A Time To Listen

Many times we think we have all the answers, or at least that we know what we’re doing. However, it always helps to get some outside advice. In the article “The Power of an Outside Voice” by Jon Gordon, he shares a story about an interaction that he had with a top CEO.

The CEO said, “We brought you here to reinforce our message. Our folks get tired of hearing us say it but when it comes from an outside voice it’s new, fresh and exciting.”

Jon knew exactly what that CEO was talking about.

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Even though he is brought in to speak to some of the biggest names in sports and business his kids have little interest in hearing what he has to say.

Besides having his kids read his books and writing inspirational messages on whiteboards in their rooms, Jon resorted to outside voices to reinforce the message and principles he want to share with them.

Jon has found coaches, tutors, mentors, experts, etc. to encourage, coach, teach, push and bring out the best in his children.

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Jon also give his children books to read and shared inspiring YouTube videos and messages from role models such as Mo Isom, Daniel Rodriguez, Erwin McManus, Alexis Jones, Eric Thomas, Bailey Obrien and other inspirational people.

There’s something about the power of an outside voice and I want to encourage you to use outside voices to share and reinforce important principles and messages with your team at work and at home.

I will do all I can do to support you by continuing to write articles, give talks and provide even more free resources to be an outside voice for you and others. I know it’s my purpose and I’m glad to be of help.

NexLevel Advisors is a strategic business advisory firm that assists companies in growing their businesses more quickly and strategically than they could by themselves. We are passionate about taking your business and people to the next level by differentiating your company and its unique offerings.

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Our customized solutions help you to sell more, more frequently, to more people by clearly establishing your specific value propositions. This is where real world experience, strategy and execution deliver measurable results for your organization.

In the end, there are many outside voices out there and I encourage you to find the right people and resources to share with your work team and ask family members, neighbors, friends, teachers and mentors to encourage and teach your children and team at home. This philosophy is so great that it will help you with your work life and your home life.

There’s the power of an outside voice and you can start tapping into one today!

About The Author

Deeds Are Destroying Your Organization

Captured on camera — a passenger being dragged off a plane goes viral instantly, and an international brand-tarnishing moment is made.

As a leader such a scenario is a shining opportunity for a CEO, business owner or senior executive to seize control of the situation, and turn it around.

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Instead, far too many executives lose their cool, shift the responsibility and fault others — often relegating the situation to “regrettable actions of employees” or even blaming the victimized customer. In other words, the leader’s sense of self-importance and corporate rightness reigns supreme.

Case in point: The initial response by United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz regarding employees forcibly removing a passenger from a recent flight was originally positioned as regrettable but necessary. Then there’s the Uber CEO who was videotaped aggressively arguing with his own driver when he complained about corporate decisions to cut fares for Uber’s premium service. Instead of empathy or even tolerance, the driver’s comments were met with scorn. Finally, Wells Fargo’s results-at-all-costs mindset led to millions of fake accounts being created.

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These are glaring examples of CEOs whose focus on financial and personal success damaged their company’s culture and bottom line — and then they blamed others when things went poorly. While highly public company crises are somewhat rare, each and every day C-suite executives and business owners worldwide are falling victim to their own egos — egos which are preventing them from making sound business decisions, unconsciously setting poor examples for their employees and creating a culture where poor customer service and underperformance are an acceptable way to work.

Every organization must decide whether they will allow their companies to be determined by an ego-driven culture or one that is ego free. Many of the employees at the organizations we’ve worked with are talented and hardworking, but have underperformed in their potential in proportion to the severity of these four dysfunctions.

Below are four ego-driven personality traits that, at best, are undermining a company from realizing its full potential and, at worst, can cause executives to irreparably damage their business’s reputation and performance.

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1. Dismissing Feedback

The Symptom: Not listening to other points of view can lead to negative unforeseen and significant consequences in profitability, reputation and employee morale.

The Source: Every leader knows they should listen, but the ego wants to win, be right and avoid appearing incompetent or stupid. When these ego threats are triggered, it is almost impossible for leaders to constructively hear others and take to heart what will be best for the overall business. In the case of Munoz, his initial public response regarding the passenger pulled from the plane was to criticize the passenger and the lack of “proper tools, policies and procedures.” Deflection by a leader is invariably an ego-driven disaster in the making.

