John O'Connor

Two questions give senior living leaders countless hours of lost sleep. The first seems fairly objective: What does it take to be successful in this field? The second is about as personal as it gets: Do I have what it takes?

If it’s any consolation, these are hardly new concerns. They have probably been eating at people in business for as long as, well, there have been people in business.

What’s a bit different now is that the minefields seem more prevalent and dangerous than ever. Any long-term care operator could wake up tomorrow to face hostile families, inspectors, lawyers or regulators. Any of those people, if sufficiently motivated, could undo the life you have built in a matter of minutes.

And even if you are not the person who signs the checks, these are anxiety-inducing times. The days of lifelong employment and comfortable pensions for good managers have virtually disappeared.

Strange that it would turn out this way. For in many ways, long-term care operators arguably have more opportunities to succeed than ever. You can access, harness and manipulate information with unprecedented speed. This in turn is making it less difficult to run firms more efficiently, and to uncover new business opportunities. And the market will be growing for decades.

You’d think everyone would be getting more prosperous and comfortable. To be sure, some are. But all too many in this field are facing more challenging and uncertain times than ever.

For while a growing number of operators are embracing change, all too many — for whatever reason — are hunkering down instead. It’s almost as if they see change as a temporary illness that will eventually be healed. Yet the available evidence suggests that when it comes to change, we are just getting started.

So what will it take for long-term care businesses and the people who run them to be successful? Some of the answers are obvious. Long-term care communities will need to be more responsive, accountable and efficient than ever. They will have to be quicker than the competition when it comes to embracing change that works. They will also have to know when it’s time to abandon practices that don’t.

And what about the leaders in this field? What personal traits and skills will they need to possess? Certainly, intelligent, hard working people with tenacity, guts and a bit of a lucky streak will always be sought out. But how will they know where to be smart, and where to direct their energies?

There are certainly preliminary signs of where long-term care businesses and leaders are making their bets. But are these the right long-term answers? Frankly, it’s too soon to tell.

What we do know is that the future of long-term care will be different. What we don’t know is whether the choices being made these days will ultimately be judged as wise or foolish.

Do you have feelings about choices that might have been wise or foolish? Please share your thoughts below.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director at McKnight’s.