Julie Thorson

Let’s go! As we kick off March Madness, I got to thinking about competition in leadership. Competition is one of my personal top five strengths, and I know it’s a motivator for me in many ways. 

Coming from an athletic family and raising athletic children, competing has come naturally to me. We believe having a competitive spirit is healthy. Competition inspires greatness. 

Competition with yourself and competition with others can be a game-changer. Early in my career, I considered competition with others to be the end game. How would my success stack up against another’s success? These days, competition within myself is the most important challenge. 

I think of the tournament pools many of us will enter and get excited about in the coming weeks. Our teams, our brackets, winners and losers, the focus on competition, the focus on teams coming together while individuals excel as athletes. The training to prepare for a tournament obviously takes dedication. 

There are so many correlations between athletics and the leadership work we do every day. The connection of strengthening your own leadership skills while being part of a team may seem obvious. 

Yet, I find it fascinating how many leaders are unwilling to put the time in working on themselves. Some leaders are quick to point out all of the things that happen to them rather than look inwardly.

Building those leadership muscles is hard work. Just when you feel like you are in good shape, you realize the training never really ends. You find yourself needing to pivot and respond differently to different teammates. There is no one-size-fits-all. 

Chemistry in leadership, like in basketball, is a real thing. We begin to have a sense of the push and pull in our relationships at work. Knowing when you should push or when you should pause is a skill that comes with time. When you force a team to work together without putting the time into individuals, I would place my bet on the team struggling. Figuring out the perfect timing of all of this is where the true win comes in. 

I, like you perhaps, am forever looking for the perfect season: a time when teammates find themselves growing as leaders and have synched with their teams so that everyone is clicking. 

Of course, there is only one national champion each year during March Madness. In leadership we have setbacks some days, more personal fouls, missed shots and technical fouls than others. However, if you continue to compete with yourself every day and find the leadership lessons and growth in yourself, I promise you, your teams will be better off for it. 

In long-term care lately, we have been unjustly lumped into the category of being poor performers. Just this week again we were handed a new playbook. While I certainly believe we should be more vocal about the “rules” we play by, I know there are more for us out there who believe without a shred of doubt that we are fighting a strong, dignified, admirable fight. 

No one will hand us a national championship ring, but we show up every day and compete without fanfare‚ and with more criticism than appreciation. But we are the leadership athletes competing at the highest level. 

Julie Thorson 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 completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program last summer.  

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.