By Kent Mulkey

When I was a young, pre-teen boy, I worked on the weekends and all summer at my dad’s boat harbor on San Francisco Bay. Free lunch and transportation included. The pay seemed fair: $5.00/day. 

When I reached high school, the pay skyrocketed to about $1.50/hour. That was when, at age 14, I took on the job to trailer boats in our ’63 Ford F-150 on the freeway over to the launch ramp to take a prospective buyer on a test ride around the harbor. I was happy with the job and loved the work, especially the part when my dad gave us time to mess around cruising the inner harbor in our tugboat-like workboat. We were carefree kids. We felt like Sea Captains.

Here’s why I tell the story – I loved working and making it lots of fun at the same time. One summer in college I had a job making pizza in an old trailer at the county fairs around Northern California; a 500-degree oven in a small house trailer on a nice 105-degree day in the Sacramento Valley. You know what? I loved it because it was insane.

My dad taught us that hard work will do more than anything for people to trust each other. Then he would keenly pull out the scrapers for us to begin the gargantuan task of scraping a 75-foot yacht. 

Good Leaders Get Their Hands Dirty

It is sad that so many walk away from our industry because the work becomes nearly impossible as the workload and low pay take a toll on staff members, while nobody really gets along or trusts each other. There is no getting around that the work in senior living is hard, like scraping barnacles. I believe when work ceases to be fun is when the blood drains out of people.

It may be even more troubling that so few senior living leaders have never scraped barnacles (e.g., served in the dining room, cleaned rooms, drove the bus, pushed a resident in a wheelchair, assisted with a shower) for a senior living company, yet they speak at the big conferences and tell the rest of us how to it, and do it right. My dad had a ton of credibility because he had done it for years when he was starting up his boat business. My friends and I were in awe of him – he was a Barnacle Scraper.

Here’s my point – lead your people by example. Demonstrate hard work, model the basics for them, and have lots of fun along the way. It’s pretty simple. And really hard.

They will stick around a long time, and love you for it.