Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Do the right thing when people are watching!

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

Every once in a while a leadership principle that you have held on to tightly for years gets turned on its ear.

I've always been a big believer that integrity or character is about doing the right thing when no one is watching. However, I've been thinking about that leadership principle a little differently lately. Leadership is also about doing the right thing when everyone is watching.

Doing the right thing also is sometimes about keeping your mouth shut, which is hard when we are so sure we have such great things to say.

Living leadership is also about understanding the power of influence. In other words, even when people are listening or watching, consider how your comments might impact others. When people get into a position of influence (notice I'm saying influence rather than leadership), they can use that power to derail the team. Simply because you talk a lot doesn't mean people should listen.

So … did you hear me?

Too often people end up in positions of influence and then use that power to sabotage the greater good. It's unfortunate when this happens. As leaders, it's not enough for us to rely on our positions to continue being heard.

I personally was slapped in the face with this recently and it was a good reminder to me that position does not necessarily mean my perspective is the only perspective. I also have observed in our work that perspective, regardless of position, is just that: perspective.

No one can tell you how to internalize the information being sent your way. You do that yourself. So rather than sharing your perspective as fact, there are times we should all just shut up.

We forgot that with families in our line of work this might be the first time they have ever dealt with a declining parent. Sure, it's the 15th time we have dealt with it today. But for them, from their perspective, it's the first time. We need to give them time to breathe, empathize and listen.

We cannot rush these conversations, and we must not become defensive. We need to listen, sometimes apologize and work together. Again, our work is personal. Some of the best things we can do are listening and not talk.

In workplace situations, the same holds true. What we say about the issues at hand can either contribute to a positive outcome or add negativity to a difficult situation. How you choose to contribute is simply your choice. You make the decision every time you open your mouth. When you are in a leadership position, remember that people are listening — whether they should be or not.

Your character and integrity are also tested when people are watching, not just when nobody's watching. 

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. 

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