“When leaders are defensive or abrasive, it triggers similarly dysfunctional behaviors in their colleagues. It doesn’t matter what poster you put up on the wall. Dominant organizational dysfunction will not decrease until leaders identify and overcome their personal ego-system reactions,” says Black.

The Solution: A culture of trust and transparency starts at the top. This means that the CEO, executive or business owner must be highly — and visibly — receptive to input and feedback — especially when they disagree. For example, notice when you are sure that you are right and ask your team to tell you what you are not seeing or hearing.

2. The Blame Game

The Symptom: When things go wrong, our ego involuntarily points the finger at others. Our focus is on who’s incompetent, doesn’t get it, or never should have been put in that role. Painting a bleak picture of the company, co-workers, our customer base, etc., may make us feel better, but often makes us look worse.

The Source: For the ego, being wrong or at fault (especially in public) can feel like death. Let’s face it: Everyone wants to be the hero and no one wants to be the fall guy. When blame is the name of the game, it is the rare leader who can own his or her responsibility first.

The Solution: A leader must first call out the fact that the blame game is going on, making it too risky for anyone to take responsibility for anything. By humbly owning their (or the team/company) part of the problem, the leader sets the example for others to “look in the mirror.” Leaders who are secure enough to say “I screwed up” create a culture where employees hold themselves accountable.

How much better off would Munoz have been to acknowledge that his policies directly or indirectly contributed to passengers being deplaned in such an un-customer-focused way? Or what about recognizing from the start that this was not an action consistent with the values of the company? Owning a problem requires doing the right thing above the ego-driven goal of “looking good.” All leaders know this intellectually — but when the ego is threatened, the brain stem takes over and we react ineffectively.

3. Us. vs. Them

The Symptom: Human Resources is frustrated with Operations, Sales ignores HR, and everyone is mad at IT. In this common climate of mistrust, performance issues don’t get addressed, and departments fight over who’s in charge instead of coming together to achieve the organization’s goals.

The Source: While everyone may complain about turf wars, there is a hidden side benefit to the ego. Any lack of performance can be passed off as the failure of another person, group or department, and we get to be right that if they had just listened to us, everything would have turned out fine. The unchecked ego will choose being right over making progress.

The Solution: One way to break this deadlock is to acknowledge the conflict and seek to understand how you are contributing to the problem. How are the other side’s frustrations with you true? What are the consequences on the organization’s performance of your turf war? What common goals can you align on? That other group you think doesn’t get it actually feels just like you do. If you put your ego aside, they more than likely will too.

4. Avoiding Conflict

The Symptom: Performance and interpersonal issues don’t get addressed directly. Too often, leaders sugarcoat, vent to others or just move folks from role to role. As a result, productivity suffers, employees feel unengaged and important matters are left to fester.

The Source: Almost no one wants to appear mean or uncaring, and even senior leaders resist being disliked. So we tell ourselves that we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings by being too direct. At a visceral level, we avoid putting ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having a direct discussion about a delicate issue.

The Solution: “There are three steps to overcoming this ego threat,” says Shayne Hughes, co-author. “Start by sharing with the other person the discomfort you feel at bringing up the issue. Then let them know what your intention is for the conversation,” says Hughes. “Finally, state your observations about their behavior, not your conclusions.” One leader’s vulnerability can lead the way for someone else to face their fear of conflict, and encourage them to be more open to feedback.

About The Authors

Five Principles for Building Lasting Business Relationships


John DetwilerBuilding long-term relationships can seem complex. There is seemingly endless, often varying, research on the topic, and the only thing that seems clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

I’ve spent the past 17 years developing relationships with lenders, technology firms, government entities and coworkers across the country, while consistently educating myself on the latest research and trends. Perhaps more even more influential was spending my teen years in Israel, experiencing completely different circumstances and speaking a completely different language. Coming back to the US was far and away one of the toughest transitions I have experienced in my life. To this day, interpreting the meaning behind what someone is saying forces me to actively analyze and read between the lines in a way that I noticed most other Americans do not.

