Ruta Kadonoff: Culture change and a side of bacon

Ruta Kadonoff says she’s never been good at cooking bacon. When fellow pioneer Barbara Frank heard this, she took it upon herself to mentor Kadonoff in the art of perfectly crisped bacon. At times, Kadonoff got impatient and wanted to speed up the cooking process. Frank saw the burner cranked up and gently reminded Kadonoff to "dial it back down and just wait."

Kadonoff, the new executive director of the Pioneer Network, shared the story to a crowd of more of about 850 attendees Monday at the organization’s 2016 annual conference in New Orleans. She described the April weekend she spent at convener Carter Catlett Williams's home for a gathering of early pioneers: Williams's daughter Mary Montague, Frank, MPA; Ann Wyatt, MSW; Sarah Berger and Elma Holder.

"What on earth does that have to do with what we're all here for?" Kadonoff asked conference attendees. "Well, as someone who often finds myself impatient with the pace of change or even at times tempted to give up and settle for the metaphorical soggy bacon that's our current culture of aging in this country, I need to regularly remind myself that an unwavering consistency and persistence and steadiness is the way to win the day. Acting rashly out of impatience or giving up too soon will both produce less than ideal results. It's connection, collaboration and consistency—with a side of bacon. Because with all due apologies to my vegetarian friends, everything really is better with bacon."


"The human spirit thrives on connectedness to people and places that matter to us," Kadonoff said. Caregivers connect with residents and co-workers who provide mutual support, guidance and encouragement. Caregivers and long-term care facilities can connect with the greater community of neighbors, friends, housing organizations, civic organizations and elected and appointed government officials. It’s important to make those connections and to nurture them. "These relationships allow us to share our work and our vision so that they can impact their spheres of influence to make that vision a reality," she said.


"Sometimes when we're deep in this hard work of transformation, it might feel like the entire responsibility for that rests squarely on our own shoulders," Kadonoff said. "I'm sure you know as well as I do that that can get a little overwhelming." An important reminder of the power of collective action was in the way her fellow pioneers shared stories, she added. Each woman in that room was a leader in her own right and could have taken credit for change. None of them did. Instead, they talked about effective partnerships and, in doing so, reminded Kadonoff what is possible if people work together. That may mean working as a team within your own organization to tear down silos or walls. It may mean working with other organizations. The ultimate goal is to imagine and then work toward what is possible together. "It's reaching out and finding ways to partner with other groups who share our commitment to create a better world for all of us to grow old within so that we can magnify our impact," she said.


Consistency begins with a commitment to support individualized person-directed care and establish care partner relationships. It's also a promise to keep improving ourselves, our organizations and our community so that everyone can thrive. It's a lot like cooking bacon. "Consistency is a constant application of that proverbial heat sustained over time at just the right level with leaders and policy at our level in order to crisp the bacon so that our wallets, our regulations, our payment systems and ultimately our core cultural norms come to support and foster culture change and person-directed care so they become the automatic expectation, the only way of doing things, rather than the execution practiced only by select people and organizations like yours."

Topics: Articles , Executive Leadership , Leadership