Editor's desk — Long-term care leaders don't happen by accident

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As a famous songwriter once scrawled, everybody just wants to be understood. It's a primal need, and an especially strong one if you're working in long-term care.

There are at least two guys who know that very well – and they have the wherewithal to tell the world why.
In fact, these professors have written a research paper about their findings, "Effective Leadership in Long Term Care: The Need and the Opportunity." This should be required reading for anyone who toils in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Whether you're heading up the leadership ladder, or work for someone who is, this is rich stuff. The long-term care community has the American College of Health Care Administrators, which commissioned the report, to thank for it.
If you're an administrator, study authors Bernie Dana and Doug Olson have you pegged. They know that you're constantly interrupted and that hectic workdays have "encouraged and rewarded" a crisis management style – which usually elbows leadership processes out of the way.
They know that licensure requirements and tests, along with intense survey pressure, also have typically left you focusing on management skills, rather than true leadership issues. As a result, you have been greatly tempted to just meet regulators' minimal standards instead of trying to meet and exceed residents' and families' expectations.
You have some traits typical of other leaders, but you also have unique ones as well. You must, for example, have a particularly compassionate perspective. Unlike peers in most other professions, you have to deal with heavy regulatory burdens, a predominantly non-professional workforce, a flat organizational structure, frequent changes in leaders, and "a lack of understanding and sensitivity of governing authorities," they note.
Sound familiar? It's all in the report's executive summary. We excerpt part of the 27-page report, starting on page 28 of this issue.
"The need for effective leaders in long-term care is real," the authors emphasize. Better training approaches are needed, and licensure and certification requirements need to be upgraded, they say.
The good news is if you're now in a facility, you have a head start on heading up the ladder. "Organizational performance is more closely linked to leadership experience than to formal education," the researchers conclude. "Experience translates knowledge into action, applies problem-solving techniques and holds people accountable for performance."

James M. Berklan is editor, McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Contact him at jim.berklan@mltcn.com.