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CW 76: David Hopkins

What does Michael Jordan, Thanksgiving turkey and leadership have in common?  Host David Hopkins shares about a personal example of distractions that led to discrimination.

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday. I’m David Hopkins. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s November. Thanksgiving is by far my best and favorite holiday. I love that it’s all centered around family and food. And if you listen to my last month’s podcast, you’ll know that my 10th great grandfather, Stephen Hopkins came over on the Mayflower. So this holds special meaning to me and my family. I’m really excited about getting the Turkey prepped and all the extra accoutrements that go along with that. And I must tell you, speaking as a descendant of a Pilgrim, let me impart some Thanksgiving knowledge. First off Stove Top stuffing. I know there’s homemade recipes out there, but it’s really what the pilgrims had was Stove Top. And I’ll tell you why in just a second, along with the cranberry sauce. It must be ocean spray and it must come from a can and have the ridges on there. 


This is very vital because not only after the Thanksgiving meal comes the leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. And the thing you need to know about Stove Top stuffing and cranberry relish from a can is that it slices perfectly. So when that Stove Top stuffing’s leftover you put it back into the Tupperware container and let it go into the refrigerator. Then you can slice it very thinly for an addition to your turkey sandwich, along with your mayonnaise, your turkey, and your cranberry sauce. It’s by far my favorite holiday, much different than Christmas and my birthday Thanksgiving for me is a leader’s holiday. Think about leading a group to a new uncharted world. How would you select a team to sail 3,219 miles over 66 days? The progression for those mathematicians out there is two miles an hour.


That’s crazy. And think about it. You’re sailing to a new world where there’s nothing. There’s no Best Buy. There’s no Target. There’s no grocery store. So you have to bring items with you to not only build a settlement; farm, hunt. For the pilgrims, it was finding a worship place free of the king’s influence on it. Clothing, you have nothing, what you bring or what you create. Those leaders were making decisions everyday day. What about you? When you select people for a project, what do you look for? Do you look for the talents, the skills necessary to complete the job? What about teamwork? Man, if you have a big project with a lot of teammates there, it’s your hope that they all get together and work well together. Do you look for somebody that you’re ready to coach and mentor? What else do you look for? As leaders, we’re tasked with creating, building, and coaching our teams to success.


I think of one of the great coaches out there, Phil Jackson. He was a great basketball coach and assembled an amazing team with the Chicago Bulls. He coached there for nine years and had six NBA championship winning streaks. Phil made decisions to create the best chance of winning. Now, most of you can name most of the players on there, like Dennis Rodman. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin and Steve Kerr. And it was very interesting to go back and look at his coaching career. When the Bulls were given free throws for a technical foul, he sent Michael Jordan to the line. Now those basketball fans out there are like, “well, duh,” but Michael was shooting 89% success rate for free throws. Phil didn’t send Dennis Rodman, who at that time was shooting in the low 40%. The best team to put on the floor. That’s what he was focused on.


What if Phil had social media back then? What if Phil learned something about Michael Jordan that he didn’t like? What if Michael was sitting at home one day and posted on his Facebook or his Instagram that, “I don’t eat vegetables and I don’t like them. And I think anybody who does is weird.” Phil thinks to himself, “I love vegetables.” So the next time we go to a free-throw and Phil decides that Michael shouldn’t take that free throw. He’s going to give it to Dennis Rodman because Dennis and I agree on vegetables. Does that sound right? Does that even sound close to something that Phil Jackson, a six time winning NBA championship coach would do? As leaders we make the best choice of the people on our bench strength and on our team to create the best chance of winning. NASA’s motto is, “we recruit the best of the best.”


That’s their motto. I’m sure you saw on LinkedIn, one of the posts going around that their newest astronauts was a former Navy Seal, then went to Harvard Medical School and graduated. And now he’s an astronaut. That’s some brilliance right there. But we do the same in senior living. We have our favorites and we have our not so much. But each of our team members are rock stars in their own way. , I had a resident that was depressed through this COVID timeframe, and the staff that most connected with her during that time when she couldn’t visit family and we were doing FaceTime calls, were some of my most headstrong staff members that could connect with her. Now, these were not my favorite because they constantly ask questions, constantly challenge the norm, but you know what? They were the right person for that job. They were rock stars. We don’t send our Dennis Rodman to take the foul shot. We don’t send a caregiver to a task to fail. We want to set them up for success. We choose the best person for the job that is going to have the greatest success. We know our residents and we know our caregivers and we know how their strengths align. So folks, I want to get real and I want to get raw about our leadership right now, complete transparent honesty.


