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CW 111: Anthony Ormsbee-Hale

Why is it that so many first-time managers fail? One study by CEB shows that 60% of first-time managers don’t succeed within two years of their promotion. 

Anthony Ormsbee-Hale shares about the myths vs reality that many first-time managers may experience and each month Anthony will expand on what organizations can do to create an internal structure that supports the success of first-time managers. 

Anthony references the work of Dr. Linda Hill and her HBR article Becoming the Boss: 

In the next episode, Anthony dives into the needs of emerging leaders and how organizations and employees can design professional development plans that achieve results. 

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn: 

Sponsored by PEAK Senior Living by Functional Pathways.


Hello and welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday, I’m Anthony Ormsbee-Hale, Vice President of People Operations at Civitas Senior Living. And I’ve had the pleasure of working in the senior living industry for the past 10 years as a director of sales, executive director, regional director of sales and marketing, and for the last four years, serving as VP of people operations at Civitas, where I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work with dynamic leaders and really helping to pursue our passion of developing and mentoring emerging leaders within the organization. My own story within senior living is a Testament to what mentorship and guidance can do for young professionals. And so I’m excited to be with you today to share with you what I have learned along the way, not only from my own personal leadership transition from individual contributor to single site regional site and national leadership experience, but from what we’ve done to develop an infrastructure that continues to support the development of leaders within organizations like Civitas. 


It’s no secret that our industry, like many others, is struggling to attract and retain talented individuals. And if you were fortunate enough to listen in on some of Kara Stiletto’s Contributor, Wednesday, she talked quite a bit about what we can do as an industry and what organizations can do to continue to attract individuals into this space. But what I’d like to focus on for this Contributor Wednesday series is really what to do with the folks who have already said, yes. What are you doing to engage and mentor and develop the individuals within your own organizations who continue to come to work every single day, who continue to say yes to serving seniors in our communities or within our own organizations one way or another. Throughout this series, we’re gonna talk about lessons learned from my own personal and professional journey. I promise that I won’t bore you to death with technical expertise of designing leadership development programs. I would encourage you to connect with learning and development professionals in your organization to talk about ways that you can take these ideas and really make them fit within your own mold.

I’m a strong believer that every organization has its own unique culture, has its own unique heartbeat. And so not everything that I will talk about throughout these, these episodes will resonate with every individual. You may not be able to replicate these within your organizations, but at the end of the day, the mission is the same. It is to make sure that we are developing the individuals who we work with on a day in and day-out basis. And I think one of the reasons I’m so passionate about talking about emerging leaders within organizations is because there’s such a high failure rate for first-time managers, not just within the senior living industry, but in financial, in real estate, hospitality, you name it. 


A lot of industries really struggle with helping people transition into leadership and management roles. And I think that we’re missing a huge opportunity here because, one, it’s faster and cheaper to hire within the organization because typically internal candidates have already got a pretty good understanding of organization culture. There’s a lot of benefits to employee morale whenever you promote from within. And so we have to understand that in order to make these benefits come to life that, you know, organizations cannot just promote individuals to roles and hope that they succeed. We have to have a process. We have to have a strategy to ensure that they are supported throughout that transition. Otherwise, we’ll just create a poor employee morale and employee loyalty issue. And that’s the last thing that we wanna do. So a few months ago I had the opportunity to speak at the Texas Assisted Living Association’s annual conference on this exact topic, and I pulled the 500 people or more who were in the audience. And I asked them to tell me, why do you think that first time managers struggle and fail within their first year on the job? And the answers came flying in.

But if I had to group them into five buckets, I could, I could group them pretty clearly in these buckets. One was lack of clarity on job expectations. The other was lack of training, lack of support, adjusting to new roles and expectations, and lack of mentorship. And we’re gonna talk about those five buckets throughout this series, as well as a few others. And the list continued to go on and on. And I had some really great conversations with individuals after the presentation. And one individual came up to me and, and just said, you know, I just don’t understand it because this seems to be pretty easy to do. It seems to be pretty common sense, of what we’re talking about here is really just giving individuals the support that they need, the training that they need to go forward and do that. And I think a lot of us can look back and we can say, we’ve had plenty of individuals that we have well trained and well supported who have not succeeded in those roles.


