Trust, compassion, stability and hope have been my focus this year for the Living Leadership blog. I certainly can’t take credit for the four things followers need from leaders — that comes directly from Gallup’s Strength Based Leadership Book

Doing this series has been rewarding in many ways. It has forced me to take a closer look at what they really mean as a leader. We are finishing out the year with hope. Last month I offered a few suggestions for offering hope to our teammates. 

Something wonderful happened after that blog was shared; it stirred something in people. I’m not sure why, but it was there. The feedback was mostly great. One comment I did receive was much deeper than, “I liked your blog.” A teammate of mine, while she agreed with the suggestions, pushed back, and said, “This is great, but how can we constantly offer hope, be smiling, laughing and optimistic because sometimes things just suck.” 

This feedback came in the form of an email which led to a longer conversation between the two of us. A conversation that, while I’m not sure we solved anything, led to deeper thinking, and understanding for us both. 

Providing hope to our teams sometimes means having an understanding and appreciation that everyone brings baggage with us to work. We all have things that, at times, feel unmanageable. I could list what that baggage may be, but you know what I’m talking about. Those things, circumstances or events that have absolutely nothing to do with work, weigh heavy even during work hours. 

How do you bring your best self when those “things” feel so heavy? 

Understanding is the word that most quickly comes to mind. There certainly are seasons when the baggage is heavier than other times. Being a part of a team where true understanding and appreciation for what you are carrying is so incredibly important. 

This teammate of mine is going through a season where life feels very heavy. That is one of the reasons why she emailed me. The pressures of life don’t just disappear because she entered the work doors. That burden remains. I am so proud that we have created a culture where she feels safe to bring that with her. We know, understand and appreciate that this is a temporary thing. She is committed to our work and the residents we serve. If she needs a little grace and understanding during this time, she has it, without question. 

The problem, friends, is when this spirit of understanding is taken advantage of. When the baggage is manufactured, the baggage constantly takes priority over the work that needs to be done. Our residents rely on us to show up and bring our best selves to this work. This requires honest and courageous conversations. Sometimes the most emotional conversations come when we have to question each other. 

There are times we need to ask and sit with, “How are you?” A drive-by “How are you?” simply isn’t enough. Asking, and really listening to each other, provides hope because it shows we care for one another. It shows we need each other to make this work. We are in the people business, and we must be each other’s priority. This is how we continue to offer hope.      

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Julie Thorson was the 2018 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.

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