MReport September 2020

TheMReport — News and strategies for the evolving mortgage marketplace.

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Page 21 of 66

20 | M R EP O RT FEATURE O ver the course of my 30-year career in the mortgage banking and mortgage insurance industries, I've learned many les- sons about leadership. One lesson stands above the rest, however: To be a good leader, you really have to care about other people's success, not just your own. That concept was reinforced to me in a recent survey of our employees on how they felt about working for our organization and for the executive team. I read our employees' confidential responses carefully. What struck me was the emphasis employees put on qualities such as being caring, at- tentive, and a good listener. The idea that you need to be caring to be a good leader wasn't always widely accepted. Some believed it was a sign of weak- ness, or a "feminine" trait. Since then, our ideas about effective leadership have evolved. Today we know caring and appreciation are signs of strength in a leader. Another is "emotional intelli- gence," defined by Psychology Today as "the ability to identify and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others." I believe women show tremen- dous strength in many of these "new" traits that we attribute to effective leaders. Below, I get into a few reasons why, as well as what I think makes a good leader—and how to become one. Why Empathy is a Strength W hen people think of the key qualities that make a great leader, words like de- cisiveness, self-confidence, and integrity usually come to mind. Often missing from this list is what I consider to be one of the most important leadership traits: empathy. And today, with the pandemic impacting the way we all do business, I believe empathy in a leader is more critical than ever. There are plenty of studies to back this up. A report by global consulting firm Korn Ferry, "The Power of EI," highlights empathy as an emotional-intelligence com- petence that makes leaders more effective. The research reveals a positive link between empathy and a company's performance, team cli- mate, and employee retention. As we all know, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. An empathetic leader listens thoroughly to others and is caring. But having empathy is not a sign of weakness. You can still be direct, confident, and strong while showing others empathy. In fact, empathy as a key leadership trait is emphasized repeatedly in an unexpected place—the U.S. military. It's one of the first things listed in the U.S. Army manual on Leadership Development under the section on character: "Army leaders show empathy when they genuinely relate to another person's situ- ation, motives, or feelings," the manual states. "Empathy does not mean sympathy for another, but a realization that leads to a deeper understanding. Empathy allows the leader to anticipate what others are experiencing and feeling and gives insight into how decisions or actions affect them." Today, there is even empa- thy training in the workplace. According to a Wall Street Journal article published a few years ago, 20% of employers of- fered empathy training as part of their management develop- ment initiatives, which was up substantially from 10 years earlier. Today even more companies are offering empathy training, includ- ing LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, and Cisco Systems. There is also evidence that em- pathy in the workplace can boost the bottom line. In its 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study, BusinessSolver found that 76% of employees believe that empathy drives greater productivity. But, perhaps most impor- tantly, when managers and the leadership team have empathy for employees and truly listen to their concerns or their ideas without judgement, it bolsters the confidence of team members and encourages them to actually put in more effort to do a good job. Empathy also encourages innova- tion. When leaders show employ- ees they care and that their ideas are valued, employees are more likely to come up with creative and forward-thinking ideas for the company. An Aptitude for Consensus Leadership A nother leadership concept I strongly believe in is consensus leadership. Consensus leadership is when team members work as a group to develop an answer or solution, then everyone agrees to support whatever deci- sion is made in the best interests of the department or company. It involves hearing input from each member of the team, thoughtfully considering their contribution, and then making a genuine effort to address concerns that may be brought up. But, it's important that leaders have the skillset to guide team meetings and make sure that everyone is heard. Martin Luther King, Jr., captured this concept perfectly when he said, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consen- sus, but a molder of consensus." Consensus is an aspect of my role that I don't take lightly. I love that I get to work with all of the departments at my company. It gives me a chance to work with Leading Through Empathy A 30-year mortgage exec shares lessons learned over an impactful career. By Claudia Merkle

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