James M. Berklan

Exchanging vows long ago with a person who can politely be called vertically challenged reinforced two core lessons in me. One, it’s not wise to judge a person by her height. And two, dynamite comes in small packages.

I was reminded of that Wednesday while smiling through the opening statement of the daily LeadingAge coronavirus conference call for providers. Carol Silver Elliott, who will never ever have to worry about ducking through a doorway, gave a kick-off soliloquy that reinforced that great leaders really do come in all sizes.

In this instance, the “dynamite” refers to both fantastic and powerful. 

In just two minutes, she delivered inspiration to shake the gloom off a month of COVID-19 saturated days. The kind that are piling up, and soon could overtake even your staunchest team players if you’re not careful.

Elliott, who is LeadingAge’s board chair, is also the president and CEO of the Jewish Home Family in New Jersey. How lucky they are to have her in these trying times.

Silver noted that after a “five-year-long month of April” and a rough May, she and her team are “starting to feel like we can take a deep breath again.” The ability to “see some light” brings positive feelings.

Carol Silver Elliott

“It reminded me that positivity is something that we have to practice throughout,” Elliott told listeners. “During the darkest days of this, I remember saying to staff, ‘You’ve got to stay positive.’”

Easy enough for perhaps the first few weeks or months of this quarantine quagmire. But three months in? Long-term leaders are recognizing that mental and emotional attrition could become nearly as dangerous as the virus itself. That’s where a leader with clear vision becomes so vital.

“Behind closed doors with your colleagues, your fears and anxieties and all of the crises can be talked about,” Elliott noted. ”But when we leave our offices, we have to straighten our shoulders and put a smile in our eyes and be able to tell our staff and our elders that we are in control and that everything is going to be OK.”

Even if the invisible menace can’t fully be conquered, there is no sense in letting what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do, to paraphrase the great John Wooden.

“It is remarkable how much a positive attitude can change the way people feel. It’s contagious,” Elliott reminded. “So as much as we struggle, as much as we worry, as much as we’re happy when we get an hour of sleep at night, keeping that positive attitude, not losing your sense of humor, not losing the ability to connect with people in an upbeat way — it makes a difference.”

It also makes clear where you can find a great leader.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.