“Passion and drive win over knowledge.” with Lindsay Smith and Chaya Weiner
Thursday, August 15th, 2019
Passion and drive win over knowledge. No skill can be taught if you don’t have passion. In business, you can experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, but to be successful you need to be willing to do anything and everything (within moral, ethical and legal limits) to make it happen. Team members who have passion are always the most valuable, and I protect them fiercely because passion and drive are the true measure of talent. Those are the people who can learn whatever the necessary skill sets the job may require and will execute them to the highest standards. Someone who is book or street smart with no passion will never make an impact because they view the job as a chore or a checklist rather than an opportunity to make an impact.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like most people who end up working in the title industry, I fell into it. No one goes to school planning to grow up and work at a title company! During high school, I had summer jobs at a title company assisting an office where I really learned from some industry veterans.
Then I went off to college and planned to work in event planning. I even moved to Annapolis to work for an event planning company, where the financial backer was a title company. When that event company went under, I interviewed with Title Alliance, and I’ve been there ever since.
As to the specific career path that I’m on now, it came about in 2015. At that time, I was responsible for the marketing department, but I wanted even more. At a convention with the whole team, Jim Campbell, now CEO of Title Alliance, was leaving to meet with an Arizona prospect, and I told him that I was going to join him.
At first, he seemed unconvinced as to why I was tagging along. But it turned out that we made a great team, particularly when it came to forging new partnerships and expanding into new territories. Working strategically, we were so successful together that my role in that capacity became indispensable. Ultimately, I grew into becoming Chief Strategic Officer, by leaning into the moment when I saw I could do more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
After a series of bad hires led to the termination of someone in a leadership role in Arizona, the question in the company was who should run the region. The core question was whether we needed someone with operations experience or Arizona experience. Instead of trying to find someone with an operations background to fill that void, I leaned in again and took it on.
It was a difficult time cleaning up past mistakes and fixing systemic issues. We had to transition some people into new roles in order to best utilize their skills, and some of them ended up with hurt feelings, and some found themselves. However, in the process we were able to build a strong team, creating stronger bonds with our partners and establishing a solid foundation for our growth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When presenting at one of our company meetings, I wanted to find a way to really connect with the group. We had talked about doing the “End Zone Dance” when we hit our goals at the end of the year, so I decided to throw some sports analogies into the presentation.
My intention was to correlate our team members to the players on a football team to create relatability. Our JV Managers are the quarterbacks, and they needed the offensive line (those team members who are forward facing) and the defensive line (those employees who work behind the scenes) to make their companies work. I had books and binders and had scripted out the entire talk. After our exciting opening, I moved into my powerful monologue, rich with analogies.
First, I said something about how the “quarterbacker” will ultimately lead the team to success and that the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen would work together to assure excellence on the field. I was quickly reminded that it’s a “quarterback” and that the offensive line and defensive line are never on the field together.
I learned to be nimbler with my presentations, I was so focused on getting the analogy right that I completely messed up the entire conversation. I also learned to stay clear of anything pop culture related and that it is ok to laugh at myself — by being imperfect, I’m able to impact more. My team had such a good time with it, that they made a video recreation of some of my more famous blunders.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are in the business of setting up businesses through partnerships, that just so happen to issue title insurance. We are not in the title business; we are in the relationship business. Our company “why” is to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth one alliance at a time. Through our mission, one of our goals is to build relationships with our partners while bringing fair profits for their investors. Through that process, we will fulfill the dream of home ownership through exceptional customer experience.
Partners come to us not to be in the title business but to be in control of the experience and the relationship. At Title Alliance we see ourselves not as a vendor, but as business partners. Unlike some of our competition, we don’t shower agents with lavish gifts. Instead, we work to have genuine conversations and connections with our partners and our team members.
I’m on the road 50% of the time, and I wouldn’t change a thing because our business is in the field. I would genuinely be friends with every one of our partners; I love what I do and with whom I get to work.
