Leadership skills: Know yourself, know your employees, know your job

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Cyndi Taplin
Cyndi Taplin


In the simplest sense, a successful leader is one that gets other people to do things, to do those things well, and to enjoy doing them. In other words they have the ability to positively influence others to action. Great leaders inspire, motivate, and educate. While it is true that some people are naturally more adept, those that aren't ‘born leaders' can still learn to be effective by learning some basic leadership skills and philosophies. At the most basic level, a good leader must know him/herself, know his/her employees, and know the job.

The edict to ‘know thyself' dates back to an inscription in the Luxor Temple in ancient Egypt and has been lauded by writers, leaders, and philosophers alike, including Plato, Socrates, and Emerson. However, truly knowing oneself in the age of constant digital distraction is much more difficult than it was for folks like Plato and Emerson, who, we are guessing, had more quiet time on their hands than the average senior living industry administrator. Even so, this basic building block can't be ignored.

Great leaders have a sense of self that includes an inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, an awareness of their limitations, and a good sense of how they are perceived by others. None of these can be achieved without deliberately and regularly taking time to reflect on one's accomplishments, failures, and work philosophy, AND undergoing outside assessments, such as a 360 inventory.

Thorough self-assessment allows leaders to discern reality from hype, even within themselves, which helps them avoid a number of common stumbling blocks. 

Over-confident leaders can get in over their heads and be reluctant to look for outside help, at the expense of the organization. Those lacking confidence will struggle to motivate, and may be reluctant to delegate tasks. An effective leader's awareness of flaws makes them more compassionate (never a bad thing in our industry), but no less likely to hold themselves accountable. In short, a leader with a good sense of self will come across as genuine, which is of utmost importance when trying to inspire and motivate others.

Employees need to feel like their boss is on their side, so once a leader has a good handle on who he/she is, the next step is to get to know the employees. Effective leaders engage with employees and learn a little about their personal life (while keeping the relationship professional), which helps them better understand their employees' motivations and long-term goals. Knowing these is crucial to eliciting top performance and planning for future staffing and promotions.

Don't underestimate the importance of activities outside of work. Leading a volunteer charitable activity, participating in an employee softball game, or even just joining in to sing happy birthday to a staff member can go a long way in demonstrating that you are interested in your employees and willing to serve others. 

Be willing to jump in and be hands on during tough times or staff shortages. Culture flows top down, and employees need to see an invested leader who cares about them and the organization. They will not go the extra mile if you won't, and in the senior living industry, our clients all deserve the extra mile.

A Forbes article about leadership skills from earlier this year suggested that successful leaders are the “intellect behind their organizations…They must know…how to rally employees to work hard toward their company's goals.” To this end, successful leaders must understand the job and goals of the organization by knowing each staff role as well as their own AND effectively communicating this throughout the organization. Happy staff equals happy residents, and this process starts by making sure responsibilities, expectations, and goals are clearly defined all around.  

A brief Google search will result in dozens of articles on leadership techniques and skills, with multiple arguments for which are the ‘top 10 most important,' but all of them are based on being genuine, engaging with your employees, and having a deep understanding of the organization and its goals. In other words, know yourself, know your employees, and know the job.  

Cyndi Taplin is the Director of Consulting for LeaderStat, an interim management, executive recruiting and consulting firm for healthcare, post-acute and senior care organizations. She is also an Executive Director on the John Maxwell Team.


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