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About Keith Canter  

Intensity makes a good story, but consistency makes good progress. Keith Canter, CEO and co-founder of First Community Mortgage (FCM), shares real insights on the mortgage industry and discusses the impact and importance of consistency over intensity. Keith also touches on leadership, culture, team development, business growth, and more! Tune in now!


In this episode, Steve Scanlon and Keith Canter discuss


●    What lessons have you learned over the course of your career?
●    Leadership
●    Culture
●    Consistency versus Intensity
●    Growing and developing your team
●    Supporting the bottom line and growth of your company 


Key Takeaways 


●    Leaders must set a clear vision for where the company is going and when the company will get there.
●    Mission, Vision, and Values are often thrown around or put on the walls, but they must be walked out and become the fabric of your organization.
●    Culture is always a moving target, but we have a culture built on guardrails of performance and kindness.
●    Telling people the truth and being honest and transparent is the most loving thing a leader can give their employees.
●    Role Clarity is vitally important for all employees. 


“Self-assessments are critically important for all leaders. We must understand our strengths, weaknesses, and how we show up in stress.” – Keith Canter


Connect with Keith Canter 


  •   Website 
  •   LinkedIn


Connect with Steve Scanlon





Listen to the podcast here


Keith Canter - Consistency Over Intensity

I have a guest on the show that I'm super excited to bring to our little episode. If for no other reason than the spirit of this individual. I don't doubt Keith is going to say some magnanimous and awesome things and tell us some great things. I hope you get to read for feeling in heart and spirit because I have spent a little bit of time with this guy, and you don't need very long with him to want to emulate his positive vibe and outlook. How about that? Without further ado, Keith Canter, say hello to the show.

I'm excited to be here, Steve. That was nice of you to stay, and I'm blessed to be on with you.

We're going to have some fun. Here's how we "do it." You and I saw each one time. We were at an event together, and I did something akin to this. I didn't get to practice it with you live but I hear it now. I'm asking you to think about it now, and we're getting close to this being the season. Here's what I want to know. What are you grateful for?

We had a chance to do this together in San Antonio but I thought more about this on my trip home. It revolves around three things that always rise to the top for me. Number 1) My faith. Number 2) My family and friends. I get to complete it with another F, and that's FCM. The team here is wonderful. Those are my Fs, Family, Friends, Faith and FCM. Those always rise to the top.

I don't want to put a date on it because we never know when we're going to drop these, and we want to keep it relevant. On this particular day, does one of those things, as you pause here for a second, the faith, family, friends, and FCM, which of those things rise to the top for you?

The team at FCM, it's no secret about the challenge that's taking place in the mortgage industry. The way they're digging deep, they're having to walk this fine line of messaging the reality of what's going on yet keeping the team positive in the fact that there's so much opportunity within the challenges. It's such a difficult path to walk, and I'm proud of what they're doing. I'm grateful for their efforts. This season we're going through is tremendously challenging but every day, they come in and they're tired but keep fighting on, and I'm proud of them.

I want to ask you a little bit about the battle that we're all facing. How do you approach it? Not just you personally but also if one of your people comes to you and they're struggling, I'd love to hear your thoughts on helping them through this difficult walk. Before we do that, it's always fitting and fair to say, "Would you give us a synopsis of you?" I can read your bio, and that might be okay, but it's even better to go, "Here's who I am, where I do what I do, and why I do it." Maybe where you've come from and where you're at. If you wouldn't mind giving us a quick snapshot of you, that'd be great.

I've entered a season of my life where I look back, and I'm humbled at where God has brought me. When I think about the consistency and the perseverance that's taken place, there are a lot of things that are aligning. For me, it's been consistency over intensity or the fact that I've celebrated my 25th year of marriage. I've been in the same church for over 25 years. I've had the same role and leadership in the same company.