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What I’ve found is that relationship-building and interpersonal communication requires a foundational framework. Often, your ability to create – and maintain – relationships has a direct correlation to your success. Questions like, “how do I form real relationships with my customers?” or “how do I connect with my boss?” are common. To answer these questions – and many others like it – I have identified five principles of creating relationships that last:

1.) Listen

2.) Accept

3.) Respect

4.) Care

5.) Trust

I have intentionally listed each principle in the form of a verb. I find that actively employing these factors is the only way to create long-lasting relationships. To strengthen existing long-term relationships, you can tactically add these principles as needed, though it is likely that most – if not all – of these principles are already in place.

For new relationships, you must be open-minded and think long term. After all, people you have not yet met may hold the keys to a new business opportunity or partnership. Look at meeting new people as an opportunity. First impressions are everything.

When we meet people, there are many exterior factors at play: Is this a business relationship or a personal relationship? What is their knowledge and expertise? Where are they from? What major events have they experienced in their lifetime? The list is virtually endless. No two people are alike. How they communicate, and how they perceive others will vary from person to person. Employing the techniques listed below will help ensure you put your best foot forward when meeting someone new.

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Listen. This ancient, unfortunately underutilized, art is the ability to engage all of your senses at once and pick up on the complete environment. This means using your eyes to pick up on body language, your ears to hear what the person is saying and the tone in which they are saying it, and your mind to process all of this into a complete picture of what the person is – and isn’t – saying. Below are the steps I use to ensure I am in maximum listening mode.

First, clear your mind of distracting thoughts. You can do this by writing down your ideas and key points beforehand. What do you want to learn from this meeting? What key points do you want to convey? Be quiet and allow others to speak and finish their thoughts. Be open-minded and stay focused and receptive to the topics and shared thoughts. This is the most important part; people can tell when someone is focused on what they are saying or if they have already made up their mind without actually listening.

By actively listening, you will be able to better understand the person you are meeting with and the topic at hand. You will likely have more relevant questions, increasing the productivity of your interactions. The possibility of misunderstandings as the relationship unfolds will also be minimized.

Accept. This learned behavior, if employed correctly, will vastly improve both your professional and personal relationships. Accepting is the ability to recognize other’s values, beliefs, and behaviors without introducing negative judgments or prejudices.

In a society where media forces opinions on us daily, and everyone seems to post their opinions at will, acceptance can be weakened over time. Think of acceptance as a muscle to be developed. Focus on similarities. You may be meeting people from different countries or from other industries with different interests and needs. Be sensitive, and always remain willing to grow and learn from those with different perspectives from your own.

Respect. Accepting and respecting are closely tied. Be authentic in your discussions with others. Recognize people’s interests, needs, and – most importantly – feelings. Of course, not everyone who portrays feelings and needs is being honest with his or her intentions, but giving respect will help you begin to see through any falsities.

When speaking with someone in person, speak clearly and face them. Use your parent’s old lessons of being polite and kind. While you’re at it, go ahead and smile – it’s all about your attitude. Respect also means the ability to compromise as opposed to seeing only black and white. Working towards a solution will lead to relationships that last.

Ultimately, respect will promote dignity and the feeling that everyone adds value, leading to the belief that everyone has something to contribute.

Care. This is one of my favorites. Care shows a genuine interest in the wellbeing of those around you. If you truly care about the people you meet and work with, it no longer feels like an obligation to form relationships.

For some, this may be the most challenging element to implement. The more you work towards caring, the easier it will be over time. Show your emotion when it is appropriate; be excited for the people around you. Connect with your own emotions, and be true to them while not letting them drive you. Be generous, giving more than is expected when you can.

Caring promotes a deeper engagement with those around us. The by-product of care is loyalty and trust.

Trust. Be willing to demonstrate authenticity, honesty, reliability, and competency in the service you provide. Stand behind your visions and convictions. Be accomplished and dedicated to yourself and your work.

Build trust by following through with your promises. Use common language and develop an understanding of, and appreciation for, the cultures of those you are forming relationships with. Learn their values. This will ultimately promote long-term, successful relationships through the safe exchange of ideas and issues.

These principles will only work if you are open to forming new relationships. Over time, each of these will become a habit, requiring less active work on your part. Over time, if practiced, each will become an integral part of your work ethic. Give respect as a starting point, learn from acceptance, and listen to what you find. Your relationships will flourish.

