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Lykken on Leadership: Six Questions to Help You Clarify Your Purpose

David Lykken
Jan 26, 2017

At the end of the day, all we want to know is how to succeed. We want to know how to meet our sales goals, how to exceed our investors' expectations, and how to gain more market share over the competition. Since this is inevitably the end game in business, we tend to seek solutions toward that end. We want to know secrets, tips and tricks that can directly contribute to success. The problem, though, is that I don't think success is that linear. Success, for a business, is much like happiness for the individual—you cannot get at it directly; rather, it comes as the inevitable result of doing other things.

In my consulting business, I place an enormous amount of focus on helping organizations define and develop their core values. In the tradition of Simon Sinek's Start With Why, I work with organizations to uncover their ultimate purpose—the reason that they exist in the marketplace. Why do I do this? What does it have to do with the success that all organizations ultimately seek? Well, it is my belief that the strength of the purpose driving an organization is that very thing that must be properly refined before success can even be possible.

Trying to achieve success without understanding your purpose is putting the cart before the horse. It's like wanting to build the ornate roof of a skyscraper for everyone to see before you've even bothered to build the foundation. The fundamentals make everything that comes after possible. In the mortgage industry, people approach me all the time with questions about how to succeed? In my mind, these folks are asking the second question first. The primary question that should be asked is, "What is my purpose?" Once you've clearly understood and articulated the answer to that question, everything else should fall into place. Here are six questions to get you started in that journey of discovery that inevitably leads to success.

1. Why do you exist?

This first question is perhaps the most obvious and fundamental. Why are you in business in the first place? What is your reason for competing in the mortgage industry? This question may sound ubiquitous, but you would be surprised how many people go through their entire careers without giving it any thought. Maybe your company was started as a sort of accident. Perhaps your founders had some link to the industry and thought it would be a good way to make money. But how you came to exist is not the same thing as why you exist now. You always have the chance to redefine yourself. So, think about what your purpose is now and what you want it to be. This is the starting point, because everything else—every other decision you make in your organization—will go back to how you answer this question.

2. What are your values?

A second important question to ask yourself is, “What do you believe?” This sort of question can lead to developing your own internal "code of ethics." This, of course, is above and beyond what is necessary for compliance. Great leaders are accountable not only to regulators, but also to their own high moral standards. Knowing what your values are takes much of the risk out of doing business. As long as you are sticking to the guidelines you've laid out for yourself, you'll know that you aren't cutting any corners. If, on the other hand, you don't have any clearly defined values, then you never know where you might end up.

3. How do you work?

After you've gotten the basics of why you exist down, the next step is to move on to how you work. When you ask this question, you are asking about your process. How do you go about carrying out your mission? What systems do you have in place that guide the day-to-day operations of your business? All too often, organizations work in a haphazard manner. There is no rhyme or reason to the process—it sort of just arises spontaneously. If you want to increase your chances for success, you've got to be more deliberate about how you get there. Take a look at your processes and see what could use some tweaking.

4. What do you offer?

The next question you might ask is often the question people start with, “What is your product?” What do you sell? What is it that your customers want that you can provide? Before you know what you sell, you should definitely know who you are. Why you are in business and how you operate should come first but, let's face, without a product you don't really have a business. At the end of the day, you need to have something to sell. What are the products that you can offer within the context of the mortgage industry? On one level, everyone will have relatively the same product, but you can be creative in what you offer in such a way that makes it unique? Oftentimes, the package is the product? How are you packaging what you sell?

5. Who is on your team?

A fifth question for you to ask if you want to know that fundamentals on which you will build success is this: “Who do you have working with you?” Business is a team sport. You might have coaches. You might even have star players, but success only happens when everyone crosses the finish line. How invested are you in developing your team? Too many organizations give little attention to this question. Of course, everyone says that they want the best people, but few are willing to really devote the resources required to hire and retain them. In the mortgage industry, one great employer is worth at least five mediocre ones. The industry can be complex on both an intellectual and social level, and you need to employees that can balance both. That means hiring the best for the job and then training them to be even better. So, what about you? Have you paid enough attention to the quality of your team?

6. What makes you different?

Even after you've ironed out your purpose, process, product and people, you are still left with a quandary when trying to compete with other organizations in the mortgage industry. When seeking to clarify a worthwhile purpose that serves as the foundation for success, you must ultimately ask the question, “What make us so special?” What are you doing that no one else is doing? What do you bring to the table? Of course, you believe you are unique, but is that fact obvious to those on the outside? Do investors see you any differently than any other organization in the industry? What about customers? It's not enough to be different; you also need to look different. This last question you must ask is how you differentiate yourself—how you refine your image to reflect a competitive advantage against others in the industry.

There are, of course, many more questions you could ask to help you understand your core purpose. Moreover, having solid answers for these questions won't necessarily give you success. It will, however, make success possible. When you can understand fully who you are, how you work, and what you do, you will have the necessary building blocks to work toward success. It may end with meeting sales goals, exceeding investors' expectations, or achieving the highest market share in your niche, but always remember … it all starts with why.

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 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. 

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