ALFA 2013 Keynote: Are you a leader of possibilities?

Using a sketch pad, a baby grand piano and a lifetime of wisdom, Benjamin Zander, internationally renowned conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, mixed leadership strategy, humor and music to inspire nearly 2,000 attendees at Tuesday’s opening keynote at the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) 2013 conference in Charlotte, N.C.

It’s not a stretch to compare the traditional business models to an orchestra, where a single conductor directs and the players do what they’re told. But the new model of business leadership is where the proverbial conductor does not speak, but instead gains power by enabling others to become powerful, he explained.

How a supervisor reacts to life’s snags and stumblings will serve as an example for others, he warned. “When you make a mistake, just shout, ‘How fascinating!’” he advised.“You must choose how you conduct. Will it be with resignation, anger or possibilities?”

The assisted living market is situated to reap significant benefits within the  rapidly changing senior care industry as long as organizational leadership focuses on the possibilities instead of the challenges. “The old style of leadership is top-down, right-thinking and male,” he said. “But this industry begs for creativity.”

Companies that deliver consistent quality and are able to respond quickly to opportunities often use team-based, nurturing management styles that shun the "boss vs. underlings" mentality. Involving employees in setting goals for performance and personal growth is critical for quality improvement, Zander said. “Ask them to write a letter as if it’s a year from now. Have them anticipate the people they will become over the next year,” he suggested. Likewise, employees and co-workers will respond in kind to the way they are treated: “Do you treat your employees like C students or A students?” he asked.

Yet, the realities of senior care also include long hours, stress and burnout; making it even more important for long-term care leaders to re-energize and foster their employees’ passion for caregiving. “My job is to remind the players of the rhythm of inspiration. Your job is to remind your players why they wanted to play.”

Of course a maestro wouldn’t miss the chance to use music as a teaching vehicle. Zander treated the audience to the haunting beauty of Chopin, and before his keynote concluded, Zander had taught the entire audience to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”—in German.

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