When you align those things up from where I came from, I'm humbled. I'm a college dropout and never thought about the mortgage business. I fell into it, as everybody does. I became a loan officer and then moved into a leadership position when I started my own company and figured it out. Here I sit, several years later, and I'm blown away. There are a lot of factors that took place to get here. They'd all come together, and I feel very fortunate.

I don't have questions because I already have so many questions about what I love, consistency over intensity. I'm going to come back to that one too. Before we move on to this idea, you're a college dropout. You stumbled into mortgage, and several years later, you feel humbled and blessed that you're here. It's beautiful. Could you point to 1 or 2 pivotal things that happened along the way that led you from college dropout to being where you are? Were there any pivotal moments for you that you would mind sharing with us?

We all need to rely on those around us to give us help. There were two things. One is, when I got to be a loan officer, I had the privilege and the opportunity as someone that owned a mortgage company gave me a shot, and I hope I didn't disappoint. I worked hard and followed the playbook at that company. I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity and took advantage of that. This is an interesting story, and I'll try to keep it brief. I woke up one morning, and my sales manager at that first company said, "We're going to make calls in Shelbyville, Tennessee." I was like, "Is that in Alabama?" It was 45 minutes South of where I lived, and I didn't want to drive. We made the rounds that day and weren't seeing anybody.


We all need to rely on those around us to give us help.

Nobody was in the offices, and we wanted to do our sales pitch on somebody. The very last office that we were in was Coldwell Banker office. We were walking out the front door, and an agent came in the back door, and we looked at the reception like, "Can we talk to him?" She was like, "Sure." We did our dog and pony show on this guy, Jimmy. He was the agent. Next thing you know, he gave my card to someone else in the office, and I started doing loans in that office and Shelbyville.

That's where I opened up my own company. That's where I met God. That's where I met my wife and where I raised my family. Thinking back to that day, I was literally walking out that front door, and he walked in the back door, and I look back and think, "What if he would've been 30 seconds later, I would've missed him?" My whole career comes down to that one defining moment of that opportunity. Call it providential or what you want. It's an amazing moment for me in my life.

Where's Jimmy now?

Jimmy owns his own real estate company in Shelbyville and has been a lifelong friend. His sons are in the business, and we still stay in touch.

When I interview people, Keith, I'm always thinking that other people should write books. By the way, meeting you, you've got some great books in you because of how you think in your heart and your spirit. You ought to write a book called Jimmy.

I've been told that before but I've never been given the title. That is incredible. Thank you.

Jimmy isn't just obviously about him. It's all those things. You could expound upon 30 seconds. There's a whole lesson in there about tenacity and perseverance. It was the last, one of the last days you kept going. I'm trying to think or maybe you could think of it, who has the quote, "Luck favors the prepared." Was it Thomas Jefferson?

I think it was Mark Twain, was it?

Maybe. One of them said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." That's you putting in the hours and doing it. There's a whole element of gratitude in Jimmy, too, that he was there but there's a whole lot there, so you should write a book called Jimmy.

I've always been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and he wrote the book, Outliers. These people that he studies in a book are incredibly talented. There was always fortune and circumstances around timing and opportunity that also came along with these wonderful stars like The Beatles, the Steve Jobs or the Bill Gates of the world. That opportunity met hard work, and I'm not comparing myself to those guys.


When opportunity meets hard work, you’re going to realize that all of a sudden, you're not comparing yourself to those guys placed as standards of success. 

If I recall from that book, the Beatles spent their 10 years or 10,000 hours in Germany in all those bars. They put in the work. That's a beautiful story about him. It has a lot to do with tenacity, which by the way, brings me back to consistency over intensity, which is a chapter in the book, Jimmy, for the record. Talk to me about that. Talk to us about consistency over intensity. You said that in a passing way, and I thought I'd bring that back.

It mirrors the culture and what you would find at FCM and the team that we've built. We've always played the long game here, and some might say that we have maybe grown slower than others, and rightfully so. We didn't build this as a startup that we would sell to a venture capital firm or have never had an exit strategy. It's been one of those things where we put one foot in front of the other, the 1% better everyday type model where we have grown organically and through different phases of our organization.

