FGMC’s Sarah Gonzalez on effective leadership in challenging times

Women of Influence: Leadership in the midst of crisis

As COVID-19 spreads across the U.S., forcing leaders to make tough choices and disrupting the housing market, Women of Influence are rising to the challenge.

The spread of COVID-19 continues to drive layoffs to record levels in the U.S., creating about 16 million jobless claims in the past three weeks alone. Unemployment is expected to hit at least 20%, but perhaps even much more.

Lenders are tightening their standards and the availability of mortgage credit in March crashed to the lowest level since June 2015, led by a pull-back in jumbo and non-QM lending, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

But Sarah Gonzalez, FGMC chief operating officer and HousingWire 2019 Woman of Influence, said this is a time when leaders can step up and show what they are made of.

“In this time, I say to stay strong and enhance the skills that made you great in the first place, help keep others calm and positive, be aware of the ever-changing situation, and effectively communicate with others,” she said.

HousingWire sat down with Gonzalez to discuss how leaders can display strength amid chaos. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

HousingWire: Has your message changed in what you say to leaders in light of the current environment?

Gonzalez: In my opinion, my influence has not changed during these unprecedented times. The question to me is more or less, has your influence or message enhanced or stayed the same? With all that is going on right now, my influence has become more enhanced. I am more supportive, more empathetic, more driven, more agile and more focused on the positive versus the negative.

I do all of this while keeping a sense of rationale, as things are changing daily and in some instances, by the hour. The key to my success is staying level-headed. I am part of an executive team that believes in being a gauge that regulates the rest of the firm. If we are panicked and not level-headed, then the rest of the firm will follow our lead.

In this time, I say to stay strong and enhance the skills that made you great in the first place, help keep others calm and positive, be aware of the ever-changing situation, and effectively communicate with others.

HW: How can leaders step up during this time?

SG: I believe that creating an atmosphere of support is key. Employees still want to be developed, coached and mentored in order to achieve not only their professional goals, but their personal goals as well. We are all capable of doing so much more, whether it be for the firm we work for, or in our own homes. It’s the perception of how we react to the current environment that could diminish our ability to lead effectively.

I try to stay focused on the same things I was focused on pre-pandemic. My focus has only enhanced. As a leader, I want to ensure that I am instilling the required development, coaching or mentorship that a person may need, just like before, but on a much more proactive level; this is how we can step up and lead during this time.

HW: What are some of the greatest challenges you see arising out of this pandemic?

SG: Wow, that is a hard question to answer, as it’s an ever-changing landscape. But personally, I am disappointed to see the hard work that our firm put into Maverick Solutions, our proprietary suite of non-QM mortgage products, be “paused” indefinitely until the market recovers.

I directly oversaw the branding of this product and watched it come to life. It was like having a newborn child again, watching it grow into a mature and highly competitive product, to only suddenly see it come to a halt. It was difficult to experience and watch. I know I am not the only one that feels this way. We have seen a cascade of lenders in the space face the same issues.

The last challenge, and to me the most important, is being able to provide hope. Not just for the firm I help to run, but for the millions of customers out there who are facing hardships of their own. The ability to keep hope for a job, for a home or shelter, for food, for loved ones…we need to keep that hope alive and each of us must play our part.

HW: What is your secret to making it to the top of the industry as a Woman of Influence?

SG: Everyone knows you have to work hard, sustain that work ethic, master your trade until you retire, and maintain your integrity. I have only been in the business just over 20 years, but I attribute my personal success to my ability to listen, inspire, strategize, think progressively, influence and most importantly, stay authentic to my true self while maintaining those core values of work ethic and integrity.

When I hear feedback from other women, they typically tell me that they love the fact that they know where they stand with me. I am a transparent person who is loyal and trustworthy, but am also honest in the highest regard.

I am who I am, and nothing will ever change that for me. I have embraced my humble beginnings and use them to grow my future, both professionally and personally. Everyone has to put in the hard work, sustain and master, and keep their integrity. All of the ‘extra ingredients’ are up to you to decide what makes you more or less successful.

HousingWire’s nominations are now open for our 2020 Women of Influence. But they won’t stay open long – nominations close on April 24, 2020. So nominate your Woman of Influence today, we want to get to know them!

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