One of my favorite personal memories is when our first partner in Arizona, Steve Chader, invited us to his home. There, we enjoyed margaritas by the pool and a homecooked dinner prepared by his wife. There was no need for pretense or ostentatious gestures. Instead, we could sit and drink, eat, and talk about life beyond business. He tried to get me to look for scorpions with a black light, but I drew the line there!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, I like to say that we’re in hyper-growth mode. The focus is on expanding in new territories not yet explored, while also saturating those we’re already in. We do this to make an impact and a difference on the lives of our partners, giving them an opportunity to recruit agents to be a part of this company. Partnership in title can thus serve as a secondary source of income, which brings value to the agents lives.
Beyond that, we want to change the way that agents live and work. In the closing environment, we believe it should be about more than contracts and legalities. We want to bring back the joy and celebration. As Real Estate Professionals we close on hundreds or thousands of homes in our careers. But the end client of our agent customers buy and sell a handful of homes in their lifetime, and each is something to celebrate. We want our agents to feel that their clients are celebrated at the closing table and to remember the agent who made that moment possible for them. The T.A. Way is focused on how people feel throughout the entire transaction, and that feeling starts with communication. Of course, having this kind of encounter makes everyone more likely to refer these agents providing stellar customer experiences, which bodes well from a business perspective as well.
Finally, we are changing the lives of employees in these new markets. Using innovation and our unique model, we change the way the employees have traditionally operated and done things. When recruiting, the number one “why” I hear as to people wanting to join our team is for new opportunities. And as an ESOP company, the more the company grows and profits, the better everyone’s wealth potential in retirement.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Share the same culture as your team and keep a positive mindset. Don’t focus on anything negative, but rather see each challenge as an opportunity or a lesson to be learned. When you focus on the opportunities and growth, your mindset stays full. Positivity is what keeps a team motivated and engaged. Even on your worst day, make an effort to smile and engage with your team. That mindset is contagious.
Have high standards. Consistently drive your team to do more than they need to do with expectations that “just enough” or “just meeting standards” isn’t acceptable. The result will be engaged employees and a successful business. And through success you’ll be able to provide opportunities for your team members to grow, develop and to be fulfilled.
Lastly, dress for where you want to be and carry that out no matter what anyone around you is doing. That might mean something different for every female leader, but it’s a key part of presenting yourself as the leader for your team. For me, I’m in a dress, heels and jewelry every day — in the office or on the road. Not only does it set a positive tone and example for my team but it helps me to perform at a higher level.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think we talked about this above. Successful leadership (it’s more than managing) is derived through clear expectations being set, high standards being upheld, and consistent communication of the vision for the company/department/team. By helping your team to understand the “why” of your business, whether your team is local or spread out, you will always be connected. It won’t matter how many people are on the team or how far apart they may be. If you’re focusing on what needs to be done, you’ll be in trouble. It’s not that the “what” doesn’t matter, but that the “why” needs to come first.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad has always been my number one cheerleader. Anything that I’ve ever done, he’s been there to support me. He retired a few years back, around the same time that my work and travel also increased. Living two blocks away also made his retirement extra appealing to me too. He makes sure to be there when my kids get sick or to pick up my daughter from dance class and take her to show practice. When I’m calling or texting in the wee hours of the morning or from the road, he answers with “Yes my darling daughter” and is amenable to anything I ask.
It’s so inspiring to see his relationship with my kids, specifically with my own daughter as he most frequently acts as her chauffeur. He’s been there for them, without question, in the same way he’s there for me. He helps take care of things in my life so that I can continue to grow and develop and make an impact, and for that I’m very grateful.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m lucky to be able to spread ideas of leadership and confidence to the next generation of female leaders. I teach dance every Saturday for four hours at Carmela’s Dance Studio in Springfield, where I grew up dancing myself. I teach children ranging from three to seven years old ballet and tap.
More than the dancing itself, I teach self-confidence. My goal is to teach them that they can do anything they put their minds to, and it’s amazing to spend time doing that. I love showing the girls that they can dance, even if they were scared or crying. I help them to realize they have the ability to stand up and share a nursery rhyme, and for those who are intimidated or scared, I kneel by their side making certain they feel safe and strong. It is my hope that by proving to them that they can overcome anything, I’m able to support them and help them to flourish as they grow in life.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.
