MMP 110 | Prioritizing Your Time


Pat interviews Terry Aikin, Managing Director, MGIC. Highlights include balancing personal/professional demands; spending time on developing sales professionals; and staying focused on the big picture.

Prioritizing Your Time With Terry Aikin

In this episode, I have an exciting topic. It’s prioritizing your time. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. I’m thrilled to have Terry Aikin with me. He’s an experienced mortgage banker who is currently a Managing Director for MGIC and heads up the West Central Region. Terry has been in the mortgage business for a long time and has had every different type of position that you can have in mortgage banking and has probably seen everything. Terry, welcome to the show. Let’s talk about your career. How did you get into managing and sharing with us your journey?

I suppose how I got into it is tied so closely to how I was selected by a manager a long time ago. About four years or so into my first career with an insurance company, it was maybe in 1990 or 1991, I was deeply invested in my role as an individual contributor. Like most people, I wanted to be an expert in my field. I was good at what I did but was also super naive and maybe underdeveloped in many areas. That’s another management story but because I had such a thoughtful approach to how I interacted with people and wanted more, I unknowingly put myself in a position to get noticed by others.

Many people set out to manage people. I didn’t. I merely put myself in a position even without thinking about management, probably because it was more linked to my growth mindset. I personally wanted to grow. I kept asking for more. How did I get into management? I put myself in a position to get noticed, and a vice president asked me to lead a team of 8 or 9 production people.

When you look back, what was the best advice that you ever heard on the managing topic? 

That’s an easy question, and something jumps out immediately when you say the best advice. I had a great mentor, and everyone in any position as an individual contributor or manager needs a mentor to help them move through the life cycle of a manager or individual contributor. My mentor didn’t provide answers to questions. He offered more questions for me to answer. He probably also knew how to get the most out of me, and that was one of the ways to do it because I’m not a person that if you provide me a fish, I’m never going to learn how to fish.

He taught me how to fish but he also knew that as soon as I learned how to fish, I would want to figure out what the best rod and reel was, how the rod and reel were constructed, what the best bait to use, and all of the different unique attributes of fishing. It’s a weird transition. I had to learn and experience it, and that was best for me. The best advice was a question my mentor asked of me and one that he asked me to ponder.

The question was, “Terry, do you want to sell widgets or develop people?” That caused me a lot of self-reflection because they are two very different skillsets, and frankly, they often collide as a manager or leader. You can’t do one or the other. I went back and forth a number of times in my career, and the best advice for me was to figure out what I wanted to do. “Did I want to sell widgets as an individual contributor or did I want to develop people?”

Were there any books or sales management books that you used in your managing days?

Yes. A favorite book, and I like easy books, short reads and to the point. I personally don’t need a lot of fluff. I like to get right to it. It’s the book, 212: The Extra Degree. It’s a super easy read. It’s straight to the point. Also, Patrick Lencioni’s books are amazing, especially The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting.

When you look back on all these years that you’ve managed, what is the secret sauce that many people miss from your viewpoint?

From my viewpoint, it’s hiring passionately driven and open-minded people. Passionately driven and open-minded people want more. They study their craft more than others. They ask more questions about their organization and their clients. They are driven to solve problems and produce results. Combined with that open mind where they can accept change in a dynamically changing industry like the one that I operate in, it’s vital.

I truly believe that people stuck in the past will stay in the past, and people more concerned about the future suffer from a lot of anxiety, and they feel to see the good stuff they have right in front of them. I listened to a podcast. It was someone else really good on the national side, and that content creator asked his audience to consider where they focused their time. “Do you focus your time on what you have or what is missing?”

People stuck in the past will stay in the past. People more concerned about the future suffer from a lot of anxiety. Click To Tweet

In a sales-driven world, 80% to 90% of us high achievers focus on what we don’t have. Therein lies that curse but focusing on what you do have and using that as the fuel to move you in a direction of your goals is far better for personal and business health. I see the secret sauce as attitude, passion, and open-mindedness.

