Living Leadership

Living Leadership

To be a good leader, share your stories

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

The best lessons in life are often learned through the stories we share. The most meaningful moments, good or bad, are captured and remembered by the tales we tell.

A Christmas tradition has only become a tradition because at one point there was a memorable story tied to that tradition.

The lessons we learn in this great field we work in are often remembered and shared through the stories that touch our lives. Stories, especially when teaching resident centered care, carry more weight than anything we would teach in a class. The stories of how employees impact residents' lives, positively and negatively, are the stories that should be shared and should be shared often.

Do we take enough time to share stories? Are the stories we tell negative or positive? Which are told more often? Are the stories we tell only about, “remember that horrible time when,” versus the story that starts with a smile and “I'll never forget this resident.”

Personally, I should tell more stories that start with a smile rather than the stories that start with a cringe. If we all would commit to sharing the stories that start with a smile, maybe more people would enjoy their day. Furthermore, maybe more people would want to work in our field.

Even more importantly, it might remind everyone that there is a lot of good that comes out of our work.

The next time you open a meeting, ask to start with your favorite story from the week. The story doesn't have to be long; the story doesn't have to be told in an elaborate way. The story simply has to be positive.

We have to share our stories. It reminds people of why we are here. Storytelling reminds each other of how special it is to get to come to work every day and work with and around amazing people.

If you are in a meeting that has taken a negative tone, refocus the gathering and remind everyone why you are there through your favorite resident story. I would encourage you, especially during tough times like these, to share a resident story that will make the group breathe, laugh and relax. Have that story ready to share at a moment's notice; read the room and know when a story may help.  

Before you end any interviews, ask candidates what their favorite story is about a time when they made a difference in a resident's life. Or ask them to tell you a story of when they learned a lesson from someone older than them. It doesn't matter if they have been in our field for years or if they are just getting started; these questions should tell you how they feel about people older than they are.

Finally, record your stories, journal about them. Include the details, but also include how this particular event shaped you. What lesson did it teach you? What lesson did it teach others? Repeat it so it becomes part of your story.

We each have stories to share. We each chose this field or it chose us for a reason. We should be proud of our stories and we should share them often.

You would think a logical way to end this blog is to share one of my stories. That will come another time. For today, focus on yours, and share them with your teams.

Over the years I've heard some amazing stories. “Why did you get into this field of work?” is a story you should know about your team members, and they should know about you. If you haven't taken the time to share these stories, you should.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was 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 under her, 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 LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year.

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