From LO to leader

How to transition from being a great originator to leading a great team

From LO to leader

You may have heard it from a supervisor at some point along the way: don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution.

There are plenty of people in the workforce who do great work, and there are plenty of people who are great managers and leaders, and sometimes the two categories overlap. Sometimes they don’t, and the result is an inefficient and ineffective business.

The mortgage industry is a perfect example of people in leadership positions who aren't necessarily there due to their leadership qualities. Cindy Ertman, a former originator turned mortgage coach, trainer, and author, says that originators will often utilize her programs not for tips on origination, but for tips on becoming an effective, authentic, leader.

“A lot of LOs become branch managers because they develop a lot of business. They suddenly open a branch and they’re suddenly in a position where they’re recruiting LOs and they’re leading a team but they have no leadership skills. They have a lot of sales skills, but they really struggle with, ‘how do I lead a team?’” Ertman said.

What she discovered is that originators find it very easy to complain about what they don't have--whether that's in terms of staffing, support, technology, or even good leadership for themselves. That's not only defeatist thinking that can quickly poison your team, but it's also pretty useless.

Instead, Ertman suggests that originators/branch managers compile a list of what they need to be successful. If something on that list doesn't work for you as it currently exists, it's the originator's job to devise a solution to that.

"A lot of originators--because they’re high D, very driven personalities--are very reactive instead of responsive,” she said. “Instead of telling somebody’s their baby’s ugly, it’s much more effective to compile a list of, what is it we really need to be successful, and begin to look at the world from that mindset. And so I really try to get loan originators to think about communicating to their own leadership and to teach their own people if they have LOs working for them, if they become leaders, is to teach people to really share in a constructive way, what is it that you need to be successful, and help people attain that.”

Something to keep in mind is that by and large, the powers that be in an organization want their originators, their branch managers, to succeed. Those leaders who are still producers have a leg up in terms of addressing issues because they're in the weeds and can see specific pain points that might not be easily identifiable from a zoomed out view.

Sean Cahan is one of these producers. As the president of Cornerstone Mortgage Group, he knows exactly what it's like to be on both sides of the fence.

“Being the owner of Cornerstone and doing all the operations, also being a high producer, I’m understanding of what the other loan officers are going through,” he said. “People want to work with an owner that can make the changes that are necessary because I’m still doing what they’re doing, I’m still in the streets, I’m doing open houses on the weekends, I’m talking to clients, I’m sending out emails, so I’m trying to streamline everyone’s business and they’re talking to someone who’s in the same shoes they are.”

Of course, all of this really starts with setting a strong foundation and using solid building blocks: team members. A strong team has an effective leader, but it also has a system around hiring the right people, training them, and managing them in a high-impact fashion, Ertman said.

Leaders have control over a culture, and that means control over how people show up and how they do business. Hiring people who are solutions-oriented won't just bring problems to the table, they'll bring solutions, and enable leaders to do the same. Good leaders set clear expectations for their team members, and establish how they can collectively make a positive impact on the team that they’re serving.

One of Ertman's clients actually has a sheet with six “non-negotiables” that he has all of his team members sign, centered on his expectations for his team members. It may be a little unorthodox, but it's a way to ensure that all team members are on the same page.

“I think it’s such a great thing to get them to agree on the front end that we’re a team, and we want to collectively make a positive impact on the people that we’re serving, and they’re part of something bigger than themselves. People really seek that. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, it makes the whole experience if serving other people more impactful and makes people feel much better about what they do every day," Ertman said.

Good leadership starts with a vision: figure out what you want to create, what your success and that of your business looks like, and surround yourself with positive people who are able to engineer your way to that vision.