Living Leadership

Living Leadership

This is a freaking good column

Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Anyone who knows me knows that coaching and mentoring are joys of mine. Spending time with our teams and encouraging them to become self-reflective and more self-aware is something I live and love to do. Recently, I was reminded I need to take my own advice.

During an unexpected leave, a teammate was covering for a colleague and needed secure access to her computer. The teammate on leave shared her password with her coworker in order to ensure the information was processed in a timely manner. The password was received and deadlines were met. Of course, we followed the appropriate password protocols to secure the information.

Later is when the lesson came.

Some time afterward, the leader shared the password she had obtained with me and my jaw dropped. The password was “This-sucks!” What? Really? This is the password this team leader types in 20 to 30 times a day?

How could she be that unhappy with her job? I felt terrible. The person who shared this information with me felt even worse because she is the person's direct supervisor.

We had failed her. Here she was out on leave and we were left holding this tremendous amount of guilt that her job had become so unbearable she typed this negative mantra into her computer many times a day.

“This-sucks!” Yikes. How could we fix this? What were we going to do? Had it become so unbearable it's beyond fixing? I freaked out.

After sitting with it for awhile and pondering how I should handle this tragedy, I decided the best way to face it was head on. So when she returned from her leave, I came out and asked her point blank, “Is ‘This-sucks' really your password?” She looked at me completely confused for a few seconds.

Then her confusion turned into laughter! If this was funny, I was missing the joke. It made me even crazier. “How can you laugh?” I barked at her. “I've felt sick about this for weeks!”

She explained her frustration was with our network system and the fact it prompts us to change our passwords so often. Unable to think of one more combination of letters and symbols for a password she could easily remember, she said to herself under her breath, “This sucks.”  So her new password was born. She further admitted that every time she entered it on her computer, she smiled.

“Are kidding me?” I asked her. “So you don't hate your job?” Absolutely not, she pleaded.

She reiterated her logic in coming up with her password. “In fact,” she continued, “I was recently prompted to change it again. My new password is ‘thankful2015.'”

My fears were calmed and I was now frustrated with myself for freaking out before I found out — or FOBIFO —  an acronym I love and encourage others to remember because we waste too much time freaking out before we actually know the whole story.

I can't take credit for FOBIFO. I picked it up during a leadership lecture at some point over the years, but it's one that has stuck. It's also one that hits home as we try and live leadership each day.

It's a simple lesson but one we all struggle with from time to time. For me, it was reacting to a password when I really didn't know the whole story!

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 is a current participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy.

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