Would you, as a leader, not choose somebody because they’re black? They’re a woman, they’re gay? Maybe they’re obese. Or maybe they’re just far too old, or maybe they’re just young and inexperienced. You don’t believe that. Do you? It’s about the things you do. As leaders, we have more access to our employees’ lives via social media, pictures and posts, political views, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, things that were private are now public. Does this affect your decisions as a leader? It should not. Yet, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know it does. But a leader stands up for their people to choose and develop the best people for the job and not be distracted. Just like a magician does with a trick. Distraction is all part of it. Look over here while I get the trick prepared. Look over here while I changed the trip. If Phil Jackson was distracted by the popcorn vendor every game, how do you think the outcome would look like you are?


You are the leader. Don’t get distracted by the news, social media. All of that is just distractions. Are we making decisions about people that have no bearing on their work-life? Because they don’t like vegetables or something else. Are we holding back our team and our business by making decisions that are based on personal beliefs? Would you make a decision based on how somebody looked or something they’re wearing? As a kid, I had a learning disability. I was given tests in a separate room with extra time. And each time that a test was given in one of my classes, I would have to get up and leave the room and I’d hear the whispers. And I’d see the looks. The judging was intense. Decisions made on the playground were affected by me having to leave the class to take a test. I would be picked last. I’d be asked to leave a game.


It was no different than judging someone because they are a woman or even obese. Would it be any different if someone had to wear a mask or go for testing every week or every day, and you don’t? Making decisions this way is very dangerous. We lose so much potential. We discriminate. We become people in history that we said we would never be like. Making excuses. I had the opportunity when I was traveling in a group called Up with People to visit a concentration camp in Dachau. So this was one of the bigger concentration camps that the Jews were put into to be terminated.


And we had the fortune to meet a survivor from the actual camp. He came and met with us and he was elderly at the time. And when he went into the concentration camp, he was a boy. He was judged because he was Jewish. He was told he was unclean. He was told he’s not worthy. He eventually escaped and grew up in Germany, became an architect, raised a family, and celebrated with grandkids. But he would come back to educate at Dachau so that we wouldn’t make the mistakes of history again. Now you and I know that he is very worthy. He contributed a lot to society. Raised a beautiful family and is valuable.


We claim we will not be like these people in history, the ones that oppressed and made people to feeling bad. We will not make these mistakes unless we study the history. Because people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. How many times did you hear that in school? But my friends, let me say this very, very clearly. We are there. We are there. This is the precipice of making decisions that could affect the rest of some people’s lives and change the way our global nation will go. Some companies, especially in senior living, have a scorched earth policy. Get the vaccine or get out. If you don’t, you don’t have any worth because you don’t have a vaccine. You are unclean because you don’t have a vaccine. Perhaps you’re one of these senior leaders making this mandate. And if so, I would encourage you to take a look at the history books, to really study and see how these decisions were made.


That led to concentration camps in Germany. Self-reflect on the type of leader you are becoming. And is that truly the way you want to lead? Or perhaps you’re an employee that’s being affected by this mandate. Maybe your medical exemption was denied. Your religious exemption was unfounded, or you don’t want to share your medical history with your employer. You believe in freedom of choice. People have many personal reasons for making their decisions. It’s personal, it’s theirs in their families and nobody else’s business to know. For those of you affected by this mandate, I want you to listen very closely.


You are worthy. You are clean. In fact, you’re just like me. Yes, I too am being affected by this. We are not alone. We are very strong and we are still leaders in a very diverse group of individuals in senior living and across the nation. So I want to encourage my friends to find that next company that aligns with your values and keep moving forward. Senior living needs leaders like you that will stand and not compromise on their principles and morals. You are what will change this world. Senior living needs leaders like you. If I can help in any way possible, please reach out to me. I’m on LinkedIn and you can also connect with me at Thank you for listening to this week’s BTG Contributor Wednesday, I’m David Hopkins.

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CW 76: David Hopkins