In the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” the six-man crew of the fishing vessel Amanda Gail were pushed to their limits during a never-ending storm. That the men even stood a chance at survival was owed to their collective skills and resources as they faced one challenge after another.

Today’s mortgage lenders are dealing with their own gauntlet of chaos that is testing the bounds of their “crews” – that is, their C-level executives. New regulations and overregulation, huge spikes in per-loan costs due to compliance, hyper competition and more recently, rising rates have created an abundance of uncertainty in the marketplace.

Little wonder, then, that lenders are so focused on shoring up their top teams for success. But what does it take to get to the C-Suite?

Leadership potential

Recently, my company conducted a survey of mortgage lenders to identity the most valuable traits they sought in senior leaders. Talent potential stood at the top of the list, and it’s not hard to see why.

The mortgage landscape is highly volatile and the mortgage process itself is complex and riddled with rising costs. Lenders need leaders who can rise up to these challenges armed with new innovative approaches and ideas that are balanced with a responsible P&L understanding. Executives with these skills can have a major impact on a company’s fate. But how do you determine who has that potential?

From my perspective, the greatest indicator of potential is past performance. When evaluating a candidate, look for evidence that the candidate can adapt and grow into increasingly complex roles and different environments. True leaders are the ones who can adjust, lead, innovate and inspire through chaos and changing environments.

Other signs of potential are motivation, passion and ambition. These traits emerge as a fierce commitment to excel—not for selfish reasons, but for the greater good of the organization. For example, is the person able to engage and motivate peers and staff? Do they build trust by investing their time in others and communicating transparently? Do they self-correct when things do not go as planned? Do they seek out new experiences?

Executives with leadership potential are also well-rounded. They pursue and acquire skills in multiple disciplines, and display the ability to coach “from the field” and not up in the stands. In other words, it’s not unusual to see them in the trenches, leading by example, encouraging and inspiring those around them.

A Well-rounded toolbox

It’s not enough for C-level executives to simply have potential—they obviously need skills, too. In our industry, they should be able to perform root cause analyses and articulate solutions and strategies clearly. They should be successful at leveraging technology, data and analytics, and if needed, restructuring systems to create more efficient processes and meet capacity demands. This includes a solid command of process workflow and automation that optimizes thru-put.

Finally, they need to be able to improve productivity and performance. That means establishing a culture with a realistic vision that empowers and energizes others to reach a higher level. In other words, they find ways to inspire a collective performance optimization and accountability that makes everyone around them better.

Creating the right fit

Even when a candidate has a full toolbox of skills in addition to the passion and potential to take his or her performance to new heights, that person still might not be the C-Suite executive a company is looking for. Why?

The candidate needs to fit into a company’s culture. It’s not just about finding a great candidate, but the right candidate. Even a candidate with all the requisite skills won’t be the right leader for a company if they clash with the organization’s values and goals or somehow is unable to adjust to existing leadership communication styles.

Your company’s performance is a direct reflection of the people who run it. When the seas are stormy, a strong C-suite is the crew—the people who make the difference between your organization reaching its goals or putting out an SOS. It’s something worth getting right.