And so one of the things that I ask individuals, and I love asking this question when I’m on interviews for many positions, is about roles and expectations. What do you think you’re getting into and does that align with your values? And so that’s what I wanna talk about for this first episode on the series is how, what are the roles and expectations that new managers are coming into? What do people think that they’re getting into whenever they get promoted into a management role? And I think that one of the things that we’ll find is that there can be some misconceptions and some misalignments with what the emerging leader is expecting in their position versus what the organization and the position itself is actually prepared to give that individual. And one of the things that I wanna be very clear on as we go through this series is that it is absolutely not the job of human resources, or people operations, or learning your development, whatever you call your HR team, to mentor and train people.

Now, I do think that HR and any other department, similar to HR, whatever you call that within your own organization, I do think that they can be important and vital partners for you. And so I encourage you to build a relationship with those individuals within your organization because, their expertise on compliance, their expertise on a lot of the things that we may not necessarily enjoy talking about. Nobody particularly enjoys talking about FMLA compliance or any of those exciting things, but those are critical parts of risk management for our organizations. And that’s a huge skill set that we need to develop within the industry. So continue to build those relationships with folks, but it is absolutely not the job of human resources to manage and develop leaders within the organization. That responsibility falls on every single employee, regardless of job title, regardless of department, to build within the organization.


So you really want to create that as a core value within your organization to say, we, as a company, every single person is responsible for making sure that our employees are successful, and that we’re going to participate in a plan that makes the most sense for them. And so going back to how new managers, how emerging leaders, adjust to roles and expectations. I really resonated with the work of Dr. Linda Hill of Harvard Business School, who researched this very issue, in a segment of her research focuses on one of those themes, which is manager misconceptions. And what Dr. Hill found in her research is that the transition is often harder than it even has to be because the new manager’s misconceptions about the role, their idea about what it means to be a manager may not align with that of the organization, because some of their notions can be simplistic. They can be incomplete. They may create false expectations that the individual can’t reconcile. And when we acknowledge what those misconceptions are, some of which rise to the level of almost not even possible to understand new managers have a better chance of success and organizations can better understand where those emerging leaders are coming from. And when I go through these myths versus realities, I think it’s important to think back and put yourself in your first management role or even pre-management and what you thought management was going to be. Because I really remember, and I go back and I think about my transition from Director of Sales to Executive Director. And I had such a naive idea of what management was, even though I listened to the podcast and I read the books, until I was able to put it in practice and really manage and influence the work of other individuals, I had a naive sense of what I thought leadership really was and what management really was.


And so this, this idea of this misconception or this myth versus reality, really resonated with me. And as I continue to talk with young professionals throughout the senior living industry, I see that a lot. Not only about the myths and realities that we’re going to talk about here, but even interviewing seasoned professionals. And I typically will ask them the question of, you know, what are your expectations for our organization? What are your expectations for your ability to, to manage or to influence people within this role? And sometimes you get a sense of, this person wants to go in a totally different direction than what we’re comfortable with. And then you have to have that conversation of how can we reconcile that? 


So, you know, first, when I think back on my first day as an executive director, I remember coming into the office and thinking about all of the ideas that I had and thinking about, you know, I now have the authority, I now have the power to say, this is the direction we’re gonna go, and I’m gonna implement my ideas.

I kept remembering, and I kept remember saying, well, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that. And now I realize that I didn’t quite understand that my success as an executive director, my success as a manager of people was interdependent on the managers that I had around me. And I remember making a decision one day because I didn’t quite think that our scheduling system worked the way that it needed to work. And I said, well, we’re gonna change our schedule. And nobody gave me any pushback until I had an employee who came up to me and said, well, the new schedule doesn’t fit in with my childcare schedule. And there are several other employees, who are here, who are going to be negatively impacted by this decision and quickly realizing in my mind that I made this decision with no consideration for how it would impact the lives of other people was truly a terrifying moment for me.

One, because I realized I didn’t wanna be that manager. And then two, because I realized that is a lot of authority and power to have over individuals who very well would have probably left the organization. And I would’ve caused more harm to the organization than good by doing that. 


And that’s when we go into that second myth or misconception, which is the source of power, do I have this power because my business card and my name tag says Executive Director or Vice President or Regional Director, and I’m finally in that position, or do I have that power and ability to influence others because I’ve earned it, because people respect me? And I think a lot about this when I interact with chefs, with maintenance directors, people who have a high level of technical skill, financial analysts, IT folks, you know, the list goes on and on.

