Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Overcoming intimidation and using your voice

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

I find the show “So You Think You Can Dance” interesting. Wait, “interesting”? Maybe that's not strong enough of a word. I love to dance. I love to dance in a safe environment, and when I say safe, I mean I have an appropriate amount of liquid courage in order to have “Moves like Jagger.”

I always imagine the dancers backstage before they perform, full of emotion and intimidation terrified to make the first step on stage. I can identify with that.

Recently during Leading Age's National PEAK conference, we were faced with a task that I thought sounded extremely intimidating. We were challenged with advocating for issues facing seniors today. I'm not going to list the issues we discussed. In this business we know them all well and can recite them in our sleep.

What I'm focused on is overcoming fear, and more importantly, intimidation. For seasoned veterans who have lobbied for years, this might sound silly. But for first-timers (and, to be fair, even some who have been around the block a few times), it's intimidating. They need support as they dance their way into this new world.

Who the heck was I to bend my senator's ears on issues impacting seniors today? Why would they want to listen to a rural provider from northwest Iowa? Well, because it's their job!  

The first staffer listened intently, even if he had little understanding of the issues we discussed. He was willing to learn, however. I was impressed by that.

He took notes and asked questions. I'm not so naive to think that everything we did — and the energy and enthusiasm in which we presented our case — would be relayed to our congressman with the same zeal we presented it. But it was a start.

As the afternoon “on the Hill” went on, I felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the work we do. Advocacy does make a difference even though we might not see or feel it right away. It is our responsibility to try.

I almost let intimidation and fear get in the way of trying. What type of leadership model would that set? I constantly ask our team to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. Often, I'm faced with resistance because “it's hard” and “it feels strange.”

As we live leadership, it's important to remember that when we are faced with conquering our fears, it's as simple as one step — whether it's the step into a senator's office or the step into a resident's room. You just put one foot in front of the other.

Now it would be great to report to you that our lobbying efforts were received with open arms and the folks we spoke to made promises that will change our industry. Not so much.

But what did happen is I personally lived through my first national lobbying effort. I'm not dancing with the stars yet, but I made a first step and that's really all that we, as leaders, can expect … Just keep moving forward.

So if you haven't taken the opportunity to have your voice heard at the state level or on Capitol Hill, take a step and speak up for what impacts you and your communities. It's our responsibility. Who else should they listen to?

Julie Thorson is the president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality in 2014. A coach's daughter at heart, she is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. A licensed nursing home administrator, she is a current participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy.


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