Residential Magazine

Perilous Times Call for True Leadership

Emerging mortgage industry challenges demand thoughtful communication and collaboration

By Matt Clarke

In business, as in war, there are times of uncertainty in which the speed of change and lack of predictability causes confusion. To lead in these times, the U.S. Army War College created a set of principles in 1987 to address volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or what is called VUCA leadership.

The mortgage industry has seen its fair share of challenges as a historically cyclical business. The nature of the mortgage industry means that moments of crisis due to a fluctuating economy are bound to take place, and handling these rough patches requires a company to develop a well-thought strategic plan.

From a leadership standpoint, there are specific ways to combat uncertainty and weather times of crisis. Through internal and external communication, mortgage industry leaders can be better equipped to not only survive but thrive in unpredictable times. 

Stay connected

Harvard Business Review notes that “crises are crises because they affect people.” You need to do more than keep a level head while things are going crazy; you have to consider how a crisis may impact your employees. Although it may be tempting to focus on the bottom line, in times of uncertainty, communication is the bottom line. By keeping employees up to date and connected through strong internal communications, you can ensure your workforce feels supported. 

Through difficult times, a hands-on leadership style is key. Especially when people are working from home and not interacting face to face with their usual teams, it can be easy for employees to feel disconnected from each other and the company’s mission. It is vital to keep in mind that creating daily communications helps employees continue to feel connected on a regular, ongoing basis. 

Creating daily employee updates with video, for example, can help improve morale and combat feelings of disconnection and isolation that people can naturally feel in times of crisis. If you aren’t able to communicate with your team daily, make an effort to provide an update every other day. Even if you don’t have any major updates, checking in can help employees feel less isolated and uncertain — and more supported. 

Adapt to change

A guiding principle of VUCA leadership is appreciating the interdependence of variables. This leadership style drives home the idea that leaders should “promote and support internal networks, interconnection and interdependency rather than reinforcing hierarchical areas of functional expertise.” For the mortgage industry, this means that you can’t only lead employees — you also must be a leader for your business partners and clients. 

Once you have covered internal communications, it is important to manage and communicate change with partners, borrowers and prospects. By building up your community with virtual processes, you can help your partners withstand trying times. 

One way you can help business partners is by assisting them as they adapt to new realities and challenges. Today, for example, the environment may not afford the opportunity for in-person open houses and home tours, so you can aid your partners through virtual open houses and tours.

This valuable asset helps Realtors increase buyer engagement while assuring sellers that they can still sell their homes in uncertain times. Creating a strong virtual listing means preparing in advance with a script and utilizing the digital tools at your disposal, such as Zoom, to facilitate a high-quality virtual showing.  

Looking beyond times of uncertainty, these practices help advance the industry in a positive way. The creation of 3D home tours was up 188% from February to March 2020, according to Zillow. Additionally, one-third of buyers say virtual tours or videos are extremely or very important to their home-shopping journey.

Lead calmly

When prospective borrowers begin the homebuying process, they are already seeking your guidance. Because this is the biggest purchase of their lives, they are most likely experiencing feelings of discomfort and uncertainty. Mixing in a fluctuating economy can make the whole process even more scary. Although this is unfortunate, it also is an opportunity for mortgage originators to truly lead their homebuyers with the heart of a teacher.

Even in a crisis, people’s lives must continue. Buying and selling homes doesn’t stop. What people really need during hardship is a level-headed voice of reason. Ensure that clients aren’t making these major financial decisions out of fear and that these opportunities make sense for them right now. 

Guide them calmly through the homebuying and selling process. In the most perfect of conditions, this can still be an emotional rollercoaster for clients. Providing stability in unstable times will help make the experience more enjoyable for both homebuyers and sellers. 

Whether you are operating in a challenging market or an ideal market, it is essential to lead your employees, partners and clients, and to be proactive in your communication. Avoid letting your emotions take control. Don’t allow fear or uncertainty to rule these communications. Remaining calm and providing peace of mind can help fight these feelings in those around you. 

Ultimately, everyone impacted by a crisis will react differently, which is why leadership is so key during times of difficulty. Whether you adhere to the guiding principles of VUCA leadership or choose a different leadership style, maintaining consistent communication and collaboration is essential. Considering the housing industry is so crucial to the economic well-being of the country, the way you help lead employees, partners and clients while navigating uncharted territory can make a true financial difference.

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Difficult circumstances are bound to take place from time to time, but what is most important is how you lead others through them. True leaders embrace the changes that crises can bring while showing others how to continue doing business and improving operations for the future. Over time, other industries have adopted these concepts. ●


  • Matt Clarke

    Matt Clarke is chief operations officer and chief finance officer for Churchill Mortgage, a privately owned company by its more than 400 employees. A full-service and financially sound leader in the mortgage industry, the company provides conventional, Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture residential mortgages across 46 states. For more information about Churchill Mortgage, visit and follow the company on LinkedIn, Twitter @ChurchillMtg, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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