Julie Thorson

There are hundreds of leadership books out there. Many experts in the field have lots of scientific research and studies to back their recommendations. Read as many as you would like because they can be helpful. 

They will stretch you and cause you to think about leadership in a curious way. 

Today’s blog is easy, and yet so many of us fall out of practice. Remember the little things. They matter. When we consistently practice the little things in leadership, the dream big starts to materialize.

I can’t take all of the credit for the following precious little reminders. Many come from my team. They’ve become a common language of sorts here. We remind each other of them often; we practice, we share and we embrace our leadership culture.  

Whether you’ve been a leader in the field for 20 years or two years, this simple list may serve as a good reminder that the little things do matter. Once we master them, the dream finds a way of becoming a reality. Culture matters. Leadership matters.  The little things make a big difference. 

Smile. If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? If you walk down the hall and rarely see people smiling, there is a problem. Guess what! The problem may be you.

Are you smiling when you meet people in the hallway? Do you let the pressure of the day show on your face? Smiling can make or break a mood. Also, a proven fact: Smiling or frowning is contagious. If you smile at someone, chances are they will smile back and then the next person, and so on and so on.

The same is true for not making eye contact or frowning. You get what you give. So, smile already. Smile often! Make it a habit. 

Laugh. We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine. You know what? It is. We can take our work very seriously, but we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Laughing changes us. It lightens the mood. It makes the tough times bearable.

Laughter connects us all regardless of age. Laughing helps. Laughing is also a great way to encourage more smiles (see point above.)   We are not laughing at one another but laughing with one another. There is fun in this work. Find it. 

Challenge. We sometimes don’t give each other enough credit. Challenging one another, if done in a caring way, is good. We need to and should push each other to do more, do better, become the best versions of ourselves. If we accept humdrum, we get humdrum.

People say venting to coworkers is healthy, but is it really? How long should we let “venting” go on? And when should we challenge each other and say, “Enough!”? Let’s stay positive and find the way forward together.

Respect. I would challenge you to find a situation where two people truly respect one another and they can’t come to a common goal. However, when someone doesn’t treat another with respect, there will likely never be true trust and teamwork. Respect for oneself and for each other is a non-negotiable.

Do you respect your teammates? If you answer no, why? What has to happen to earn or gain their respect. Or for them to do the same. Are you having these conversations, or do you choose to avoid them?  

Be patient. Slow down. Some people need more time, and that’s OK. Not everyone will get it as quickly as you do. They may not be there … yet. Leaders must have patience, must give their teams time. That does not mean indefinitely; that means being aware and letting things happen.

Sometimes by slowing down they have a tendency to happen on their own. This also takes courage, because they may not ever get there and you have to be OK with that. 

Listen.  Active listening is hard work. It takes energy, concentration and patience. Don’t listen to speak, but listen to hear. Stop thinking about what you want to say next and focus on what is being said. Bryant H. McGill reminds us, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” It’s the greatest gift we can give to one another.

Put our phones down, make eye contact, concentrate and listen with all parts of yourself.  

Ask. Before you offer a solution, maybe a question would help your teammate find the answer on his or her own, and isn’t that what we want our team members to do — figure it out on their own? Staying curious and asking questions can be the greatest leadership lesson ever. 

I don’t profess to have all of the little things mastered; I can tell you I think about them often. 

The more we fill our days with these small things, the big things seem to happen more naturally. Start somewhere. Challenge your team. These little things are nothing new; some might even say they are so simple and common sense and yet, when they don’t happen, they are noticed. When they don’t happen, they can take away from what you really want to have happen.

So re-read these seven little things and be honest with yourself. Do you consistently practice them? If not, why not? If you are, keep doing them and challenge your team to do the same. 

Smile, laugh, challenge, respect, be patient, listen and ask. Seven simple steps to living leadership. 

Julie Thorson’s was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. Her “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 life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and has been a participant in LeadingAge’s Leadership Academy.