It would be fair to say it left an indelible impression upon my management style.

When I became a department head in a senior community several years ago, I was blessed to have a wonderful Executive Director who served as my mentor. It’s been eight years since I worked with her and, to this day, I continue to be impacted by many of the things she taught me. Perhaps the most powerful of all the lessons was one that she modeled on many occasions. We never had a conversation about it and I suspect she had no idea how big an impact it had on me.  It would be fair to say she left an indelible impression upon my management style. It’s a simple principle that  I’m sure is a kind of  “managing by walking around” style of management. I like to distil it down into a simple, concise phrase: Walking though the dining room.

What does a dining room have to do with leadership? 

Okay,  you may be thinking, what does a dining room have to do with leadership? A lot. I’d watch my former boss and mentor absorb the many demands of the day: employee relations issues, complaints from residents, fiscal pressures and a myriad of other things that tug and pull at the leader of a community.  I would often see the stress on her face and could read it in her body language. And yet, on numerous occasions, I’d watch her do something remarkable. She would leave the office with all it’s demands and stressors, walk into the dining room and systematically go, table by table where she would talk to ALL residents. As she did this I could see her recharging and, at the same time, the residents were thrilled to have the opportunity to connect with her.

Why should you pay attention to this easy-to-replicate exercise? 

Here are five reasons:

  1. Connection – This one is easy. Every resident in our collective communities wants to connect with the person who keeps their home running as it should. You are the one to whom they’ve entrusted their lifestyle. Spending a few minutes with them ensures that they see that you are indeed interested in them, and not just the money they pay to live there.
  2. Visibility – All of us can be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work that needs done from an operational perspective. But it is vital to remember that we are serving people, not making widgets. And people want to see those who are in charge of making decisions on their behalf.
  3. Accountability – If your staff know that you will be popping into the dining room and observing the general operations they will be more apt to be on their game. Staff who know that their leader is paying attention will also pay attention to residents.
  4. Recharging – Making a conscious effort to take a break from the incalculable demands upon our time and energy is more valuable than we can estimate.  Doing so allows us to reset and refocus. Most importantly it allows us to target the most important focus of our roles as leaders; our residents.
  5. Downstream Impact – How many leaders do you know who woefully underestimate how much people are watching them? Never forget that you are being watched, and how you react and interact will often serve as a model for other employees in how they do their jobs. Letting your employees, family members and even residents see you deliberately engaging despite how busy you are will be more powerful than anything you say. I’m sure there are many other reasons but these serve as a solid initial compilation. My hope is that, whatever position you hold, you will recognize your ability to impact others and take the time to release yourself, even if just for a few minutes, from the tyranny of the office and seek out the refreshing interaction with those for whom you labor. You will not be sorry.

Finally, I’d love to hear from you! What are some of your “walk through the dining room moments” that keep you engaged in your vocation? Leslie

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