Julie Thorson

Leaders who don’t smile suck. How’s that for an opening line? The living leadership reminder for this month: smile. Yup, it’s that simple. 

Over the years I’ve had many people say that’s just their face, they have RBF (if you know, you know) or they can’t help it. I’ve always thought this comment was fascinating. People have so little control of their face that a flat affect or even a frown becomes acceptable because, “It’s just how they are, they don’t mean anything by it.”

To this, I say bull butter. Smiling is the only option for leaders. Now I’m not saying leaders must smile 24 hours a day. I’m not unrealistic and I have to say over the last 24 months smiling at times was a serious effort. There may have been a few times I was caught not smiling… I may have even been crying. But at the core, a smile is a part of our uniform. 

Smiling, simply put, is a sign of hope. It’s a promise to ourselves and to others life will go on and things will get better. Hope is so needed right now. In this time of limbo where the rest of the world has moved on, in long-term care, our smiles are still covered by masks every day. We have to smile even brighter so that our residents and teammates can see the smile in our eyes. So, in those fleeting moments where masks are off the smiles are even more important. 

It’s so much more than a simple facial expression, it’s an exchange that promises something better. Optimism, if even for a few minutes. It’s a choice to give a smile away. It’s not just about you. The smile impacts others and we need more smiles. It is a leadership must. Even better, turn the smile into laughter … a belly laugh even. It heals. A hug is also some strong medicine as we continue to look for ways to recover. 

This is a leadership lesson, no doubt. We all need hope like we need air. Under the muffled mask there is room to breathe and to smile and to give the gift of hope for those we serve.   

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.