Women are often told there’s no place in business for them and their softer personalities. They’re criticized for being emotional, and they’re ostracized from male-dominated office politics and important client meetings. Men, on the other hand, are taught to be tough. Take no prisoners, get the job done at all costs, and drive that profit margin through the roof. I’ve come to realize over the course of my career that there’s a place for the softer side of men in business. I’ve learned to put my heart into everything I do and have seen it pay off in spades. Men who ignore this side of themselves in business may be missing out on a key strategic tactic that could catapult them to a new level of success.
When I started up a new satellite office of Trinity Mortgage, I was excited about the possibilities. I wanted to show the world what I could do. After all, I’d already become the top producer at Trinity – that’s why I was offered the opportunity to start this new branch. I started out with 5 employees – ambitious, hard-working financial advisors, loan officers, realtors, and investors. I called them my Tiger Team.
I knew my success was based on their success. I wanted my team to excel in all aspects of the business, so I paid them more than they could make anywhere else. I invested in the best tools and processes possible – whatever they needed that would help them be successful. These people worked so hard for me and before long, we were up to 20 employees. Business was going so well that I decided to move it into hyperdrive and began an aggressive roll-up acquisition campaign that had me gobbling up competitors in the industry. Before long, we hit 40 account execs and were still growing. Mortgage lenders and financial advisors from other companies were starting to approach me frequently, asking to work for me, because they’d heard how well I treated my people.
With rapid growth often comes challenges, and we had a lot of them. Keeping up with the onboarding of new team members; getting licenses renewed or transferred to our company from other companies; staying up-to-date with all regulatory compliance, training, and education for new agents; and most notably, dealing with conflicting corporate cultures created an environment of chaos and confusion. As we continued to expand – eventually reaching 105 employees and making the transition into becoming a full-blown mortgage bank – I stayed up late into each night, wondering if I could hold it all together or whether I might be better off slowing this speeding train down a bit. I knew my employees were looking to me to keep the business moving forward, and I felt an obligation to keep things on course so they could continue with the success they’d grown accustomed to.
I loved my team. Everyone worked hard every day to meet their goals, bring in clients, and deliver outstanding results. I wouldn’t be here today if weren’t for them.
With the success of my business, I was able to start investing in other interests like real estate and other business interests. Things were humming along when suddenly, the bottom dropped out. This was 2007, the beginning of a financial crisis that lasted well into the following year and included the collapse of investment firm Lehman Brothers, as well as the government bail-out of many other financial institutions. This was followed by an economic downturn that left financial advisors and investors gasping for breath. The entire mortgage industry was impacted, and my company was no exception. My credit line suddenly evaporated, and we were left with stacks upon stacks of mortgage applications and no ability to fund the loans.
Of course, it quickly became clear to me that we were in trouble. I couldn’t run a mortgage bank if we had no money to make mortgage loans. And so, with great sadness in my heart, I did the inevitable and closed the business down. I had to let all 105 employees go, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Many of these people had been with me for years; they were like family to me. To have to sit there across a table and tell them they didn’t have a job anymore tore me up. I held hands with many of them as we talked and tears were shed on both sides. They couldn’t believe this was real – and neither could I. Never in my wildest dreams of business ownership had I foreseen something like this happening. It was excruciating.
Business isn’t always about being tough. Sometimes a softer approach is in order. If you expect to get the most productivity out of people, you have to care about them; and they have to feel it. They have to know that you don’t just see them as a worker bee. You need to know who they are, what their spouse’s name is, how old their kids are, and where they go to school. You have to ask what they’re doing over the weekend and really care about the answer. And if life ever throws you a curveball and you have to let them go, draw on that good relationship for strength. Be compassionate and show some empathy for the situation. It doesn’t make losing a job (or a business) any easier to accept, but letting people go with a caring, appreciative, and respectful attitude does help.
Treating people with kindness leaves a lasting impression and creates a loyal workforce, one that will catapult you to success. So to all the men and women out there reading this…go ahead and show your softer side. Put your heart into every job you do, every business you own, every employee you hire. It’s what makes the tough times tolerable and the good times even better. Sure, you may feel a little vulnerable at first, but the payoff is worth that risk.
From my heart to yours,
P.S. Putting my heart into everything I do has taken on an elevated meaning for me lately as I await a new heart for transplant. Don’t take yours for granted. Use it.