About The Author


It’s Time For You To Lead

Everyone is looking for that secret sauce to grow your business. However, sometimes there is no secret sauce at all. Sometimes it’s all up to you.

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Lolly Daskal wrote an article entitled, “Why the First and Most Important Person You Need to Lead Is Yourself” that makes so much sense. She said that every business needs a leader who can cultivate a compelling vision, define a strategic plan, develop change management, lead employees, and inspire commitment among his or her people.

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Put another way: You must know who you are as a leader before you can lead others.

Here are nine skills to sharpen if you want to be a successful leader:

  1. Cultivate your self-awareness.

Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement. Successful leaders don’t only run an organization—they also lead people. It’s paramount that you know yourself well, because when you know yourself, you are empowered; when you accept yourself, you are invincible.

  1. Develop the right mindset.

Develop your mindset. Start each day with a decision to be happy. Embrace the positives and let go of all the frustrations and past failures that can distract you. When you master your mindset, you free yourself to achieve the level of success you are capable of, because as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”

  1. Capitalize on your confidence.

Successful leaders capitalize on their confidence when difficulties arise. Don’t allow your insecurities to get the best of you. Remember that your confidence is like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

  1. Continue to learn.  

Try to learn something new every day. Read newspapers, books, magazines, and online articles. Search for what is innovative and creative, and try to intersect what is new to what you are already doing. The most skillful leaders never stop being a student.

  1. Teach to grow.

Don’t hoard your knowledge but share it: with your team, with your colleagues, with your clients. The more you teach as a leader, the more you grow. When you learn, teach; when you get, give.

  1. You are the results of your experiences.

One of the hardest things to do is to learn from your mistakes, but even the most successful leaders have made mistakes they don’t want to repeat. Document your experiences and ask yourself what you could do better next time. Reference back often so you don’t repeat patterns. You can learn something from everything you do, good or bad. The only source of knowledge is experience.

  1. Success is a series of small wins.

It can be hard to build momentum, so start with small wins. The best way to have a sustained success all year is to secure small wins, because small wins, small differences, often make a huge difference.

  1. Action speaks louder than words.

To be a successful leader, you have to be out there—you have to hit the ground running, taking action, taking risks. If not, you will find yourself growing stagnant and stale. If you wait until you are ready, you may be waiting for the rest of your career.

  1. Find the balance.

Last, but definitely not least, learn to take care of yourself. Keep a balance. Eat healthy foods and exercise each day, even if it’s just a brisk walk. Make time for the people and things you love outside of work.

You can make this your year, but it takes skillful leadership to make it happen. It all starts with you–with knowing yourself, learning daily, and sharing that knowledge with others. Then when the difficult days come, and they will, you will be prepared.

About The Author


Three Reasons Why Focus Matters In Leadership

I frequently write and speak about the essential qualities leaders need to develop in themselves in order to succeed in work and in life. As a consultant and coach, I guide people in the mortgage industry on their personal characteristics as much as I do their business acumen in the industry. Before you become a better leader, you’ve got to become a better person. But, there is one skill I often emphasize that is absolutely vital for success both personally and professionally–and that is the ability to focus.

It has been said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration–that those who accomplish things are simply those who work hard. While I think that’s true, I think focus is the very foundation of hard work. Hard work is simply focus in motion. If you can’t maintain the discipline to concentrate on a problem and see it through to its solution, you will never get anything done. If, on the other hand, you can develop the ability to screen out distractions and home in on the task you are engaged in until it’s complete, you can accomplish wonders. Here are three reasons why focus matters in leadership.

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First, developing the ability to focus can make your more effective. It will help you get the right things done. As a leader in the industry, you are going to be inundated with all sorts of things that could monopolize your time. You are going to have people who want to meet with you, products and services you’ll need to consider using, industry news and information you will need to review, and business decisions you’ll need to think through. Maintaining a sense of focus will help you prioritize, do what matters most, delegate what you can, and disregard what isn’t important for accomplishing your goals. If you want to accomplish the things that matter most, you need to have the ability to focus on them.

