Mark Lefanowicz Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007
Mark Lefanowicz doesn’t want to stay stagnant; so the Michigan native has been all over the country with the hope of gaining one thing: perspective. Lefanowicz, president of E-LOAN Inc., has seen many leaders succeed in one position, at one place, and become unwilling to adapt to new trends or new ideas. Instead of staying immobile, Lefanowicz takes time to listen to his 850 employees at E-LOAN to try to understand where they are coming from. With that attitude helping push his vision, the $130 million online mortgage Web site has been named the top mortgage Web site by Keynote WebExcellence for three straight years. Smart Business spoke with Lefanowicz about how to give employees the right kind of attention and why you have to roll up your sleeves from time to time.

Give employees the attention they want. I focus on making sure that I stay involved with my people. I have a regular schedule of one-onone meetings, and it’s not just putting those on the calendar just to do it, it’s how you act during the meetings. The most important thing to me is to listen to make sure people know that I care.

There are a couple of things you have to think about when you’re listening. You should never make an immediate decision. There’s no possible way that if you meet with someone for 45 minutes, and they bring up something substantial, you can resolve it. One of the things I’ve learned to do is say, ‘You’ve got eight things you brought up, and six of them are really easy, but two of them are really complicated, so we need to set up something else, and we need to involve other people. Here’s who I think we need to involve to resolve this; what do you think?’

And I’ll work to get the meeting set up sooner rather than later. They don’t get the instant gratification that it gets resolved, but they definitely get the gratification that you are paying attention to it.

Roll up your sleeves. I feel I have to lead by doing. I can’t ask somebody to do something that I wouldn’t do or that I couldn’t offer to help with. People are busy and they have a lot to do, so if I have to roll up my sleeves and help, I have no problem with that. If people here are successful, that means I’ll be successful, so I like to be as involved as possible.

If I can impart that on my direct reports, and then they can impart that on the people under them, then it can quickly get to a point where everyone in the company can say, ‘Jeez, the guy that leads the company understands what we’re doing, which is great because he can help us, and he’s really concerned about this company, which makes it a great place to work.’ When the leader is concerned about making sure the company will succeed and is willing to do whatever it takes to push that to his closest people — who are the future leaders — others are willing to do the same.

Share the vision. I make sure I have one-on-ones with my key direct reports, and I’m going to make sure that those people have one-on-ones with their direct reports. I get 10 to 12 people in that meeting, and I give everyone a chance to talk about the last two weeks and then tell us about what they’re focusing on in the next two weeks. And, in that, I can get a really good flavor as to if people understand what we’re trying to accomplish.

It helps because people have to understand, people are more excited about their work if they know what’s going on at the top — at least people you want to have work for you are more excited about doing things if they understand the vision at the top. You want people that are excited about coming to work every day, and if you can get them to do that, they’re going to work harder, and they’re going to work smarter, and they’re going to work better.

Keep your head up. One of the things that I believe has made me successful is perseverance. The attitude is, ‘Yes, I can do it.’ You have to do it smart, but you have to believe that you can do it.

That’s something you can develop. You have to stay focused on the fact that you’re committed to those responsibilities that nobody else has.

You agreed to effectively say, ‘I’m going to try to make this company as good as it’s going to be.’ Being at the top, at any company, it can be quite lonely at times, but you have to stay loyal to those commitments you made to the people under you, and you have to maintain the positive attitude, and you have to persevere.

You get a lot of good, but you get a lot of bad, too. You have to remember when you’re in those bads that you’re not in the goods right now, but if you persevere, the goods are going to come back even better.

Cut the cord gracefully. The hardest thing is making the tough decision about people themselves. I have eight to 10 people working under me at any time. I can almost guarantee that one of those is just doing an OK job and will move from that to doing a not OK job. That’s the hardest thing is saying, ‘You did a good job in this position for two, three years, but you’re not the right person for this job anymore, and it’s time for you to move on.’

You want to try to do it so they can move on gracefully. To me, it’s important that if people leave, that you show them dignity and respect.

It’s important because the basic ways you can motivate people, generally, are around reward and fear, and fear never works as well. If everybody thinks they can just get fired on a whim, and it won’t be dignified, that’s not a good thing.

If everybody feels that the company itself treats everyone fairly, effectively you are rewarding and motivating them with that culture. Reward isn’t just money, it’s also a good feeling where they can say, ‘Yeah, I enjoy going to work every day and the people around me. We’re working toward the same goal and successes.’

HOW TO REACH: E-LOAN Inc., (925) 847-6200 or www.eloan.com