By Steve Moran
I spend more time thinking about leadership in senior living than any other topic. Because at the end of the day the quality of leadership at every level in an organization determines the quality of the work being done below that leader.
We have some great leaders in senior living but no perfect leaders (because perfect leaders don’t exist). I suspect that even if you are a great leader you will see something on this list that will make you go “Ouch” or at least go “I need to think about this.”
This list is based on conversations with hundreds of leaders and those being led plus observations of leaders and organizations.
1. Believing You Are Better Than You Are
If you read this list and go, nope, I don’t do any of those things, ever. This one applies to you. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it becomes nearly impossible to make things better.
Even before the pandemic, many organizations were really struggling with occupancy. And what amazes me about this is that, in spite of the fact that what they are doing is not getting them where they want to be, they continue to do the same old things, rather than shaking things up.
2. Assuming Everyone Understands and Buys Into Your Dream for the Organization
Just because you have a big dream for your organization or part of the organization, does not mean that others buy into it or even understand it. You need to be talking about it over and over again. Like this, for us “we are changing the world of senior living for the better.” Yours might be “We are making a huge positive difference in the lives of residents and their families.”
Does everyone know that? Yep, but only sort of. Teams need to hear it over and over again . . . and of course, it has to be true.
3. Trusting Loyal but Destructive Team Members
If there is a mistake that is more destructive than any other this is it, and it happens a lot. I see senior leaders putting their trust in people who are loyal but are incredibly destructive to the organization. Here is how you know this is happening: If you have a leader that lots of people complain about, who in turn blames or punishes the complainers, it is 100% that the person being complained about is the fault.
Just writing this I can think of so many specific instances of this happening.
4. Not Tapping Into Natural Strengths
When we got back the results of the Empower Survey we did a few months ago, this came out loud and clear. People feel like they have so much more to contribute to their organizations. But, because of leadership blind spots, they are not allowed to be who they are and really make a difference in the organization.
None of us are good at everything. This means we all have areas where we are weak and sometimes those weak spots are really, really weak. When you figure out how to tap into the strengths and work around the weaknesses miracles happen.
5. Not Giving Credit to Team Members
This is really a tough one for me because when I look at senior living I almost never see this happening. Lots of credit to top-level people when things go well, but I hardly ever see leaders putting their team out front individually in a meaningful way.
If you will allow me to brag just a little . . . when we produced the “Our Time to Shine Digital Summit”, it would have failed without the work of Rebbeca Wiessmann and Lola Rain. I put them on the stage the first day and as a result we have received so many positive comments about the good work they did.
6. Starting with Distrust
When you look at most companies’ rules and policies their foundational assumption is that you can’t really trust employees to do the right thing. In most organizations, nearly half of all frontline employees feel like they are not trusted. Even worse, while most leaders feel like they are trusted they also don’t really trust their people.
The problem, of course, is that if you feel like your leaders don’t trust you, how are you going to behave? Always not well. This is 100% in the control of leaders.
7. Too Much Talking, Not Enough Listening
Leaders love to talk and for good reason, talking is a big part of what got them to where they are today. And of course, when leaders talk those they lead won’t. Sounds perfect except that when leaders do all the talking they don’t hear things they need to hear and every bit as problematic, it makes team members feel unimportant.
That’s my list. Dare I ask which ones you need to work on? Or what other mistakes should be on the list?
I would add that when we see these mistakes or others it provides an opportunity to get better.
I would like to comment on #3 above, with an extension of “destructive” team members to “less-than-competent” team members, especially if the less than competent has been skating for a long time. I’ve also added an 8th mistake. Here’s why I say this:
We had a very tight labor market prior to the unemployment caused by the Covid 19 Shut Down. Tight times are often characterized by a management attitude of “having a marginal employee doing thus-and-so is better than having no employee at all in that job…. a vacancy would take way too long to fill and breaking in someone new is such a hassle.”
Right now brand new employees might require virus testing and possibly a “work place quarantine” before full-fledged work can kick in. So there still might be the attitude of ” retaining the marginal being better than jumping through complex, special ‘new hire’ hoops.” Acknowledged.
But when a new normal arrives, with our society having developed vaccines and med’s for this particular virus, the unemployment ranks will take time to shrink. An 8th mistake to be added to the list above would be NOT to replace the chronic marginal employees and NOT eliminate the deadwood at a time when some very competent and loyal people might be found.
Actions can be taken right now: document problems and counsel the less-than-competent employees. Those problem team members just might see the light as they experience friends, neighbors, and family members on unemployment. You might be pleasantly surprised with a turn-around. If not, you’ve paved the way to eventually take termination action, opening the door for someone new who will fill the bill.
I agree that retaining marginal employees is a huge problem as is tolerating bad behavior. I worry that staffing shortages have been more of an excuse than a reason to deal with the problem.