Secondly, strengthening your sense of focus can make you more efficient. It will help you get things done right. When you are working on an issue, you will no doubt face countless interruptions. If you don’t have a strong sense of focus, you will let yourself get sidetracked and the issue will take much longer to resolve. If, however, you can focus on the task you are working on without letting interruptions distract you, you’ll be able to finish it in much less time. Moreover, you’ll probably do a much better job, because you will have been concentrating thoroughly on what you were doing. Focus helps you do your work better.

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Finally, maintaining an aura of focus can set the appropriate example for your team. The workplace can easily disintegrate into a flurry of water cooler conversations, with people simply checking their watches and waiting for five o’clock. Distraction is the enemy of productivity. If your people see that you are focusing on your work, they will be inspired to focus on theirs. As the leader, people will follow your example. What kind of example are you setting? Are you focusing on your work? The ability to focus can be a game changer, not just for you, but for everyone on your team–bringing success to your company and new life to the industry.

About The Author


Wishful Acting: Make Yourself A Better Leader

Positive thinking is perhaps the most overused idea in the leadership literature. Countless self-help books have been written about how positive thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading you to accomplish what you believe you can accomplish. So, what about positive thinking? Is it truly a key ingredient for success, or is just a bunch of baloney? Here’s what I think…

Positive thinking, by itself, isn’t enough. You are deluding yourself if you thinking you can achieve something just by wishful thinking. Without hard work—a genuine effort in accomplishing your goals—all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to do you any good. If you are hoping that, simply by viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses, it is magically going to change colors, you are sorely mistaken. Adopting that kind of perspective is a surefire way to become a leader no one wants to follow–a leader who is viewed as unrealistic, naive, and delusional. So, no, I don’t believe that positive thinking will lead you to success; it will only make you feel better about failure.

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So, if wishful thinking doesn’t work, what does? Wishful acting. It is not the power of positive thinking that makes a leader successful but, rather, the power of positive action. In other words, how does your perspective shape what you do? If you adopt a positive mindset about what will happen to you, it isn’t going to amount to much. However, if you adopt a positive mindset about what you are capable of doing, you can accomplish wonders.

Another way of saying this? Being optimistic will help you become a better leader to the extent that such a mindset strengthens the influence you believe you have on shaping course of your life. If you believe you have control over the direction your life is headed, you will act as if you have that control, and you will do things that improve your life. Therefore, your mindset will become a self-fulfilling prophecy—leading you to success because you believed you were capable of achieving it. So, it’s not because you believe that the stars will align for you that they actually do; it’s because you believe that you have influence over how the stars will move in the sky and, because of that believe, you actually put forth the effort that moves those stars into alignment.

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Now, think about this in the context of business. Our industry is one full of speculation about the future. How are interest rates going to move? What new regulations are likely to arise? What new technology is going to displace the current business practices? If you only think of these issues in terms of what is happening to you, merely hoping they will change in a direction that is preferable for you, isn’t going to accomplish anything. However, if you think instead about how you can respond to these issues in order to improve your organization, and you believe that you can improve your business with that response, the positive mindset you hold can buffer you against an uncertain future.

So, as you push on into 2015, don’t just think positive; live positive. Don’t just hope that things will get better; put forth the effort that makes them better. It isn’t wishful thinking that will lead you to success; it’s wishful acting.

About The Author


The Power Of Appreciation: How To Get What You Want Out Of People

When you are a leader, you are also a salesperson. Moving people–getting them to go in the direction you wish for them to go–is sort of the name of the game. You can’t very well call yourself a leader if people aren’t following you, can you? The ability to persuade people, influence their decisions, and get them on board with your way of thinking is absolutely essential if you want to achieve success as a leader.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be manipulative. Admittedly, the idea of “getting what you want out of people” can easily be construed as a gimmick. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The best leaders are those who are genuine, enticing people to support them through their authentic and natural behaviors. The question is, what behaviors should you seek to develop in yourself if you want to draw people to you and make them want to listen to what you have to say. Well, there surely are many such behaviors, but I would like to discuss just one in this article.

I once read about a study in which students of a University were recruited to critique a fictional student’s job application. The researcher sent out a cover letter to 70 students who had agreed to give feedback for someone who they believed to be one of their peers. After receiving the feedback, the researcher then sent another email to the same students, asking for help on another cover letter.