I'm not saying one play is better than the other. I'm saying our culture is that the tortoise wins the race. That's why we've been consistent and taken 2 steps forward and 1 step backward. We've grown over the years and learned from our mistakes. We show up every day and try to get better. That's not that fancy but it's been our method and model.

We need less fancy things in the world, probably and stuff that's tangibly and empirically working for the record. That model of the tortoise, the tenacity, and consistency, how would you describe how that's met this environment?

That's exactly what I was thinking. We're very appealing to many of the people we're recruiting and the opportunities that we're coming across. People are seeing an organization that's over 20 years old with the same CEO the entire time. They see the stability. They see the consistency. We run into a lot of people that say, "I've got one more good run in me, 10 or 15 more years, and I want to be with one company one more time and have a great run." That tends to be where we are now attractive to those in the marketplace.

We're all having challenges, and you guys are having challenges. It's not possible to live through this season without some challenges. How are you facing some of the challenges that you are facing? Again, I might invite you to think through that culture. How does the culture itself when you think through these challenges? I'd love to hear you continue to talk about this mindset and culture that you have. How does it empirically touch on some of these challenges that we're having?

When you talk about culture, that's an elusive thing where you know a good culture when you experience it and a bad culture when you're in it. We've built our culture on two guardrails. Before 2016, we had a culture that was built around family, and we were smaller organizations, so very friendly and kind. That was good. When you build a culture on that model of the family, the guardrail is that sometimes you get too close to people, and you're afraid to tell people the truth because you don't want to hurt their feelings because you love them so much and care about them. That's the ditch on that side of the guardrail.


Sometimes you get too close to people, and you're afraid to tell people the truth because you don't want to hurt their feelings because you love them so much and you care about them. 

We've had move more towards a performance-based culture where that guardrail is built around performance, numbers, and metrics. There's obviously a ditch on that side, too. That's performance over people, numbers over people. The idea is that we keep it in the middle. We want to have a performance. We want to have a culture where excellence has rewarded a meritocracy if you will but at the same time, we don't want to lose that kindness and care and treatment of others when life events come along.

We try to run a balanced organization culture, and people are one-half of the strategic plans that we develop every year. They're always very important. We try to run right down the middle and use those two guardrails as culture barriers. We don't get too far off and either ditch. We stay right down the middle.

I have so many questions around it. Some people would read that and go, "A performance-based culture," you used the word meritocracy but also held onto it prior to 2016. If I heard you correctly, it was single-dimensional with regard to, "We're a family." Some people might read that and go, "Are you a performance-based culture or are you a family-based thing? Pick one." I hear you say, "We're trying to be both." How do you do that?

You can be both. What I've learned and how we got to where we were before 2016 were all on my shoulders. It was all because of me. I struggled with fear of man. I was afraid that when I was honest with someone or that I would have to go and tell the truth to someone, they wouldn't like me. That trickled down, and I allowed that culture to exist from the top down. What I've learned over time is that telling someone the truth is the greatest show of love that you can give them. It's being honest and truthful.

Sometimes the very best thing we can do for someone is to tell them the truth, figure out together, and not beat someone down but figure out, "Is FCM the right home for them?" Perhaps they would flourish and do somewhere else in another environment and try to be very kind and proactive and work with them to maybe move them out of the organization so they will thrive. It's things from the top down. When we just started telling each other the truth and love, and in care and kindness, then that's when we started to see the organization move forward.

Talk to me about telling people the truth in love, care, and kindness. I think people reading this are going, "Sounds so great. For many, it sounds difficult, if not impossible." Without ever doing any names or particular circumstances, can you give me some instances where there's a truth that was done out of love and kindness?

