Living Leadership

Living Leadership

On huddling up

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

Sports analogies often times can show or help us tell great leadership stories. Most of us can relate the pressures athletes face to the work we do as leaders every day. While some of us were actual athletes at some point in our lives, others can relate by being a fan. Athletics involve us in a common language whether we participate or not.

Why is leadership different? I was reminded of this just today. Not everyone who works in long-term care considers himself or herself a leader. This shouldn't surprise us. It would only take you two minutes to walk down the hall and ask employees in your community: “Do you see yourself as a leader?” Chances are many of them without thinking would answer, “Nope.”

So this begs us to ask the next question: Is this OK? Don't we need followers the same way we need leaders? I would challenge this assumption and add that followers can be leaders as well. We just have to challenge them to see themselves in a new way. I'm often confronted when I “coach” this. Team members might say, “Julie, some people just aren't able. They don't have the capacity to understand what you are trying to get across.”

In the back of my mind, this makes me sad. I realize it may actually be true, but how can we as leaders help change that? Is it possible for all employees to consider themselves leaders or at least recognize the leadership skills they have or could have? Are we asking the right questions? Do we provide enough resources? Are we taking the time as leaders to practice with as many employees as possible?

Does a head coach say there are athletes on my team that don't have the ability? Do they recruit them to be on their team, or are they just filling a spot? There are parts of the country not unlike Iowa where recruiting and retaining our care force is a big challenge. It's a challenge that isn't going to go away any time soon. People who have the tenacity, patience and caring heart to provide this type of work are angels. They are angels who are hard to find and sometimes just as hard to keep.

Creating a culture of ownership also requires a culture of leadership and this takes time. It doesn't happen overnight, or even in six months. It takes years and it starts and ends with the head coach. We have a responsibility to unleash the leadership potential in others.

That is why I devoted my Leading Age Leadership Academy Action Learning Project to “Calling all Leaders … Unleash the Leadership Potential in Others.” I was more than excited to present my call to action in Boston several weeks ago during Leading Age's Spark Presentations.

I was also very excited to hear from other leaders across the country and learn more about their Action Learning Projects and how they are working to advance their communities. We are all competing in various ways.

Whether we are raising awareness, promoting Alzheimer's Disease initiatives, or researching ways to do things better, we are training for a very important race, one that impacts the lives of the seniors we serve all across the country.  

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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