This time, however, part of the group received a slightly different email. The first of the group was sent an email asking for feedback on another cover letter. The second half of the group was sent the very same email–with only one small difference. Before asking for help the second time, the researcher wrote, “Thank you for your help.” That’s it–a simple thank you before the second request. So, did it make a difference?

Absolutely! Only 23% of the group that had not been thanked agreed to provide feedback for the second time. However, of the group that received a simple ‘thank you’ prior to the second request, 66% were willing to help out again. That’s almost triple the results! What a difference a simple communication of gratitude can make!

In the mortgage industry, you as a leader are in the business of swaying people–of getting them to help you. You’re trying to enlist the help of your employees, your suppliers, your customers, and your community. Sure, you can get that help with incentives. You can give raises, offer discounts, invest in a little public relations. But there is also a simpler and, many times, more effective way–gratitude.

On a day-to-day basis, how often do you tell people how much their contribution means to you? How generous are you with your compliments? How much appreciation do you express to those with whom you interact? These are good questions to ask yourself if you want to be a great leader. So get up right now and go thank someone for what they’ve done for you. You may just be blown away by the result…

About The Author


Clayton Announces New Leadership Roles

Clayton Holdings LLC, a provider of loan due diligence, surveillance, REO management and consulting services to the mortgage industry and the parent of Green River Capital, LLC (GRC), announced several leadership changes: specifically, Lorenz Schwarz, the President of GRC, has been promoted to a new executive role at Clayton. Tim Reilly will succeed Schwarz as President after serving as GRC’s COO. Patrick Cosgriff, Scott Mowry and Jeff Berg were also promoted to new strategic positions to drive growth, the company said.

Lorenz Schwarz has been named Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and New Business at Clayton. In this new role, Schwarz will lead Clayton’s efforts to expand into other mortgage and real estate business lines and develop a plan for integration of Clayton and Radian. Schwarz has more than 25 years of experience in the commercial and residential mortgage servicing industry. Prior to joining GRC in 2011, he was President of Phoenix Asset Management, LLC, and held top management positions within the industry’s leading mortgage servicers, including Select Portfolio Servicing, Wilshire Credit Corp. and J.E. Robert Co.

Tim Reilly, who had been Chief Operating Officer of GRC, has been named President and will now be responsible for managing all of GRC’s day-to-day operations. Reilly, who joined the company in 2012, has more than 20 years of experience, having held executive positions in default and asset management with Bank United, Deutsche Bank Securities, Impac Companies, ABN-AMRO, and Fairbanks Capital Corp., and serving on advisory boards for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and United States Foreclosure Network Attorneys.

Pat Cosgriff, who was Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives, will now be Senior Vice President of Transaction Management. In this role, he will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business with full P&L responsibility. Cosgriff has been with Clayton for more than eight years and previously served as Vice President of Finance.

Scott Mowry, who was Senior Vice President of Transaction Management, will be Senior Vice President of Key Client Initiatives. In this role, he will partner with Strategic Account Managers and will leverage his subject matter expertise to market the services offered by Transaction Management. Mowry has been with the company for more than a decade and is a well-trusted name in the marketplace. Prior to joining Clayton in 2003, he was Director of Collections at HSBC.

Jeff Berg, who was Director of Product Development and Strategy, will be Vice President of Key Client Initiatives. In this role, he will continue to focus on product development and will also partner with Strategic Account Managers, leveraging his subject matter expertise to market the services offered by Clayton Fixed Income Services. Prior to joining Clayton in 2007, Berg was Operations Team Lead at Murrayhill Company.

Schwarz and Reilly will report to Joe D’Urso, President of Clayton; Cosgriff will report to Jeff Tennyson, Chief Operating Officer; and Mowry and Berg will report to Tom Donatacci, Executive Vice President of Business Development.

“In order for us to succeed in an ever-changing market, it is important that we play to our strengths and align our executives appropriately with their skills and expertise,” said D’Urso. “I am confident that all of these dynamic leaders will help us meet our clients’ needs and execute our long-term strategic vision.”

