A few weeks ago, I had a lengthy conversation with a friend in leadership.  Deb Reardanz is the CEO of a lovely Illinois retirement community, Clark Lindsey Village

Our paths first crossed in 2019, thanks to the Larry Minnix Leading Age Leadership Academy. Deb attended the academy in 2012, and I attended in 2015. We didn’t actually meet until 2019, when we were both asked to coach with the Leadership Academy. For the next two years, we coached together and got to know each other. We developed a fast friendship, even though it wasn’t in-person very often due to the nature of the world at the time. 

For a few years, we’ve been trying to get together in person, but six hours between our campuses made logistics a little more challenging. A couple weeks ago, we decided to split the difference and meet up for a late lunch. Three-plus hours flew by, and let me tell you, conversations like this one are incredibly valuable.

We shared all sorts of insights with each other. These are the conversations that challenge you, support you and cause you to think more deeply about who you are, and why you do what you do. All while feeling supported and appreciated by a person doing similar work. If you have not reached out to that colleague who is this person for you, here is your reminder to make the call. Meet in person, make sure you are not interrupted and be open to the conversation. 

These types of conversations have a way of happening at exactly the right time.  It’s remarkable how similar our leadership paths are. Our single-site life plan communities are also comparable. We both have been with our organizations for over 20 years and have been in the CEO role for more than 10. Despite our similarities, our approach to how we lead and interact in our communities is quite different. Exploring our differences is even more interesting than exploring our similarities. 

For example, we talked specifically about happy hours on our campuses. I am a table hopper, making sure I sit and visit with all residents at their tables. She would rather be the bartender greeting each resident as they order their wine or beer. 

I have a passion for coaching team members, striving every day to help bring out their very best. She has a passion for finding the most creative ways possible for her team members to fulfill their individual passions even outside of work. 

I am naturally an extrovert. She naturally is an introvert. 

I would say finance is not my strong suit. She would say finance is her sweet spot. 

I don’t mind making fun of myself and sharing a laugh. She absolutely likes to have fun but is generally more serious. 

Together, we discovered an appreciation of how our unique personalities have impacted the culture of our communities. 

Which is the correct way to lead and interact? I would suggest both are right. If expressing who you are as a leader motivates your behavior, genuine leadership shines through. In other words, if you live out what feels most natural and authentic to you without apology, the rest ought to fall into place. 

If you happen to be confused by what you “should” do, you may be missing an opportunity.  The “shoulds” sometimes create unnecessary pressure. “A leader should________ (fill in the blank)” can cause you to second guess yourself, which can lead to doubt and insecurity. Authenticity, I believe, is the only absolute “should.” 

Both of us, now in our 50s, shared how navigating through the “shoulds” of leadership is an ongoing challenge. Even though we’ve both been at this a while, that feeling of “I should… ” creeps in now and then. Sharing that with Deb and understanding we are not alone was reassuring. I’ve admired her leadership style and approach for years. She is absolutely a charismatic, introverted, strategic thinker. 

The long drive home was a great time to reflect on my fortunate, beautiful tapestry of friends in leadership. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than learning from other leaders. Having an appreciation for how others think strategically. Better understanding how they approach organizational structure and building culture. It’s humbling to hear about other leaders’ accomplishments and to feel encouraged to share my wins with someone who gets it. 

Discussing ideas makes us all stronger, better leaders.  Too often, we put our heads down and don’t make the time to challenge our thinking and assumptions. Conversations like this one are necessary. Making the time to have them is so very important. I needed this reminder to make time like this a regular practice. 

Deb and I may never have crossed paths if it wasn’t for the Leadership Academy. We might have met each other at a conference, but the Leadership Academy gave us the opportunity to skip the small talk and get down to a friendship in leadership that is much more valuable. Fort Dodge, IA, and Urbana, IL, may be a distance away, but miles don’t matter when it comes to leadership perspective. 

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Julie Thorson is a past recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a LeadingAge Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (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 an alumna of LeadingAge’s Leadership Educator Program.

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.

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