Politics and leadership require ability to compromise

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Long-term care, for many people, is a calling. Even if it's not specifically religious or spiritual, most derive deep meaning from daily actions of helping the elderly.

That's why I suspect some at LeadingAge PEAK winced when former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN) laid down some truth during his remarks to those providers headed to Capitol Hill.

“Pay attention to the political stuff,” he warned, citing town halls and other local campaign events as a way to make one's voice heard. “Ladies and gentlemen, you're in the business of politics. The candidates keep track of this stuff.”

In the nonprofit sector, IRS rules bar some actions, such as specific political endorsements. But it doesn't excuse long-term care providers — who are kept in existence by government reimbursements — from engaging in politics.

To that end, collectively as a country and specifically as an industry, we have to recognize success is delivered not only from speaking up, but also understanding compromise. This is never more true when you don't get your ideal choice of candidate for the presidential nomination. But it's also true when evaluating everything from site-neutral payments to bundled payments plans.

“Compromise is accepting things you don't like,” Weber said. It's realizing your colleague has six things they want, and hating three of them, and wondering if you can live with the others, he explained.

Politically, we live in a moment of increased entrenchment on both sides. That eye roll you see from me is when people tell me that if they don't receive Bernie Sanders or John Kasich as a candidate, they'll stay home, as if taking your ball and going home has ever spurred change. On a micro level, I see good organizations struggle when leadership believes being a “strong” leader involves never giving anything up.

The irony, to me, is this runs completely afoul of the way we run our personal lives. What allows you to have a successful marriage? It's one person agreeing to move to a new house in the suburbs, and the other person acquiescing to the garage being a place you can smoke and watch the game. The entire art of not killing your children rests partially on an ability to compromise, from letting them wear whatever bizarre outfit they want at 5 in exchange for eating a vegetable, to letting them have the car for a night if they babysit their younger sister.

As a correlation, I have little patience for those who laud outsider status as an attribute. Organizations that get excited about hiring a maverick CEO to “shake things up” likely were ignoring internal employees making suggestions for years. And if that same CEO doesn't build consensus and learn from experience, he or she will fail.

It's time to acknowledge those who speak softly and carry big sticks are far more successful than those who want to yell their way to the top. Or as former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) said to the LeadingAge attendees, “Tenure, experience, the ability to cut a deal — that's the art of politics.”

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.