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Ep. 134: Doug Leidig

At 12 years old, a job as a paperboy opened his heart to aging adults. Just four years later, Doug Leidig served as a nursing aid which solidified a passion for the senior living industry. As CEO of Asbury Communities, he uses the LEAD initiative to collaborate and create better opportunities for teams, residents and families.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas exciting show on deck for today. We’re so glad that you’re listening in. We’ve got a guest on: Doug Leidig, CEO of Asbury Communities. Welcome to the program. 


Doug: Well, thank you very much. It’s a privilege and an honor to be here. 


Lucas: Absolutely. Josh, we’ve had a great pre-roll conversation with Doug. We’ve crossed paths at different conferences and we’ve seen Doug in the media and running an incredible organization there. And we’re definitely, we want to dive into your history first, but we’re also going to dive into some initiatives that you have going on at your company and an acronym that spells out LEAD. And we’re going to talk specifically about the D which is data and looking forward to diving into that. Before we do, let’s talk about your history.


Doug: Oh, sure. Well, thank you for the opportunity. It goes way back, actually when I was 12 years old, I used to deliver papers for a retirement community in our backyard. And that’s where a route that should have taken me 45 minutes, took me an hour and a half because I would just sit and talk to the residents. And that’s where I really truly became head, started having an interest in seniors and what this was all about because obviously I didn’t know much about the industry at that point in time. 


And when I became 16, a good friend of ours, she went to our church, was a nursing home administrator and he said, and this was in the early 80s before you had to be certified in a lot of regulations we have today. If you wanted to learn about the industry, come work for me. So I started working as a nursing assistant, housekeeping, laundry maintenance, you name it. If it wasn’t licensed, I worked it. And that’s where I really solidified my passion for the industry and what we do and it’s as much the sacred work as we do as also just the opportunity. 


When you’re 16, and it was a high Medicaid nursing home and a lot of the residents didn’t have family members, and one of the jobs as a nursing assistant and the philosophy that nursing was making sure nobody ever died alone. So when you’re 16 and holding the hands of somebody, you don’t really know as they pass just an impression, which is 35 years ago and I still get goosebumps thinking about it and you can still see their names and their faces. That just drove me to: we have a duty here, we have a higher purpose and I think there’s a lot we can do. 


From there on, it just sort of went from there. I went to college with a BS in long term care administration and my work went on to get my master’s after a few years of working in the field. So yeah, I’ve been in it for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of evolution. I see what great opportunity we do have. 


Josh: Wow. You know, what a story, a couple of things I want to pick out of what you just said. And I’ll go back to want to hear more about some of the stories, maybe, that you had that stick out from the paper route because I can’t imagine how many awesome stories came from that to help shape you into who you are today. 

But tell us a little bit more about- I think it’s fascinating where you started from as a nursing assistant to leading one of the larger organizations in our industry today as the CEO and what that taught you about career pathways, which is a term we hear a lot now. And I think so many organizations are trying to share with people outside of our industry, like, hey, we welcome you because there’s so many opportunities. What are some things that you learned along the way that you’ve implemented in your organization to help people realize the pathways?


Doug: That’s a good question. And when I reflect back, I had three mentors and they were the ones. They’re the reasons. And I think that was why. They gave me opportunities. They exposed me to things that I normally would not have been able to, to a part of. When you’re 16 or 17 and the nursing home administrator, Charlie Tyne was his name, will take me to a conference or two. I mean, I, that was something. So I got to hear things and at a very young age and I think mentoring the next generation is sort of a philosophy that we have and it’s an important part of this industry. 


And it’s also about telling our story because I remember there’s not a lot of people from outside our industry coming in, right? There’s a great opportunity there and a great story to tell, but when I came out of college, I was given my first nursing home at 24 years old. So I’m running a nursing home at 24. I would not have normally got to experience, but I had a great mentor and he worked with me and helped me and really helped Genesis in my career. And I think that’s important for us. We need to take some risks. We need to give people opportunity because those who come to our industry, it’s not because it’s a sexy industry and you can make tons and tons of money. It’s because of that higher purpose. So what we have to do is identify those individuals and bring them in. And it helps. So I think mentoring is certainly the reason that, significant reason why I’m here today.


And then I think the other part was that I had the chance to do more than just the job itself, right? So when you’re a nursing administrator, when you’re an executive director, it’s everything that pans to oil, right? I mean, you get to do a lot of different things and being involved in all those different areas and having access to it really helped shape some ideas and thoughts. And then you start seeing them ticking. So, you change people’s experiences to change their beliefs. And I got a lot of different experiences, which really helped me believe about our industry. I think that’s sort of, I had to sum up the 35 years, I think that they’re the categories I wouldn’t focus on.


Josh: Wow. That’s really amazing. And, you know, Lucas, that’s one of the whole reasons why we started this podcast was to take these experiences, just like Doug was sharing with us, and to share it to the masses. Doug, take us back now to where it kind of all began: your first touch points with elders, with older people as a very young person. What are one or two of the stories that stuck out to you to this day that maybe you could share with our audience?


