Leaders should always know ... not!

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

Writing this blog to start 2016 I find myself in a “more than usual” reflective state. Four years ago today, our board of directors entrusted me with becoming Friendship Haven's president and CEO.

At the same time, we are doing our best to raise two teenagers. One is still in middle school and the other is a junior in high school. Coaching them to be confident young adults is a priority and leading our organization is also a priority. At the same time, I'm also working to become my authentic self as a leader. It's no easy task, and some days, on days like today, the burden and the overwhelming sense of it just being too much is palpable.

As leaders, we are not supposed to have doubt. We are expected to have the answers, guide the way and show others the course to get there. Others I've observed over the years seem to do it with such ease. They set the direction, inspire others, and lead their organizations.

They do this with no visible signs of stress. There is no sign on their foreheads announcing the sleepless nights with worry for their organizations' future. In fact, some do it and continue to look refreshed and reenergized each day. As leaders, we are expected to lead without showing the uncertainty of tomorrow.

I call bull****! We don't always know. There is no possible way for us to predict the future. There is no possible way for us to know exactly how our decisions will directly impact our residents today, or our residents of the future. Our residents are each dealing with their personal struggles in our communities. We have to empathize and listen but we also have to march on and make decisions that might not always be popular.

Some of the best advice Sam Moser gave me: “If you try to please everyone all the time, you end up pleasing no one.”  Who's Sam Moser? you might ask. He's my coach and one who taught me many life lessons. Parents are funny like that — things they say tend to stick. (Thanks, Dad!)

Four years ago, I personally struggled with people disagreeing with me. Guess what? I still do today. Unlike my older child, who will complete high school in four years, my leadership journey will not be over that quickly. Leadership is never over. But like high school, we can always continue to learn and appreciate the struggle.

That's the nice thing about writing this blog and the gift of reflection. Prior to writing today, I almost felt paralyzed by the day's work and the decisions that need to be made. By simply pausing and giving myself the permission (as you should do as well) to not know … well, it makes moving forward a bit more manageable.

And while you may still see the worry on my face from time to time, I'm going to stop apologizing for it. In our industry, not unlike other professions, we have big jobs with big responsibilities.

My hope for each of you is you have a team in which you can share that burden and those responsibilities so the decisions you make and the direction you set is one you all feel good about — even if there is some uncertainty.

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality in 2014. A coach's daughter at heart, she is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. A licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and was recently named LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year.