By Steve Moran

It’s a hard truth, but some of us work or volunteer in horrible, toxic environments. Just this past week, I had a horrible encounter with the leader of an organization where I volunteer. More accurately, where I pour my heart out. That leader hates me (maybe too strong, but I think it is close), and I have zero respect for how this person leads.

What makes these leaders so terrible is that they immediately go defensive rather than trying to find common ground. They apparently believe because they are the leader, they are always right and that no one should even question what they do or say.

Needless to say, it simply sucks working under this person.

In my case, this is not true for my work situation since I am the leader …  and I hope it is not true for a single team member working for my organization.

And Yet …

And yet, the volunteer work I do is making a huge difference in the lives of those I am working directly with. So, while I am tempted to throw in the towel, I won’t, because of the difference I am making. So, the question is this: How do I maintain sanity? How do I find joy in what I do?

A Twist

Normally, this is where I would share a story from my life in this organization that has a terrible leader (and in case you are wondering, I am not the only person who feels this way about the leader), but in this case, to protect the guilty I am going to share someone else’s story with permission.

Seeing the Big in the Little

I have a friend who is an experienced and successful executive director. A few months ago, she took a job with a company that had a decent reputation (unfounded, as it turns out), with the goal of turning around a difficult community. Within weeks, she discovered she was in the middle of a nightmare, with zero support from leadership. Actually, worse — leadership was actively allowing things that were against the regulations and putting residents in danger.

She would go home in tears, exhausted, brokenhearted, wondering if she should even stay in senior living.

Ultimately, she made the right decision and found a new position. But she was so beat down that she was struggling to figure out how to get her mojo back. The evening before she started her new gig, we spent an hour on the phone just talking about how to recapture the joy of working in senior living. I suggested that on that first day she look for a single story she could tell me about making a difference in the life of a resident, a family member, or a team member.

I actually extracted a promise that she would find that story and tell it to me.

The Story

I confess that I was a little disappointed when, at the end of the day, I had not heard back. And so I got proactive and asked for it. Here is what she sent me (and there is something critically important here that I will talk about after you have read the story).

Well, it was significant to me, so I guess that’s what matters. … When making the rounds, getting the low-down on residents, staff, who’s who, etc., they warned me about one lady.

I was told, don’t be offended when we meet her. She cusses everyone out, and if you get too close, she may deck you …

I didn’t realize the little lady that earlier reached her hand out to hold my hand, pulling me closer to her, was this vicious lady. … She introduced herself and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you; give me a hug’!

The Senior Living Story Problem

I often ask senior living leaders to tell me stories about changed lives, and more often than not, they can’t remember one. The reason for this is just like what happened to my friend. She thought the encounter was not significant enough to be worthy of a story.

For most people who work in senior living, there are dozens of these encounters every day. My challenge to you is to remember just one.