Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Can you push just a little more?

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

What do you do for a living? When asked that question, do you rattle off a list of responsibilities? How do you answer? “I am a (fill in the blank).” Or do you answer with, “I'm just a (fill in the blank)”?

Lately the phrases “my role” and “I don't want to step on anyone's toes” seem to define what we do. Not what we actually set out to accomplish, but rather … “I only do this much.” And if asked to do more, complaints and excuses take more time than actually accomplishing the goal.

Confused? So am I. Since when was, “I don't have the time,” a reason for not putting forth 100% effort?

Leaders tackle every challenge not because it's their responsibility or because it's listed in their job description. But they tackle projects, come up with ideas and innovation because they can see beyond today and they can envision what's possible. They help create their new world. Leaders make the impossible possible; they figure out the reason for failure and try new solutions.

I've said this before: Our field isn't considered glamorous or sexy by some. Do we self perpetuate that stereotype? What are we doing as leaders to promote creativity in the workplace? Do we challenge other leaders to be resourceful and dream bigger than their “role”? Or are you a leader who claims there is no solution?

Are creativity and innovation too much to ask for in our field? Are the people we hire too regimented in their responsibilities that they can't think any bigger than the next task at hand? Do we change because the “old school” ways are easy, or do we offer and challenge our care force to truly get comfortable with being uncomfortable?

News flash! The time is here! We have to figure out a way to think about the work we do differently not only because the residents we serve deserve and expect it but because everyone of us in healthcare is expected to do more with less and, by the way, continue to have great outcomes. This won't happen unless we turn things upside down and figure out how to create more leaders around us. Caregivers who simply do what they are told won't cut it any longer. Leaders have a responsibility to cultivate critical thinking skills in every team member! Is this possible?

Is it them or us?

Difficult question, but a simple answer. It's us! As leaders, if we don't give our teams the ability to dream bigger than they ever have before, they never will. I hate the word “permission.” It's more than granting them permission — it's challenging them in a way many of them have never expected to be challenged before. Our world has been governed by regulations; the shift should be to be inspired by creativity.

The regulations will always be there, so how can we work within those guidelines and still be creative without limitations? We need to think about roles and responsibilities differently. Set the vision, not the outcome. As leaders, ask yourselves these questions, and be honest.

• How can we expect people to get excited about the same place we've always been?

• Do you let your team members find their own answers? Give them the tools, and then get out of the way. As much as you think you know the answer, it will never stick unless you let them figure it out for themselves.

• Job titles shouldn't define us — a shared vision should.  Have you set that vision?

• Is creativity expected, encouraged or stifled?

• When is the last time a new idea came your way? Are you asking for new ideas?

• Do you encourage failure?

• Are you the one who is scared?

If I'm to be honest, my answers to these questions probably aren't what they should be. As a leader it's a struggle to truly get there because it takes energy, commitment and dedication.

I think the trick is to consider where you are at any given time and decide … can you push just a little more? There are times to push but there are also times to simply support and not push. Finding that balance in leadership is never ending.

There is no step-by-step guide. There is a place to start though: Think about this more intently and push your teams. While doing so, push yourself more than you have before to consider what your JOB really is.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog has been named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. 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, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now 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. 

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