Guest Columns

Leadership through laughter

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

I am often reminded how lucky we are to come to work and experience something new, exciting, and fun every day. I'm sure you feel the same way. Our team laughs often, and many times we laugh quite loudly. Sometimes it's about something that happened, other times it's with each other, but most of the time it's at ourselves. We do serious work, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. I hope I never grow tired of hearing laughter in the hallways.

As leaders it's easy to get caught up in meetings, working hard to meet deadlines, and just being busy. We forget we need to take time to stop and visit with the residents we care for, not because there is an issue that needs to be addressed, but just because, and maybe even share a laugh or two with them. In fact, some of my best moments in this profession are with our residents.

Promoting the six dimensions of wellness is what we strive to do. Physical, social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and vocational are the areas we promote in the lives of our residents. It's amazing how many of them go hand-in-hand. For example during regular exercise classes our team always incorporates a joke. Sometimes they tell the jokes but most times residents come up with the jokes. They laugh together and claim it's working their abdominal muscles.

Many years ago when I was working in social services delivering the SPMSQ (memory quiz), I was reminded that while memory loss is hard we have to smile and find the humor. I remember it was January 6th and I quizzed this very prim, very proper preacher's wife, asking if she knew what the date was. Without hesitation and with a grin on her face she simply said, “January Sucks!” I couldn't argue with her. I think of that day often, especially the last few months as the Iowa winter seemed to never end.

Then just the other day I was walking down the hallway and two ladies were visiting, appearing to have a good time together. They were sitting in lounge chairs, their feet kicked up on their walkers and they were sharing old stories. As I listened to them, I laughed so hard my face actually hurt. One tall tale in particular had me question if they were taking me for a ride.

“All right, I can't tell if you're lying or telling me the honest truth!” I said. My lovely white-haired friend replied with a straight face and a little smirk, “We always tell the truth, we just embellish it a little bit!”

The relationships team members and residents build is phenomenal; we just need to stay out of their way. Overhearing inside jokes and listening to laughter is the same as what happens at home, not in a “facility.” Promoting and modeling that relationship is key for leaders in long-term care. If I, as the CEO, don't develop meaningful, fun relationships with our residents, why should I expect anyone else to? That's right, it's my job to laugh. It's critical we laugh with the residents, with families and with our employees. Laughter forces us to smile, even on the most difficult days. In this industry there are too many tough days, we need to laugh often. It's too easy to get bogged down in the details. Displaying leadership through laughter makes the trying days easier to face.

Laughing together until you cry, I believe, is what makes a great team. Experiences where we share life not just the day's tasks build greatness. How lucky are we to build that greatness inside other's homes? They invite us in and we have the opportunity to make someone and each other smile every day.

Be the reason someone smiles today.

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, IA.

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Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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