Leadership Corner: Les Acree – Senior EVP, Wholesale
Indianapolis-born and raised, Les Acree has accrued a tremendous amount of knowledge over his 37 years in the mortgage industry. Les joined Freedom Mortgage in 2006 when Freedom Mortgage acquired Irwin Mortgage. At the time, Les was the National Production manager for Irwin. During his time at Irwin , Freedom Mortgage and in his previous career, he amassed experience not only on leadership but also career advancement and work ethic.
Les’ words of wisdom: On Leadership – I believe there is no such thing as a born leader; it’s a learned skill that comes from your experiences, working for good leaders and bad leaders and understating the difference; taking what you learn and applying it to your situation and your business. How does leadership best match up with the business you are in? For example, my skill came from when I started in the mortgage business processing loans. Then, I became a loan officer, a branch manager, a regional manager, and eventually head of national production. Along the way, I learned something from each good leader and what not to do from the bad ones. When I went up through the ranks, I felt that I had first-hand knowledge of what it took to lead a successful sales team, how to lead successful teams to support the group, and the overall leadership of divisions.
Les offers a coaching analogy: In college football and basketball, you see the same teams in the playoffs year after year. I believe that’s attributed to great coaches that can attract the best players and the best assistant coaches. They put together fantastic teams and fantastic coaching staff and understand their strengths and weaknesses. This doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a learned skill, and people learn from years of experience. Equate this to the business world. Good leaders today surround themselves with the best and brightest people available.
Influence: You must have the ability to influence. People have to believe in you as a leader when they ask themselves, “Who is the best person for me to tie my wagon to, for my family and me?” Look at the number of people who have been at Freedom Mortgage for 15, 20, 25, and even 30 years. This is not by accident. For many of us, Freedom Mortgage offers a great opportunity. Leadership starts at the very top and in key levels. People need to believe in the leadership at Freedom Mortgage through the leadership chain of command for that to happen. People say, “I am going to follow that person! I believe in this.” People would not stay or make this their career if Stan wasn’t here and didn’t have his leadership team in place. It’s the key to our success. Stan is a great communicator and leader, plus he surrounds himself with strong leaders.
Every key person that moved with me in 2006 is still here. It’s a real tribute to what we have accomplished. Good people always have opportunities, and these people stay because they think this is the best opportunity for them and their family. At Freedom Mortgage, we always strive to create opportunities for people to excel.
Les’ Thoughts on Great Leaders:
- To get people to buy into the vision, you must be an effective salesperson/communicator. A great leader creates an esprit de corps, like the military (all for one, one for all).
- True leaders create more leaders. Actions inspire others to learn more, do more, become more.
- Leadership is not a popularity contest. It’s easy to always say “yes” - but too many “yeses” can take you in the wrong direction.
- A good leader will never hide. They need to be front and center when things go wrong, take the difficult phone call, and make tough decisions. A good leader will always take ownership and accountability and find a resolution.
- Change is inevitable; always embrace change. Good leaders figure out how to make change work for them.
- Leaders make people around them feel special. They recognize others' accomplishments and celebrate their successes.
- Empower people.
Career beginnings/discipline: I grew up with loving parents in a middle-class family. My father served in the military in Korea, and was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. I learned discipline from a solid home environment. Right out of high school, before I went to college and during college, I had a blue-collar job driving a truck and working construction. When I entered the white-collar world, people asked what motived me. There is naturally an economic piece, but my motivation was fear of failure. I didn’t want to go back, and it motivated me not to fail in any position.
Career advancement advice: Those who advance separate themselves from the crowd and distinguish themselves from their peers. They are on time, they are prepared, present themselves well, and are almost always well-liked. How you conduct yourself (a smile, being friendly) is essential. Never underestimate who you may meet or how that may influence your personal life or your career.
Also, aspire to be the best at what you do, and it will always provide opportunity. This applies to any job. And remember, there is nobility in every profession. Be kind to everyone.