You are ultimately responsible for driving occupancy, meeting financial targets, cultivating an engaged workplace, overseeing compliance issues, functioning as the community HR representative, and overall quality assurance
I once had a conversation with the President of a senior living organization for whom I worked in which he related that he believed that the Executive Director role is by far one of the toughest in the industry. You are ultimately responsible for driving occupancy, meeting financial targets, cultivating an engaged workplace, overseeing compliance issues, functioning as the community HR representative, and overall quality assurance. Finally, we are expected to have a resident focus and create a setting that will allow each individual to have a quality of life that is vital and relevant. Piece of cake, right?
Sisyphus in training
Anyone who has been or is currently an Executive Director wholeheartedly resonates with that laundry list of expectations. We’ve put in the long days, lain awake at night remembering things not completed that day and thinking ahead to the next days challenges. And to be honest, sometimes it’s just exhausting. There are days we could very accurately compare our jobs to Greek tale of Sisyphus- always pushing the rock up the hill only to watch it roll back down and being faced with doing it all over again. Every. Single. Day. So what do we do when we feel as though we cannot push that boulder up the mountain one more time? When we hit the proverbial wall?
And the answer is…
I got the answer last week when I was talking to a dear friend and fellow senior living warrior. We hadn’t spoken in a while and as we were catching up she told me about a coworker who recently took her to his office, put some headphones on her to listen to some smooth, mellow music, and told her “Do not lose heart. Those residents need you to bring all of your heart to them each day.” And then she said it to me ” Do not lose heart – what you do has meaning, and even though it is hard it is worth it in the end”.
An Aha! Moment
I knew as soon as she spoke whose precious words that their impact would be far-reaching and a source of strength I could pull out in some of my most difficult moments. It would be a source of reassurance to me that there is purpose,value, and hope in my role in senior living. In the last week as I’ve had to deal with staff changes, a belligerent resident, an unfortunate community event, licensing complications, and numerous other challenges, that phrase has been my mantra.
Here is what I learned:
Do not lose heart– for every resident who is difficult there are others who are quick to tell you that you are special to them and that you’ve changed their lives.
Do not lose heart – for every staffing change that happens, you’ve got the unique opportunity to bring in someone with a fresh, new perspective and they’ll see things in ways you’ll need for the advancement of your community.
Do not lose heart– for every emergency situation you have to deal with you have the opportunity to prove to your residents that they can indeed trust you and you will do all you can to ensure they are safe and secure.
Do not lose heart– when you are exhausted and think you cannot hear one more problem, you find that one resident who shares with you just how happy they are- and how you and your staff have made it possible. I’m sure you are seeing a theme here; as leaders in this industry we often come home emotionally spent, physically tired, and mentally drained.
Yet, ask most of us in this business and you’ll find that we cannot imagine doing anything else. Nothing compares to laying your head on your pillow each night and knowing you helped alleviate a families fears, delivered on promises to create a community that exceeds their expectations, and wholeheartedly poured yourself into the lives of those entrusted to your care and oversight. So, if you’ve had a tough week, take a few moments to balance the good with the bad, see the blessing in the challenges, and don’t forget to give yourself this piece of advice: Do not lose heart. Leslie
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Leslie–You make some good points and it certainly represents the history of turnover in the executive director position. I am married to a man who loves the work and has served the elders as an executive director for over 30 years–most who started with him have left. I guess you are correct when you say it is one of the most difficult positions. However, I, too, worked in this industry for more than 20 years and I have a difficult time trying to discern who has the most difficult job. I certainly would put the direct care workers at the top of the list. From my point of view, the president of the senior living organization is key to the fix here. He/she holds a pivotal position as to other leaders and board members in acknowledging the models of care we are using are broken. Our focus must change from medical treatment to the real plagues of aging to fix not just our roles as employees but to truly care for people living with frailty. We are moving in the right direction with organizations like the Eden Alternative, Pioneer Network, Live Oak Institute and other culture change groups. Absolute best to you and the work you do.