By Steve Moran

I am on a flight home from AHCA, and my head is spinning …

I was way late in booking a hotel room in Nashville for AHCA/NCAL, and when I went looking, there were rooms, but they were way out and way expensive. I hate paying a lot of money for hotel rooms, because, for me, they are merely crash pads. I get in each night, fall into bed, am up early, a quick shower, and back at the conference.  

I reached out to Abe’s Garden, the world-class memory care community where I am on the board, and asked if their guest room would be available, and it was.  

Then Came Wednesday

The first three days, it was typical. Back to my room at 9 or 10 p.m., then up and out at 7 a.m. But then came Wednesday. I got back to the community in the middle of the afternoon and immediately ran into Mallary, an amazing, enchanting, passionate life enrichment director who I wanted to interview, which was followed by a social activity where I got to meet and watch the staff in action.  

And most importantly, I received an invite to Norm’s Coffee gathering with the guys the next morning. It went like that until I left the next afternoon.  

By the time I headed to the airport, I had had maybe two dozen meaningful interactions with team members, from the frontline to top leadership, residents, and family members. So many stories. Here is a partial list. 

  1. Interviewing Mallory, a charming, passionate life enrichment pro who plays sports and does hip-hop dance in her spare time. 
  2. Watching for a tornado with Mallory.
  3. Waiting out the tornado watch in the hallway with residents.
  4. Drinking mulled cider with the ladies.
  5. Hearing about a resident’s adventures as a young girl on a family farm … three times, and it was charming each time. 
  6. Having a great conversation with the community leadership team.
  7. Going to Norm’s coffee club.
  8. Hearing about a resident’s adventure with psychedelic substances, a story you got to hear
  9. Hearing about another resident’s passion for golfing yielded an incredible seven holes in one.
  10. Interviewing “Happy,” the most passionate, fun dining services person you will ever meet. 
  11. Dancing with residents.
  12. Hearing the story of how moving into senior living transformed a husband and wife’s life. 

I Learned So Much

I learned so much as a thought leader, and there was this little, nagging notion that if a CEO, maybe even the CEO of Abe’s Garden, had been with me, they would have learned so much about the people they serve that would empower them to be an even better leader.  

But here is the thing …

It would never work with the CEO, or any top leader in the Abe’s Garden organization. Almost everyone I encountered, everyone who told me their story, would have told me much different versions of their stories if I had been “the boss.” 

This is just human nature. 

It wasn’t like they didn’t know I was some kind of VIP guest, and of course I told them exactly who I was and what I did, but at the end of the day I was going to leave, and I have no power over their position as a team member, family member, or resident. I was simply someone who wanted to get to know them to hear their story. 

And … this is critically important … there were some stories, some things they talked about, that I would never share with leadership, because it would not be helpful to anyone.

An Exchange

Knowing this would be impossible for a CEO to pull off, I got to wondering how this could happen; think Undercover Boss, but perhaps more positive than many of those encounters are. I realized an exchange would be perfect.  

It should not be a one-time thing — maybe once or twice a year. If you do this, you will be transformed as a leader. You will feel, in the most visceral way, what it feels like to be a resident, a family member, a frontline worker. You will better understand the challenges your executive directors and salespeople face every single day.