … what young bright individual wanted to get into this business after it was strewn over every national headline?

Now that the dust has settled, we are in the midst of an opportune time for young, ambitious people to get into the mortgage lending industry. There’s tremendous opportunity for those who can endure the blood, sweat and tears it often takes to be a successful mortgage banker. When I think back to my early days in the industry, most of the leaders were young, and it was encouraged to identify good talent and foster it. There are great leaders at every age and, in my opinion, it’s the best leaders who want to cultivate those qualities in others. In our industry, it’s imperative to lay the groundwork for the next generation of mortgage bankers.

The fact of the matter is that most organizations, regardless of the industry, struggle with attracting great talent. You have to find ways to differentiate from the others. Mortgage banking is not for everyone and even people who have the skill sets may not necessary be right for the business. To go outside of the box in hiring, you must be willing to have a higher rate of turnover than you would otherwise allow.

You don’t have to do something drastic to find great people. Creating a culture that people want to be a part of will naturally breed talent. In any organization, engaged employees will always be your best ambassadors. Once you find them, you have to keep them. So, how do we retain great leaders?

Give them a seat at the table: People want to make an impact and they need an opportunity to do so. You put them in a leadership role for a reason. Let them lead.

Accept that they will do things differently from the way you do: Don’t let your experience or mindset get in the way of what they want to do.

Let them make mistakes: Unless you’ve never made a mistake, let your employees make them and learn from them. Just don’t make any mistakes with TRID!

Finding effective leaders can often be right under your nose: Take an honest look around your office and see what you uncover. You never know when you’ll find the next diamond in the rough.

Kickoff formal or informal mentor program: Entrust your proven talent with the responsibility of bringing up the next generation of leaders. This is a great way to develop talent and create a cohesive culture. And, more often than not, mentors may be surprised by what they might learn from the mentees.

Create contests: Not only will these help you accomplish key objectives, but it will encourage teamwork and leadership. Contests should not be limited to originators. Inspire your operations staff to get excited about friendly competition.

Peer recognition programs: Have your employees nominate one another for “going above and beyond.” Employees will feel appreciated and you’ll be able to acquire feedback about people you might not have otherwise known.

Anyone with years of experience in this industry, and is still alive to tell about it, must love what they do. If you love the business like I love the business, we have to focus on making sure it’s still a great place for the next generation to work and that homeownership remains part of the American dream. Do your part to help pass the torch.



Sarah Valentini is a leading mortgage professional with 20 years of experience in residential and commercial lending. In 1999, she launched radius financial group inc., where she serves today as the company’s president and principal. Under Sarah’s leadership, radius has grown from a small, local lender to one of New England’s leading, private mortgage banks.



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

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