Julie Thorson

One of the first lessons someone tried to teach me when I started in this field nearly 20 years ago was “don’t have favorites.” This seemed like such a strange thing to say because I felt myself drawn to certain residents in a way I couldn’t explain.

I loved them. I didn’t feel bad; in fact it felt right, natural, that I cared for them like I cared for my own family. And yet we were told not to have favorites. 

I call bull-butter. We all have special connections with certain residents, just like we do for our teammates. It’s human nature. We absolutely have to be fair and provide great service to one another, but there are always going to be the people that touch your life in a very special way and you will never forget them. Call it favoritism or whatever you want. I call it love.

I was thinking more and more about this idea of love in leadership recently as we attended LeadingAge’s Annual Conference last week in San Diego. I, like many of you, attended with several teammates and our board chair. At the risk of sounding too cheesy, I was more excited than ever to see the reaction from three team members who were attending this conference for the first time. 

They were impressed, excited, overwhelmed and grateful. It was a joy to be there with them and see their reaction. My time was a bit limited at this conference because I’m starting on a new adventure coaching in Larry Minnix Leadership Academy. (More on that in another post.)

The sessions, as always, were great, but the time with our team was equally as great. Seeing my teammates in a new light, eager to learn, proud of our work and genuinely enjoying each other’s company was more rewarding than I anticipated. 

Which led me down this path: In leadership, do we love our teammates? I kept coming back to an overwhelming YES. How can that be, though? We have nearly 400 employees! How could we possibly all love one another? Especially during this time of budget season, when we are making decisions some employees may not agree with, and some residents may not either. In fact, they may even not like us for the decisions that are made. 

There lies the struggle. Also, I can’t possibly know all of the residents, families and employees we serve. Who am I to say I love them? 

Here’s the deal. I do, and we do. This work isn’t all about profit margins and efficiencies. Our work is about service; our work is about making the time even when we are busy. Making the time to stop, ask, care about each other. There is so much hate and negativity around us every day, our work is a haven for more, a haven for better, a haven for love. 

Again, I know it’s cheesy, right? It’s true, though. We share with each other our life’s biggest moments. Weddings, births, our children, illnesses, death, successes, failures, everything we know this about one another. If we don’t love those whom we work with and rely on, who do we? I’m proud that there is a spirit of love here and a genuine interest in each other and our residents. It isn’t manufactured. It’s real and we feel it. During the moments where it’s hard to love, just like with our own families we still do because the spirit of our work ties us all together. 

What does this have to do with leadership? Everything. Love in leadership is real, natural and it’s OK. 

Julie Thorson’s was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. Thorson is currently a coach for the Leading Age’s Larry Minnix Leadership Academy.  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 recently completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program.