Define leadership.
Observation brings understanding. Understanding brings tolerance. Tolerance brings direction. Direction brings followers.

To me, that’s what leadership is. Observation is the ability to observe what’s going on—the ability to observe in any sector of leadership. Observation brings understanding—understanding of perspective. That brings tolerance and that brings direction and that brings people to follow you. Leadership is about following.

Who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
In our family-owned business, it’s my dad. If I was fair, and I am fair, my mom too had a very interesting impact on my leadership.

My dad developed in me this concept of tolerance or understanding and, through understanding, you can get people to better their life. In our world, the key to this is that we’re helping people reach the next station in life. We manage 180 different business owners who are trying to get their businesses to the next level. My dad gave me the ability to get people to that next level of understanding.

My mom brought a different perspective that you don’t typically think about in leadership. She was an art major. She’s a very creative person. Creativity is so critical in leadership. The ability to think creatively is a whole different concept. The ability to have an eye for what you want is super huge in leadership, super huge, because that’s what causes people to follow you. Is what you have the creative approach, that innovative approach? She taught me to think like that.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
What I would term our “family-oriented decisions,” which lend themselves to culture decisions—those are the most important things. For me, decisions on how to market things, where we’re going to locate next, or where we’re going to be in ten years, are things. The decisions that are most important to make are all about culture. Once the culture gets on track or gets off track, it’s either very hard to get back on track or you won’t have to worry about getting off track. It defines who you are. Every decision that is made starts with how it will affect the culture. Is it consistent with culture?

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Understanding or perspective. If you really analyze some of the best leaders out there, the best leaders from a business perspective have, in many cases, started at the very bottom. They’ve worked hard through levels. In many cases, they failed multiple times and then, all of a sudden, they became great. We tend to put these people on a pedestal, but one of the greatest things that they have acquired through their journey is perspective. Perspective brings understanding.

What’s the biggest challenge that you see facing leaders today?
Proper mentorship or proper coaching. I think the old adage is that “just because you’re a good player doesn’t make you a good coach.” You can understand the game. You could understand the real estate business, but that doesn’t make you a good leader. For the most part, leadership skills are not easily self-developed. You need people to show you direction, teach you different aspects. There’s not enough opportunity for people who want to be leaders to have different perspectives. Sometimes they’re molded by the industry they’re in. They’re around the same type of leaders and, in order to be a great leader, you need different styles, you need different abilities. Without that exposure, I don’t think you get that.

Is there one behavior or trait that you are seeing derail more leaders’ careers?
Forgetting the basics. What gets most people to great leadership is that they started with the basics. Then, somewhere along the line, the basics get lost in ego, in a pursuit of what is perceived as something greater, and in being number one. They forget about what, in fact, got them to that position to accomplish any of those things; they forget about the basics.

What do you do for fun?
I absolutely love to eat. I love to shop which is nontraditional. I like to play golf. I like skiing. I like going out. My favorite activity is to cook. If I stopped doing real estate, I would become a chef.

What’s your “go-to” lunch spot in Southwest Michigan?
Bravo. Bravo, for sure, because it’s one of those atmospheres that I think is nice. It provides a good business atmosphere. It’s not over the top. I love everything about it.

If happiness were the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
Really, it is what I’m doing. One time I got asked this question. I was sitting at a conference and there were other conferences going on. The guy asked me, “What is it that you do?” I looked at him, because I’m in multiple lines of businesses, and said, “I’m in the business of human growth and development.” What makes me happy is helping people grow, overcome obstacles, personal and professional, and take advantage of opportunities.

If you could go to dinner with three people who would they be?
Mike Krzyzewski from Duke. He clearly has created a culture that is incredible. That is one of those things most fascinating to me. I probably would say Sue, who’s with my office. Someone I work with every day. When we sit down at lunch, we think about all the great things that could be. In the end, I’m not too star struck. I’m a person who develops passion from a grassroots standpoint. The last, I would probably say, is one of our corporate citizens. I consider myself a community ambassador, so living, feeling, and touching the people in the community are the important parts for me.

What are three things that you cannot travel on business without?
My Beats. My iWatch. And, then probably my tablet.