That’s a great comment, and it’s a topic that’s close to my heart because that’s the reason why I started my own consulting business. You have hit it on. If you don’t get the people part right, you are in trouble. When you look back over all these years, and you’ve had, I’m sure good teams where you probably went into places where the teams weren’t that good. Share the key practice that you keep coming back to whenever you are running a team.

I will share the practice that keeps me focused after I answer the why. Simon Sinek explored the why. What a fantastic book. It’s another great book. It’s the practice. The why for me is the personal joy, happiness, and satisfaction selfishly that I get when I’m involved, even in the smallest way, with helping someone else achieve their goal. That’s not me doing it but it’s helping someone find their path to whatever they determine success is.

The practice itself, the practice I believe, is rooted in the routine because I’m pretty straightforward and candid. I didn’t find the true value of a routine in my life until I found the triathlon. I’m a recovering triathlete. I completed three IRONMAN distance triathlons after the age of 50. I couldn’t have finished a triathlon without a rock-solid exercise and nutrition routine. Like sales and in triathlon, you don’t need massive daily changes. You only need a plan with consistency and regular measurements. I needed a plan with regular measurements.

MMP 110 | Prioritizing Your Time

Prioritizing Your Time: Just like sales and in triathlon, you don’t need massive daily changes. You need a consistent plan with regular measurements.

Any salesperson measures their progress to ensure that the plan that they have is producing results, and I believe it is the secret sauce to success. You do what you are passionate about. You have a plan, a routine, stick to it, measure it, and make changes when the results are not in line with the direction you want to go. Your question about, “What key practice keeps me tied to leading and helping people?” Again, it’s routine.

I go to bed early every night at about 9:00 but wake up early. I get up at 4:30 in the morning. I stretch. I run. I bike. I still do that. I listen to podcasts. I have a routine, a reading in the morning. I focus on what I have. I try to begin my day with a good spot. I’m not talking about lava lamps and incense here. It’s where I begin. I want to begin my day in a good spot. I want to begin my day with a task list of priorities that have 2 or 3 big rocks that I need to move forward. I don’t let that small stuff get in my way of moving the big rocks forward. It’s having a routine all rooted in my why.

That’s an excellent point that you are making which leads us to our topic. It’s all about time management and this whole issue of too much to do and not enough time to do it. Why don’t you share how you’ve managed it? What do you think works and doesn’t work?

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think time is the issue because you can’t negotiate more time. There’s never enough time. Maybe the list is too long or the appetite is too big. Everyone has the same amount of time every day. It’s 24 hours. That’s it. Manage it. Time is not negotiable, so stop fighting it. Manage the stuff that you can and keep moving forward. Accept it. Begin with the right amount of sleep and exercise.

Read every day but whatever is important to you, you got to get that out of the way, and then you can attack the big stuff. Focus on the highest priority items of the day that leads to the highest and best use of your time for that week or that month. Again, I don’t think it’s time. I think it’s our appetite. Work on the priorities first. That’s business and personal life. It’s easy to say. You have to manage it. It’s hard to do but time is not the issue.

When you are talking about that, which is a great point, it is this act of how you set up a priority. When you are managing a sales team or in that role, what should be those priorities? Often people look at it as the corporation has established those goals but it does come down to the individual manager. Why don’t you share what worked for you?

It was focusing on people. Going back to where I originally started. I said I was a little naive in the beginning and had to learn a lot of lessons about myself and about people. I was quick to react. I was too emotionally invested in the outcome and too black and white. Business and people operate in the middle, and that’s where I am now. It’s all about the people that work for you. When you hire the right people, you set the vision.