I'll try to think of a story as I'm saying this but oftentimes, in a smaller organization and as we're growing an organization, someone excels at a role in a job that they're good at. It's within their God-given talents. They have these unique abilities, and they're knocking it out of the park, and then all of a sudden, we move them into a role that perhaps they're not as good at. Maybe they're moving up in the organization, and they are not as suited for, maybe it's a leadership or a management role. Maybe it's different skillsets that are required, and they don't possess those and don't even enjoy them. A great conversation would be that you were thriving in this old role.

It's very difficult to get someone to go backward in the organization but it might be what they want or what we want. If you never have that conversation, if you can't be honest with them and say, "You were thriving over here. Is this where your talents lie? Would you consider going back to that role where you were crushing it as opposed to egos getting involved?" "I'm not going to go back or do that role again."

From our perspective, rolling them out of the organization or living with subpar performance that there's a good example of how you could have a caring conversation with an employee to point them back to their special skillsets, their unique abilities so that they're not only performing well for the organization but also enjoying life again. They're getting out of bed excited to come to work. We've done that on numerous occasions.

TII 146 | ConsistencyConsistency: A good example of how you could have a really caring conversation with an employee is to point them back to their special skill sets, their unique abilities so that they're not only performing well for the organization but they're also enjoying life again and they're getting out of bed excited to come to work.


I don't want to move off that. Again, I'm trying to cover as much but I have many questions for you, Keith. You mentioned leadership, and the story that you talked about is that sometimes it's referred to as the Peter principle. People think they're growing into something, and then they get to a place where they're no longer good at something. I loved that. How can you be a truth teller out of grace and love to that? That's fantastic. Talk to me about good leadership. What are the characteristics from your vantage point with your experience and your walkthrough life? What makes a great leader a great leader?

What I've had to learn, probably first and foremost, if I put number one on the list, it'd be willing to self-assess. I've gone through multiple assessments, and if you don't understand yourself and how you're showing up on a daily basis, how you're communicating with others. I'll talk about communication in a second because that'd be number two. How we communicate with people and how we show up and what our tendencies are, what our biases are, and all the things that make us unique individuals, we all show up differently. You've got to start with self, and then assessing the other team is important too.

Until you fully understand that, you can't fully understand how to start off as a leader and then how to lead your team because each person on your team needs to be led in a different way. The first thing I would say is self-assessment, and then I handed the other is communication. One thing that I have been taught and learned over time is how leaders show up and how they communicate their mannerisms. It all matters. I didn't understand that fully until it was beaten in my head that when you say things a certain way, you may not mean it but your words matter, and they carry a lot of weight.

TII 146 | ConsistencyConsistency: How leaders show up and communicate their mannerisms all matters. When leaders say things a certain way, they may not mean it, but their words matter and they carry a lot of weight.


When I'm speaking with individuals on the team, even if they're close to me, I have to make sure that I am very intentional with my words. When I send out an email to the organization, I read it several times because the last thing I want to do is send out communication that's indecisive, could be confusing or might be taken the wrong way. This may sound frustrating or slow to maybe another leader out there that's reading, not very efficient but it's important. It's important the way we communicate it. It's important the way we show up. If you don't have communication down, you're not going to go very far.

It struck me when you said that it might be frustrating or slow-moving. I'm wondering. When I listen about being an effective communicator, I don't think there's a leader out there that would disagree with that. To take the time to read what we wrote and spend the time to ask ourselves the question, you combine those two things together. You're assessing yourself as you communicate.

I'm wondering what you think about it. Do you think that some leaders read that and go, "Keith, that sounds good but who's got the time for that? We're also jammed." I don't mean to play devil's advocate with you on the phone but what if I came to you and said, "It sounds good. Who's got the time for that?" How would you reply?

I would say make the time or maybe get some people that are around you that are close that when you have very important communication, you could bounce that off of. We can work on leadership skills over time that can narrow that gap if we have communication standard issues. We can always improve but to say, "I don't have time," could be anything that we apply that to. If there's a gap in our life, whether it's about diet, relationships or whatever, we can always use that as an excuse. I would figure out where I could close the gap, and that could come through a myriad of solutions.

