By Rebecca Wiessmann

I write this as a newcomer to the senior living field. If you haven’t heard of me, I’m not surprised. I run the backend for Senior Living Foresight. I don’t have a lot of experience in senior living (unless you count the nights I spent in senior communities as a child because of some resident emergency (I was an ED kid), or because I was sick and stayed home from school). I was inspired by a link posted as a comment to one of our recent social media posts referencing the article “A Radical Idea: Residents Hiring Staff”.

I was reminded of a job opportunity I had several years ago for a management position at another location of the company I was working for. At the time, I was in the same job role as one of the people I would have been managing in this new position. I did a first phone interview and they decided to fly me in for an in-person interview. When I arrived, the senior management spent maybe 15 minutes with me and then seemed to be preoccupied with other tasks. I figured I was essentially done. At first I found an empty desk and started to do some of my work for my home location, until they asked if I would sit with the team that I “would be” managing. I obliged and set to task, sitting with each of the 10 or so people in the department I was interviewing to manage.

It was eye-opening. I sat with these front-line workers (which really, I was at the time) and listened to their triumphs and their pain points. Because I had been in their shoes, we really connected, and I felt like I was able to provide some strategies to help them through their oh-so-busy days. I really felt their pains and pride and shared with them in their work. It was really an amazing and insightful day. I never saw the senior management (those who would be hiring me) again.

Ultimately, I wasn’t offered the job. But I felt I gained a lot of leadership insight from that day with that team. I think if they had polled the team after that day, they would have been completely on board with my management style. However, the management team didn’t value the everyday grit that the front-line workers brought to their bottom line. I left the “interview” knowing that even if they had offered me the job, I wouldn’t have taken it. The culture was wrong starting from the top.

I think management often gets wrapped up in what something should look like, should be, and forgets what it really is. I took this experience into my next leadership role. I made sure that my employees knew that I knew what they were going through. That I knew what the pain points were and that I shared in both their misery and their pride in their work. I later had an employee who is about the same age as my father tell me that I was the best boss they ever had. We should never neglect the expertise of our front-line employees, and in senior living, the wisdom of our residents. And maybe we should be seeking more of their input.