By Jack Cumming

The saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is attributed to Coach Knute Rockne. That saying applies now more than ever. 2022 and, prospectively, 2023 are shaping up to be challenging years. That’s tough, really tough, coming as it does after the years of pandemic, workforce shortage, and now escalating prices and interest rates. Tough times indeed.

A Time for Greatness

Already we’re seeing how times like these test the mettle of corporate leaders. Perhaps you are one of them. Or, more likely, you are one of those impacted by the quality of the leadership where you work. Looking forward to 2023, Senior Housing News reported recently that Richard Ackerman, a developer, said, “I think it’s going to be awful.” That resonated with others with whom he was meeting.

Tough times call for great leaders. Some corporate leaders are little more than self-congratulatory administrators. Some others like to appear on panels as influential visionaries. What’s rare are leaders with the right judgment, with clarity of vision and how-to, and with the ability to bring others to share the journey.

Great leaders accept responsibility, take joy in the success of others, and hold firm through times of difficulty. They make those they lead feel good about themselves. Without exception, great leaders are able to absorb enormous quantities of information — through reading, listening, and discernment — and draw the right conclusions. They are also able to share that vision succinctly and with compelling clarity. These are rare people indeed.

We are seeing a foreshadowing of what senior living may face in how the tech giants are responding to shrinking revenues. Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft no longer have their founders. Neither Facebook nor Twitter seems able to find the key to the current era. Twitter now has the legendary Elon Musk, but he seems determined to show how insensitively a curmudgeon can flail about chaotically without regard for the human spirit of employees or customers alike.

Who has the moxie to bring to senior living — or just plain living for that matter — those qualities that brought greatness originally to these tech enterprises? Some think that active adult 55+ is the future, but it seems unlikely that Pulte Homes is going to be the Amazon of senior living.

Lost Opportunities

In senior living, Brookdale stands out both for its continuing size and scale and for the promise that it had after the merger with Emeritus. All that was needed was imaginative leadership to unlock the potential. That didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened since. To be candid, I bought Brookdale at a $37 share price. Today it’s closer to $3.00.

And Five Star, now Aleris, hasn’t done much better. It traded once at $114. Now it’s less than a dollar. Thus, it’s no surprise that these enterprises are not vigorously approaching the current time of challenge. Brookdale’s leadership shows unwavering optimism in the face of continuous underperformance and a deteriorating reputation. Aleris is hiring and firing its leaders.

With lackluster leadership like this, the prospect of a recession in housing is “awful” indeed. That’s not to say that it’s hopeless. It just needs a capable leader with the derring-do to light a spark to revolutionize the industry.

Look at the Potential 

How is it possible that an industry with such potential, facing a demographic bulge that works in its favor, be so blind to its opportunity? This is not the place to delve into lost opportunities or to recount the many excuses for underperforming.

Great leaders don’t make excuses. They see and seize opportunities. Do you have what it takes to bring that leadership to meet the opportunity? Can you attract the capital needed to realize that vision? Are you the leader to unlock the new era? The high road to the future begins with a single action. That first step can come in good times and tough times. There’s no time like the current time.