1. Who you surround yourself with matters. The expression goes that you are the average of the people you spend the most time with. If the people you are with are small-minded and stuck in negativity, that’s what you’ll be. If you want to be successful, you’ll need to be surrounded by big thinkers. For me, there was a specific moment when I realized that by hanging around with people who were gossiping, I’d never become anything more. I made a conscious decision to move into a place of abundance and join people who had better, more uplifting conversations.
2. Everything starts with mindset, and you can do even the scariest things with the right frame of mind. One of my favorite experiences was when on a whim in 2018, while visiting an office in Texas, I went skydiving. Our waiter at lunch happened to be a skydive instructor and when my business partner said he was skydiving I was quick to jump in and say so was I. My mindset is that I’m not going to fail at anything, so despite my inhibitions, my fear of heights and the enormous stack of papers I signed, less than 24 hours from lunch, I was jumping out of a plane.
That experience solidified that there is absolutely nothing you cannot overcome and nothing you cannot do with determination and mindset. Have a positive mindset, focus on how you can do anything and it’s amazing how it happens. For your team, be the tandem person strapped to their back and encourage them to jump. In those moments, they will grow and develop most and you’ll have the benefit of watching them fly and catching them on the off chance they fall.
3. Always be true to yourself, even when people try to tell you what they think that should mean. Earlier in my career, there were people who saw me for who I was then, not who I would grow to be. We’re all (hopefully) always changing and need people who support us as we develop. Plenty of friends can appreciate your growth, but some will be jealous and have a negative inner dialogue that they project onto you. I had to build up a tolerance to not let that in. Instead, I focus on where I’m going and where I’ll have the most impact. Whether or not people want to be on that journey with me doesn’t necessarily make them good or bad people but might determine if I invite them along for the ride.
4. Passion and drive win over knowledge. No skill can be taught if you don’t have passion. In business, you can experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, but to be successful you need to be willing to do anything and everything (within moral, ethical and legal limits) to make it happen. Team members who have passion are always the most valuable, and I protect them fiercely because passion and drive are the true measure of talent. Those are the people who can learn whatever the necessary skill sets the job may require and will execute them to the highest standards. Someone who is book or street smart with no passion will never make an impact because they view the job as a chore or a checklist rather than an opportunity to make an impact.
5. The most important thing you can do is listen. No matter who you’re with, time is the most valuable asset, so be present and listen to what is said and unsaid. Probe deeper and find out what people are truly thinking and feeling because the more you listen, the more you’ll know and be connected, opening the door for an even greater impact. Whether I’m listening to the kids I teach to dance, standing next to them to show them they aren’t alone, or engaging with a bubbly team member who is unusually quiet, listening to my children share stories of their days, or having a conversation with a prospect to determine whether our cultures align and whether our model and service will solve their problems, it’s about taking the time to truly listen. Even if the details of what they’re sharing don’t seem like a big deal, remembering them can be the foundation of a strong relationship. Just make sure that you listen because you genuinely care — it will be obvious if you don’t.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d like to bring real life skills into communities and schools where everyone, specifically women and girls, can learn. There were a lot of jealous people in my life when I was growing up. Because I was smart and worked hard, people were often mean to me. As a result, it took me a long time to get comfortable in my own skin and stop caring what other people think. I want to bring that knowledge and understanding to young women earlier than when I figured it out on my own. From overcoming bullying to rising above difficult situations, I want women to find the best versions of themselves without the burdens of caring about those trying to pull them down.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Surround yourself with people who reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel. Energies are contagious.” — Rachel Wolchin
This has been relevant for me across so many aspects of my life. Whether it’s realizing that the people I surround myself with reflect back on me, or the idea of how my mindset could spread to other people, this life lesson quote sums up so many elements for me. It’s been particularly relevant for me in creating new partnerships at work. I always say that I’d only want to work with people I genuinely like, who inspire me and hold themselves to the same standards I do. I like to believe that is who I attract into my life.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Sheryl Sandberg. When I read her book, Lean In, I realized that it highlighted my own goals of being a mom and leaning into work, which I had done instinctively. I’d love to swap stories and experiences with her, to ask for her guidance and wisdom to continue to grow and build my teams and the people on them, and to celebrate our successes over a glass of wine.
Thank you for all of these great insights!