You got me thinking. That's what the show is all about. I sat here when you said that and was like, "I wonder what and where I use time as an excuse." That was for me personally.

We use it when we're stressed. You taught me that earlier.

I wasn't thinking about teaching you anything. I was like, "What did I learn from it?" You gave me insight. I swear we do these for me, Keith, not anybody else. We'll get this out but these are for me, like, "I have to listen wherever I use time." That was good. I love both of these two things in terms of leadership, self-assessment and good communication. What the heck? We can do whatever we want.

I got more of them if you want.

We could. I want to hang on to those for a second. Talk to me about self-assessment here. Since I want to practice a little bit about what you're reaching here, where do you need to improve? You adapt this for yourself personally where have you said, "There's a self-assessment for me." Even though I know you're teaching this to other people, you strike me as the guy that's doing this with yourself. I'm curious. Where's an improvement for you?

It's twofold. One is I'm a quick start. What I have to do is make sure that as I am giving my team different ideas and initiatives and things that I want to do, I have to make sure that I'm holding those things back and giving them at the appropriate time. I'm not overwhelming my team with, "Let's do this. Let's go do that." What I do is slow down, and I am very intentional about holding things back to the right time to deliver those to the senior leadership team.

TII 146 | ConsistencyConsistency: Make sure that you give your team different ideas and initiatives. You have to make sure that you’re holding back the things that you want to do and give them at the appropriate time. 


That's what I should be doing as a CEO. I should be out in front knowing where the puck's going to go and thinking about, "Here's another business opportunity. Here's a strategy. Here's something that I see that we need to correct," but you can't do it all at once. As a quick start, I want to do it tomorrow or today. It can't all be done at once, so I must be thoughtful and strategic and line things up and hold things back. I picture a dam and letting enough water through as we need. That's one thing. The second thing is that I'm an introvert.

Our senior team went off on a retreat one time, and we all agreed to get uncomfortable over one thing. The team and I all agreed that I needed to be a more forward-facing CEO. I needed to be out there a little bit more, expose our company to the industry more, and make new friends. That means more conferences, roundtables, interaction on LinkedIn and all those things, which is way not what I wanted. I want to go and sit on my back porch, turn on football games, and be with myself. We grow when we get into those uncomfortable moments.

Back to that consistency thing. I've ramped up my LinkedIn game. I’ve been attending MBA, Lenders One, and The Mortgage Collaborative events. I've been making new friends. I can see the results, and it's an area where I self-assessed. I know that I am more comfortable in smaller groups and smaller settings, but I also know that to be the leader my company needs me to be. I'm going to step out and get uncomfortable and do these things. Even this show is a little stretch for me but, "My team is doing much more challenging things than a show, so this is where I need to be."

As an introvert, first of all, those of us that are reading, we want to thank you for extending yourself. This has been great. You're the spirit for what you're doing, and I also want to affirm you and say I met you at one of those events. If your idea was going to be at more events, you're walking your truck because it's where you and I saw each other.

It sounds like you might have figured a way out of that had you not assessed like that or heard other folks speak about that. Was that as much self-assessment? It is self-assessment but it almost feels to me like the way you told that story, you went away and got to hear that from others, which goes back to not just self-assessment. It's the willingness to hear others assess you. Do I hear that right?

My team knows me better than anyone, and anytime I go through a growth period or try something new, I want to get their take and their opinion. "Am I seeing this correctly?" They know me probably as well as my family and friends. It's important that I get their understanding. Again, we came up with, "What are we all going to do to get uncomfortable and grow." We all came together and did that. A lot of the things that I've been sharing on this episode are around assessment.