A Great Leader Is Also A Great Listener

I sometimes think we get the wrong idea about what it means to be a leader. The images we conjure up in our minds are of outspoken revolutionaries cajoling crowds into rebellion or courageous generous with booming voices rallying troops for battle. The leader is typically outspoken, likes to be the center of attention, and never admits to being wrong. The leader is never a work-in-progress; rather, he or she is the embodiment of perfection–the ideal for which we all strive.

We may think of this sort of leader when we imagine leadership in our minds but, in reality, none of us wants to be led by this kind of leader. We don’t want to be led by someone who is so high above us and outside of our realm of experience. We find it intimidating and even pretentious. No, we prefer a leader who is more down to our level–someone we can relate to. We want someone who understands our situations and can empathize with our experiences. What kind of leader do we want to follow? In short, we want to follow a leader who listens…

Listening, I’ve come to believe, is the most under-appreciated skill of all. We often think of a leader as being a good communicator, but what we usually mean is a “good speaker.” But listening is an even more important part of communication than speaking. Most people want to talk and, if you can be the one who listens, you’ll gain their respect very quickly. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.” Listening is the soul of communication.

But listening isn’t only about communication. You listen, not just with your ears, but with your life. When I say “listening,” I mean being open to information. It means recognizing when you’re wrong about something, fixing it, and moving on. It means noticing a new trend in the marketplace, a new application of technology, or a new problem in the relationship dynamic of your team. Listening is about openness. It’s about being flexible and responsive to your environment rather than bumbling through it and persistently headstrong fashion. Listening is the foundation for growth.

People don’t want to follow a leader who is perfect, because they know that no such leader exists. However, people do want to follow a leader who is constantly improving. And, in order to grow, you have to approach your work and your life with your ears open. Can you imagine how people on your team would respond if you paid more attention to them and started listening even more than you do now? How much more appreciated might they feel? How much more respect might they have for you? What new ideas might come to the surface?

The potential benefits from becoming a better listener are endless. So, now’s the best time to start. Go find someone and listen to what they have to say. Then sit back and watch as people start to follow you as their leader.

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Leadership And Change: A New Year And A New Direction

As we head into the New Year, I, like many other people, have been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. It’s that time of year that you start setting personal goals for yourself or attempting to change things about your life that you’ve always wanted to change. But, change is hard. All too often, New Year’s resolutions end in disappointment. We want to change, but we lack the follow through. We just can’t resist the urge to default to the way things have always been done.

This inability to maintain change is as true in professional life as it is in personal life. As 2015 rolls around, we are also busy setting goals and looking for areas in our organizations that need to change. We focus on new sales goals, we explore new technologies, we study up on new regulations, we take new strategic look at the marketplace, and we decide how we need to do things differently in order to remain competitive. The question is, how much of what we decide to do now will actually be accomplished by the time 2016 rolls around? Well, that all depends on leadership…

If you ask the top CEOs across all industries what their great challenge in leadership is, many of them will tell you that it is leading change. “Change management” is even a whole new field of study that has arisen. People within organizations naturally default to their traditions. They do things the way they’ve always been done, not because those processes still work, but rather because it’s easier. They’re accustomed to those processes, and it’s uncomfortable and stressful to change them. Left to their own devices, people won’t change. They need the courage of a leader to push them into uncharted terrain. They need you…

Take a look at your organization. What areas are in need of some reengineering? Perhaps you have fallen behind in some compliance-related areas, and you’ve gotten a little sloppy as the rules have changed. Perhaps the sales methods that your team is using are outdated, and you need to update your processes to align with the way the modern buyer shops. Perhaps you’re still using technology that your competitors stopped using ten years ago, and you need to update those systems in order to remain competitive. The list of areas to explore are endless. The important thing is that you find them, make a decision about them, and communicate clearly to your team what course of change you’ve decided to take.

All of the areas mentioned above, and many more that you’ll uncover as you develop your strategy for 2015, are laden with obstacles. People are going to be resistant to change. Of course, very few people like having to change the way they do their jobs to satisfy new regulations. But salespeople also hate changing the way they sell and people generally do not appreciate having to learn new technologies. As the leader in your organization, you’ve got to be the one who pushes. You’ve got to be the one who drags people through the discomfort of change until they reached the other side and are accustomed to the new, and better, way of doing things. Change needs to happen in your organization. But, it never will…unless you lead it.

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