By Steve Moran

Kirkland A. Mason is the CEO of Stones River Manor, Inc., a not-for-profit senior living Kirkland Masoncommunity in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Stones River Manor was Rutherford County’s first Home for the Aged and is still today the county’s only faith-based, nonprofit senior living community. Today it is a full-service continuing care campus. He is deeply involved in LeadingAge Tennessee and LeadingAge National.

1. What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned?

I lost my dad at age 11 and started my working career one month before I turned 12 as a photographer’s apprentice. The most valuable thing he taught me was that “to become a good leader you must first be a good follower.”

2. What has surprised you most about being a leader?

I think I was surprised by just how dependent a good leader needs to be on the team around him/her. Good leaders figure out pretty quickly that “choosing” the right direction is much more important than “setting” the direction.

To be a good team leader you must learn to utilize the strengths of the team around you. Surround yourself with a good team and work as a team together.

3. What is the best leadership advice anyone ever gave you?

I’ve been very blessed with good mentors over the years. “Do the right thing” was drilled into me by my father and grandfather from as far back as I can remember. 

“Don’t judge anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” has proven to be sound advice over the years.

Stones River Manor is a Christian community, so the values of “kindness, fairness, and compassion” are important principles that Christian leaders should always embrace.

Fairly recently, at the 2019 LeadingAge National Conference, I was having trouble locating the session I was signed up for when I ran into my friend Nancy Hooks. Nancy said, “Whatever it was, forget it. Here’s the session you need to attend.

Nancy was serving as the session monitor for a presentation by Denise Boudreau Scott from Drive entitled, “Does your Culture Need a Makeover?” 

I am very proud of our culture here at Stones River Manor and was fully convinced that this was probably the last session I needed to attend. Boy, was I wrong! Denise gave me some of the best advice I’ve received in my entire career, with the possible exception of Nancy’s advice to attend her session.

One great takeaway from her presentation that will stick with me from now on was this: “The culture of any organization is no better than the worst behavior its leader is willing to tolerate.”

4. When faced with impossible challenges where do you find strength?

As a Christian, I find strength in my faith. As a son, I always found strength in the encouragement from my dad that I could do anything I set my mind to. Lots of us have found strength in encouragement like this from our parents.

As a young businessman, I attended a Dale Carnegie leadership session and the question was posed, “Why will one person fail and another succeed when both have equal intelligence, the same education, and similar opportunity?”

The immediate and emphatic Dale Carnegie answer was this: 

“Why? I’ll tell you why! It’s simply because they haven’t the ability to get things done!” 

I’ve spent the rest of my career with a dogged determination to get things done. 

Positive things. Useful things. Profitable things. Helpful things. Progressive things. 

And where does “the ability to get things done” come from? Persistence. Sticking with it. Never giving up. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, and goes like this: 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

5. If you compare yourself with a historical, movie, or storybook character as a metaphor for how you lead who would it be and why?

As Americans, we are fortunate to have many, many role models from our own history to use as patterns for good leadership. We even have some excellent examples of good leadership from books, movies, and various storybook characters.

Presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln give us the determined resolve to press on in the face of adversity.

John F. Kennedy sought to achieve a great future for America that he, ironically, would never have the opportunity to share in.

Great military leaders have stirred the patriotic spirits of their troops to seize victory from the very jaws of defeat.

But our victories in the world of senior care, though undramatic and seemingly simple in nature, are every bit as important in the lives of those we serve. We are entrusted with their safety and well-being 24 hours a day, so we must be unceasingly vigilant in their care; uncompromising with regard to their needs; fearless in defending their rights; and persistent in maintaining their quality of life. 

King Solomon was noted to have achieved greatness as Israel’s king, yet he showed great humility when chosen for the role. He prayed to God saying, “I do not know how to go out or to come in . . . therefore, give to your servant an understanding heart to judge your people that I may discern between good and evil.”

God gave him what he asked for, wisdom and an understanding heart. I think I would choose to be like Solomon, but given the time I could probably make a pretty good case for Nehemiah, too. He had a mission, he was persistent, he got things done, and I really liked his style.