Work relationships matter. It has taken me 20-plus years to truly appreciate that. Looking back, one relationship that started as a gossamer thread turned into a steel cable taught me more about trust and leadership than I could have ever imagined. 

At the start of this year a teammate, Rollie Peterson, retired. If you know Rollie, you know he is the most genuine, caring, admirable person ever. If you don’t know him, let me tell you he is quiet, strong, friendly, unassuming and compassionate beyond words. Our relationship started when he was my “boss.” Although, I’ve never really felt like he was ever my boss; he has always been more my teammate. That is how our relationship of trust and genuine appreciation started. 

He taught me more than I ever realized, and I hope by sharing some of his teachings, he will appreciate the impact he has had on my life and the lives of so many others. There is no possible way I can do this justice in a blog, but there are some key points Rollie lived by that may be helpful for anyone working on building trust and sharing meaningful relationships. 

Our lessons started when he shared a chapter from an old crusty book he came across in college, “Negative Criticism and What You Can Do About It.” Chapter three is titled, “The Gossamer Thread.” It talks about how all relationships we have are connected by beautiful, fragile gossamer threads. That image has stuck with me for all these years, and I still consider it today. 

Giving and receiving feedback can certainly test the strength of that thread. Choosing when and how to offer feedback makes a difference. Understanding what people can and cannot change matters. Rollie taught me to consider that what people can’t change becomes more about you than them. He also taught me feedback given will be heard and appreciated if the intention is genuine.   

Rollie also reminded me often that in many situations, “sleeping on it” can provide the best perspective. For someone who can make quick, gut-driven decisions, this advice has helped. I may not always practice it, but I always consider it, and it has forced me to slow down. 

We all trusted Rollie would keep us on track. In the middle of tough decisions and sometimes heightened conversations, he would remind all of us of our mission and vision. When we questioned which direction to go, he would simply ask, “Is this in line with our mission and vision?” Thinking through that question would guide us in the right direction. We could count on him for that. It made an impact because now, even though he isn’t here, that question often keeps us on course.

Rollie and I are very different people, which is one reason we’ve had such a strong team. We had an appreciation for each other that was both said and unsaid. Our conversations were often about work, but also about life. We talked about what it feels like to grow older, raise children, feel success, feel inadequate, and move on through the chapters of our life. 

He is currently experiencing a new chapter, retirement. This has certainly been a transition for our team. His steady presence was so appreciated, it is definitely missed. However, the best compliment to any leader may be your presence is felt and appreciated even when you are not here. His lessons remain. Many of us are better leaders, and people, because of Rollie. 

These are the types of relationships great cultures are built on. When Rollie left, he gave several of us one of his books that he had on his bookshelf here at work. Some were funny, some were serious. I think it was his creative way of clearing the past and making room for new. I was lucky enough to receive this book. A dated reminder that relationships matter. Each day we are working to turn as many gossamer threads as possible into steel cables. 

Thank you, Rollie, for our steel cable relationship. Our relationship will forever be my reminder that building and maintaining trust and having open honest conversations with those we work with is the only way to go.   

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Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age 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 completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019.

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.