And I quickly realize that until I’m able to have that conversation with them. And they know that I am understanding or that I’m curious, and that I wanna learn more about their role, that I have earned that respect, that typically the name on my name tag doesn’t really mean quite a bit to them. And so when you start thinking about how am I gonna get things done? There’s a balance to what is the formal authority, here’s what my job description says that I can do, but the people that I need to help get it done, do they have the confidence in me to execute on the plan that I want? And that leads me to that desired outcome. If I’m trying to reach this objective, and I’m trying to influence the people around me to reach that common objective or that shared goal, am I doing that through control?

And that control often leads to a very compliance-driven mindset, where I’m micromanaging and I’m following up and I’m taking away authority from the individuals around me because I have to get compliance from my subordinates, versus am I asking for commitment? Am I asking them to join me in this shared vision, the shared goal, and I’m giving them the trust and the autonomy along the way to do that? And so when I think back on first time managers and emerging leaders, I often see that happen where you may see this in others manifest itself, as they are afraid to delegate tasks or responsibilities to others on their team, because they’re afraid of the failure that will happen. And so you’ll see that more and more times, especially executive directors. I have this conversation with folks quite a bit of, well, I can’t take time off because if I take time off, then this won’t get done at the building.

And we’re holding on to these things that we should be empowering people around us to do. And so if we don’t correct that mistake or that habit for first-time leaders very, very quickly. And very often we find that we have the seasoned professional who’s 20, 30 years into the business that is a control freak, and they don’t let things go. And so we looked at, how do I, as a first time manager as an emerging leader, how do I learn to delegate? And how do I learn to share that responsibility with others? And that’s by creating the shared buy-in and commitment with others.


And last is this shift of thinking for first time managers of I’m going to manage one on one with individual people. And what happens when I do that is I end up with A, B, or C players, and those individuals aren’t functioning as a team. And there could be some inefficiencies that happen within, within my organization. So I have to shift from that myth of, I need to manage each person individually to the reality of, I have a team of people who work together, and how do I create that team of people whose strengths will support each other into that shared vision that I am trying to drive this team towards? 

And I love to have this conversation with individuals, whenever a leadership position comes vacant. And I think about, let’s look at the team of people that you have around you, what skill are you missing? And so when you introduce that question to people and you start thinking about, well, I’ve got a great group of people who are very outgoing and very energetic, but I really don’t have anyone on my team who’s very detail oriented or who’s very analytical. And so we tend to do a lot of surface level winds when really what I need to do is recruit someone on my team who can help us dig deeper and create more sustainable solutions for folks. And so I loved when, it took me a while as a first time manager to shift my mindset into that. And when I started shifting from managing one on one to leading the team, what I realized very quickly is that people tend to have more fun at work. It was more pleasurable and more enjoyable for those of us around each other, because we were depending on each other. And I could tap into the competitive nature of my team, where I could tap into other skill sets that my team had that really helped us to achieve our goals. 

And so when you start thinking about that, what you do is you move from what I call a day to day manager, which is I’m responsible for keeping the operation running smoothly. I’m responsible for making sure that nothing goes wrong, and that’s great. We wanna make sure that we have operations in our communities that run very smoothly, but there’s often, they often become very risk adverse. They’re afraid to try new things. They’re afraid to go for large goals or targets because there’s more room for failure. But what happens is you get an opportunity when you tap into that reality of shared management, of shared goals, of now I have an opportunity to make this team perform better, to initiate change that’s going to enhance the group’s performance. And that is a beautiful thing of what happens is, you have a team who says, we’re hitting everything on all cylinders, how can we do better? And I think all of us in senior living would love to be part of a team that says, how can I do this better? 


So this may sound very familiar to you, or you may have observed a colleague going through these transitions, and not everyone goes through them at once. And every organization manifests itself differently in these areas. And I’m looking forward to sharing resources with you in the coming episodes about what you can do, either as a mentor, company, executive, or an emerging leader, yourself, to ensure success for leaders within your organization. 

Next month, we’re going to dive into the needs of emerging leaders and how organizations and employees can design professional development plans that achieve real results. Thank you so much for tuning in to the first episode of my Bridge the Gap, podcast for senior living. It’s a pleasure to be part of the Contributor Wednesday series. I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn by following the link in the show notes, and let’s keep this conversation going about developing leaders in the senior living industry. Until then keep up the good work, and be well.


CW 111: Anthony Ormsbee-Hale