Defining leadership

May's highlight was another very successful Environments for Aging (EFA) conference (hosted by our sister-publication, EFA), with its invigorating energy-fest of collaborative ideas that architects, designers and providers bring to this conference each year. The conference dovetails perfectly with the feature articles on our website this week, where we showcase our 2014 Leaders of Tomorrow honorees.

What does it mean to be a true leader in the senior living industry? Being a game-changer isn’t an easy job. It takes a willingness to believe in ideas no one else believes in—yet. It takes a willingness to face dragons, argue hard, be your own proof-of-concept and change policy.

Leadership means taking good ideas and making them happen—just because they will benefit residents’ quality of life. It takes questioning policies and then stepping up to change the ones that no longer make sense for tomorrow’s senior residences. It takes encouraging the various silos of the senior care industry to erase barriers and work together under the common mission of culture change. And, it takes being willing to stand on the front lines of the senior care quality movement, showing by example what can be done if we all try.

So much of our industry is overshadowed by regulations (especially in skilled nursing), almost encouraging us to stand idly by and change only when it’s mandated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or other bodies. But true leaders will say, “What can I do to improve quality care and quality living spaces, even though it’s not a rule?”

Sadly, the passion to lead is often trampled by bureaucracy, or—even worse—lies dormant and untapped because no one is looking for it. True leaders will insist on leading, despite obstacles. As Nina Willingham, executive director of Life Care Center of Sarasota (Fla.) says in this month’s nursing leadership feature article, “To be a good leader means that I am responsible to develop other leaders.” One of the best things a leaders can do is to inspire others to take up the reins, champion the next idea, or share a great solution.

At the EFA conference, we gave a heartfelt tribute to David Green, the founder of the Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments (SAGE) and the former CEO of Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh, Wis., who died in March. When he first launched SAGE 21 years ago, it was the first organization of its kind in the United States—an organization dedicated solely to improving the design of senior living spaces. May we all grow into better leaders by following his example.

Next year, we’re opening up our Leaders of Tomorrow awards to nominations from our readers–because you know better than anyone who is doing truly unique, creative and groundbreaking work in your own communities. Watch for our announcement on our website, and then share with us the people you think are the next champions for quality in senior living.

Read David Green’s 2013 reflections on SAGE’s 20 years of work.

Topics: Executive Leadership