Briefcase or backpack?
Backpack. Briefcases were yesteryear, backpack is now.

Who would you most like to meet?
I would like to meet Oprah Winfrey. It would be interesting to really get to know her and see who she really is. I wonder about her persona and where things got picked up.

How do you get your most creative ideas?
Through observation. I’ve often said that my greatest trait is my power of observation and particularly as it relates to consumer behavior. For anything that comes with business, I analyze how the consumer is consuming it and then think about how it could be consumed, or how it would be more desirable to be consumed, if it was different.

What inspires you?
People are really, truly my inspiration. I’m in the mortgage business, title business, insurance business, interior design business, moving business, and real estate property management. All of those “things” are things to me. The fun part about what’s behind them all—people. It’s exciting and inspirational to see people excel and grow.

What are your daily routines that keep you developing as a leader?
You said it. Have a routine. Have a routine. One of the things that people say hampers them most from growing is that they don’t have enough time. We’re a time-deprived society. Leaders don’t maximize hours, they maximize minutes. That’s what separates very successful people from marginally successful. Leaders take advantage of minutes and that requires a routine. It requires that I know how things are going to work in a day, so that I can capitalize on minutes. It’s a form of organization. It’s a form of discipline. It’s a form of focus and it’s a form of planning that makes the difference.

What is your favorite leadership book?
Start With Why by Simon Sinek. I love that book.

What’s the app on your phone that you can’t live without?
Oh goodness, too many. I’m an app junkie. Probably Facebook. There are a lot of people that don’t like Facebook, particularly the older generation. It is the purest form of being able to stay connected with people in a way better format than what used to be. I can literally catch up with people every minute of every day.

How do you maintain your and your team’s daily motivation?
Don’t give up on the values. In my world, values, principles, and philosophies are what motivate people. I don’t sell a widget. I’m not going out and saying to my team: “Let’s go sell more widgets today.” I tell people: “Stick to your values, your principles, and who you are. Your customers will identify with that. When they identify with that and respect that, they’ll want to work with you.” You realize that, if you stick to those principles and values, people will flock to you. On top of that, it brings more motivation because not only are you seeing success, but you’re feeling good about how you got success. You’re actually reaffirming your principles and values.

What are you doing to ensure your continued growth as a leader?
Top one, absolute top one, is that I have to practice. You have to practice. Every single person out there has to practice discipline. If you talk about any sort of growth in your life, it requires discipline. If you do not practice discipline in all aspects of your life, you will have difficulties getting to that next level.

What excites you most about the future of Southwest Michigan?
What gives me the most excitement is that I feel like Southwest Michigan is on a path for something to prove. That’s exciting for me because when we have something to prove, people are competitively working at being the best. We’re not sitting back and saying, “We’re here.” We’re saying, “We’ve got to prove something.”

What do you think are the most pressing challenges are facing leaders today and why?
No answer.

What was the last book you read that had an impact on you?
The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. It is a great perspective on what drives you or what should drive you.

What’s one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Trying to be everything. Great leaders recognize, as they’re leading an organization, that they can’t be everything to everyone. You have to define who you want to be and then people will follow you based on that. If you try to make everyone follow you, I don’t think you are going to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

What is your “Life Quote?”
Always think about the big picture. If you look at what causes stress, what causes anxiety, what causes depression, it’s that we’ve lost sight of the big picture.

We’ve put our head in the proverbial sand. If you get down into thoughts like “my car broke down, I didn’t have a good month, my relationship with whoever is not the strongest,” you lose sight of the big picture. What do we need to work on to make sure this doesn’t happen again? What do I need to do, in general, to improve relationships? I don’t want to get stressed, so what are the things that I need to do? We get so ingrained in living life for this very second that we forget to step back and say, “The big picture, it is here. I’ve got to be grateful, I’ve got to be thankful, I’ve got to work on self-development, I’ve got to work on observation. Observation brings on understanding. Understanding brings tolerance.” Particularly in today’s world, I could go on the road and talk about that. From a world perspective, that’s what’s causing all kinds of problems. The tolerance component is gone. Tolerance is gone and it’s only because people have lacked the perspective and observation to gain understanding; and, because of that, they have no tolerance.

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