You set the big rocks in place that align with corporate goals and corporate strategy, and individual strategy. Make sure those all are aligned, and then move the big rocks, sticks and stones out of the way of your good people. Let them move and advance the ball forward. Good sports analogy. Those that are stumbling or get tripped by a rock or a stone work on why they didn’t see the rock or stone. You are working on the people. The sales team, the customer service team or your ops team, and whatever industry you are in will all work together and can work more cohesively when they work as a team instead of a bunch of individual contributors. I focus on the people.

MMP 110 | Prioritizing Your Time

Prioritizing Your Time: When you hire the right people, you set the vision, the big rocks that align with corporate goals and strategy, and individual strategy.

When you focused on the people, where did you end up spending your time? If you were to divide the sales staff into your A players, B players, and C players. Your C players obviously are either average or underperforming, and your A players are your elite people. What was that lesson, and how did you handle your A players?

A lesson is not uncommon to most new managers. What I do now is spend more time with my A and B players and less time with C players. That is contrarian to what most people think. As I did for the first ten years of my career, I spent an overwhelming amount of time with my C players trying to coach them up. What happens when you spend the majority of your time with your C and B players? You miss the people doing 70% of the work or 60% of the work. You have to protect those.

Again, it’s a priority and balance. I try to spend more time, at least on the personal development side. A-players typically don’t need a lot of coaching and strategy sessions. You talk about the mission. You talk about advancing and asking them what they feel about a particular situation or strategy. You work in concert with those A players.

You listen to the B players. You watch how that’s happening and how you move as a team together, and the C players, it’s either they don’t have the skillset to move to a B or an A or there’s something else going on that holds them back. The biggest lesson I learned from me was don’t spend all of my time on the C players because you are going to miss the As and Bs.

I can’t agree with you more. When I’m in doing consulting work at lenders, that’s the biggest mistake I see where the manager does not spend time with the A player. As a result, that A player, if you lost them because of that lack of time, you would recognize that it was a poor managing effort. Often, the managers are spending time with C players. If you had other thoughts and this ties together with retaining the A players, what would be some of the suggestions? When you are saying personal development, what are you working on with them?

I’m candidly working on myself as much as I am helping them work on their direction. I’m pretty candid about my management style with the team. I’m open to one-on-one sessions, and I’m open to group sessions. That’s helped because we all have different management styles, and I tend to stay one step or a half step removed instead of being all in their business and micromanaging.

Again, a mistake I made in the first ten years of my management career was getting too involved. I tend to pull back. Knowing that even if I have an A, B or C and we all strategize skillsets and people, some people need a manager that is more involved. They need a regular 2 or 3 calls a day. They want a manager in their business. I struggle with that. If I know that I have an A player that needs to hear from me once or twice a day for whatever reason, even if it’s to talk about the dog, the family or the widget we are selling, I have to work hard to do that.

If I miss a day or two, I could misrepresent myself like I don’t care about that employee. I have to openly talk that, “I’m not ignoring you. It’s my style to let you operate in an environment so that you can excel.” In large part because that’s how I like to be managed. If I need some help, I seek help. If I’m not asking for help, I’m moving in a good spot, so don’t get in my way.

Why don’t you wrap up for our readers a couple of key points that you would want them to have as a takeaway?

Don’t get focused on time. Get focused on your big rocks. Work on your priorities. Contrary to most business beliefs, I believe your priorities are with your personal health and mindset first because without that, you can’t advance any business strategy, and you can’t have long-term success. You work on yourself and your family first. Do that early. Get the right amount of sleep and exercise but when you are at work, as a manager, be cautious not to react too quickly and emotionally invested in the outcome.

Don't get focused on time. Get focused on your big rocks. Work on your priorities. Click To Tweet

Think about your people. Your people are smart. The collective team is super powerful. If you can focus on the vision and the overall strategy and communicate that out, let your team run with it and then measure outcomes at periodic points to make sure you are moving or advancing whatever strategy or outcome you want. Make sure you are moving in the right direction.

I want to thank, Terry, for joining us in this episode, and I want to thank our listeners. Certainly, look for our next episode. Thank you.



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