Talking about the fear of man, I didn't realize that until I went through some assessment and realized what damage it was doing, not only to my business life but my personal life. We talked about many other things, and those have all come through learning more about myself. It's crucial and vital for every leader. Why I put it number one on the list is that you've got to continually learn, challenge, and unpack things that are in your life. That's where the growth will come from.


It's crucial and vital for every leader to continually learn, challenge, and unpack things that are in their life. That's where the growth will really come from.  

Again, I suspect most people will read that, including me. I'm going, "Amen, bro. That's right on the money,” and yet it's challenging because whether we're introverts or not, our own minds would like to sit on the couch. We don't want to change. Wouldn't it be great if the world would change around us and have everything that we were naturally lined up perfectly? It doesn't work like that. That's what you're saying. This assessment, I love that. How do we work that into the book, Jimmy?

It's the difference between knowledge and wisdom or it's the lack of application. We have the knowledge, the know-how. If you want to lose weight, you eat good, exercise, less calories or burn more calories. If you want to save money, then spend less than you make. We have these basics and things that we gather in life. We have all the information. To me, it seems like it's a lack of application. I struggle with this too. I'm not saying these things are easy but we tend to understand what we need to do and we just don't have the discipline to carry those forward.

I've been working with an executive coach for several years now, and she challenges me left and right on things like this. It's important if I want to grow as a leader, and I don't want to stagnate. I want to keep growing so I can lead my team. There's always room to improve and get better. I don't think it's a lack of knowledge. Its lack of application.

Believe it or not, we're done here. I got so many more questions for you. It's not a lack of knowledge. It's a lack of application. How you've seen the world, Keith? Why the lack of application? That it's not a lack of knowledge and it's a lack of application is already wonderful but how do you describe that to the guy in the mirror to other people? How do we understand something and have the knowledge and don't apply it? Why is the lack of application still the main problem? What do you suppose?

It's pretty easy. We live in the greatest country in the world, and we're very comfortable. I don't have to go to all the conferences that we talked about. I don't have to do those things to put myself in an uncomfortable situation. I'm to the point of my career where I could put it in neutral and coast. Ultimately, if I want to reach my full potential and what I desire more than me reaching my full potential is for my team to reach their full potential. That's the win. How do you define success?

I know people define it in all kinds of different ways but to me, success would be my team reaching their full potential, whatever that looks like. It doesn't matter about numbers or money. Reach your full potential. You've been a successful leader when you could help your team do that but you're not going to reach your full potential unless you continue to push yourself, become vulnerable, put yourself out there, and put in the discipline and the work. That's a choice.


Success would be the team reaching its full potential, whatever that looks like. 

From a financial perspective and a place where we're at in America, is that necessary? Yes and no. Many of us find ourselves in a comfortable situation and don't take that as, "This is not a challenging time and not a difficult time," but I hope you know where I'm going there. It's like, "Do we have to push each other?" Probably not.

We will be okay. Unless one day, just being okay wasn't okay. You said it. I was giving it back to you. Way to go. I got pages of notes here. I'm going to sign off on this thing and hope to stay on the phone with you for another four hours. Everybody else can go about their day. I'm kidding. We probably don't have time for that. Keith, this has been gold. Thank you.

I appreciate you having me on, Steve. It's been great getting to know you.

I love the consistency piece. I love that you're blending performance-based and also still being about people and human beings. I love the two concepts of we have to assess and communicate effectively. You said you had more. That wasn't lost on me. We'll do another show where you get to come in and do more, and this idea that we are in perpetual improvement, not because we have to, and maybe that is the problem. If everybody had to, it'd be easier but we don't and you don't. Yet here you are. That's super inspiring, and I trust that you're inspiring others around you. Thank you.

Thank you, Steve. It's been fun being on with you.

Like we say every time, don't matter what my insights were if I had any, and I did have some because of my friend, Keith, here. It doesn't even matter what Keith's insights were. What matters the most is what insights you have. That's what matters as a result of Keith Canter and his work with us. Keith, again, thank you. We'll see you all here next time.


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