Doug: Yeah, I think the first one really is when you, when I go back to the paper route days, it was that they all just were, they embraced me, right? They embraced this kid and they followed me through my junior high school and high school and after graduation and my brother ultimately got the route after I did. So when I came back to college, I created a lot of friendships and Christmas time and things like that, you just had a chance to sit and tell stories.


I remember when I was a nursing assistant, one of the residents, an older lady, I can I can still see her today, started sitting down and talking to her. And I found out her husband was a major league umpire, and she routinely entertained Babe Ruth, Joe Demasio. I mean, at her house. I mean, she had personal relationships. Now, obviously since gone, but you know, the stories, I’m like man, fascinating stories. 


And when I was a nursing home administrator, especially coming out of the car, right, right out of college, I’m still learning, getting my feet wet, working with teams that were older than myself. And what’s this 24 year old kid know. When I thought I was having a bad day, I could go down and sit down and have conversations with some of these residents and what they’ve been through in your life, you realize, wow, my day is not so bad, right? And my life’s really good. And it can share perspective, you know? And I think that helps again, going with keeping you grounded, keeping your experiences. 


And I will say that when I was the administrator, when I could start talking shop with all those managers of housekeeping and laundry and nursing, it was sort of a while I still had to earn my stripes, there was still a little bit more of appreciation saying, okay, you’ve been here, you’ve done this. You’re not just some guy that went to college and coming in and becoming all of a sudden a manager. So I think that was just an incredible help and assistance. 


But yeah, there’s tons of stories like that. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about our field is that there are- and those residents want to to give back, right? They want to give back, they want to share their wisdom, they want to share their knowledge. They want to be engaged. They want to still be purposeful. And so we owe it to them to create those opportunities and create that lifestyle and communities that honor that.


Josh: Well, you know, I think there’s a certain magic kind of chemistry that happens when older people and young people, those generations come together. It’s really hard. I’ve seen it happen through the years, even the communities, when we bring young kids into the communities for programs to see how those young kids, just their eyes kind of get opened wider and the smiles get bigger. On the older generation, the values that are shared and the energy back and forth, it’s evident that that’s what helped to shape it. 


So now, as we transition in our conversation, I mean, you’ve had this amazing wealth of experience that has enabled you to be a great leader in our industry and for your organization. So now in the present, what are some of the things that you’re walking your organization through as you’re growing, that would be great, positive implications that all of us in the industry could also be paying attention to and learning from.


Doug: Sure, sure. That’s a loaded question. There’s a lot to that. And I think that when I, although I was in his organization for 20 years in multiple roles,  when I became CEO, they’re saying, okay, so what do you want us to focus on? And, and it boiled down to what I call LEAD and the L in that is listen to those closest to the process and obviously to share it, that goes back to my roots, right? If we want to change the way we do business, if we want to truly become better as an organization, well, we can have, it’s not the leaders, it’s not the managers. It’s those who work in this day in, day out. Say, gey, how can we improve? What can we do better? Not just from a perspective of how we can help them as an associate, but how do we help the resident?  What do we need to do differently? 


And that’s not saying that we do everything we’re told, but as part of our decision making process, we need to have that diversity around the table and multiple levels of the organization to say: what’s your thought process? So that that’s one, then the E is engaging and empowering our associates in the non-anxious way. I think traditionally, you know, we all know that we make you make better decisions when you’re calm, when you’re just thinking through the process. So we have to engage and empower and make sure people are not in a relaxed atmosphere when they do it. We have to create that table of culture. And that it’s okay to have a little bit of fun while you’re making tough decisions, right. It doesn’t all have to be in stress, right. We can have some fun through this and then let’s get to the other side. 


The A is Ask: why, why not and what if? this is the part that I focused a lot on over the last two or three years, because  when you want to change business, the way you do business, you have to ask why. So, when I first became CEO, I went out and did a listening tour to all of our communities. And I was asking, tell me what we’re doing. You know, so why are we doing things? So I had a person that was in one of our home care company say, why do I fill out this form and send it into your corporate office every day? Or every week? I don’t know. I’ll check out. I came back here, nobody knew. So it was just like when something was in our DNA. So we quickly stopped that. So then that started the ball rolling people saying, why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? 


Why not is when somebody says, hey, let’s try something new. And they say, no, people would say no. Well, that’s why not a couple of times. And then you’ll truly realize, well, is it viable or is it not right? Because once you get to the third why not, very similar to this office that we’ve designed it. When I took away 30 offices, we’re an open workspace hybrid working space. People would say, I need an office, I need an office. I’m asking why, why not? And ultimately came down and say, well, you really don’t, right? Because nobody’s behind a closed door, eight hours a day, five days a week. 


Then the what if is the innovation. That’s where we can start dreaming and really talking about how we changed our business. And if everybody, all 2,400 associates started asking, what if we did this? What if we get that? That’s where the exciting part, right? That’s where you can move things forward.


And then the D is in data. You know, we don’t access it. We know that’s the future. We know we can say we do good care. We provide certain data. We;re a good workforce, et cetera. But when you have the data to back that up one, it helps you tell your story. But two, the data is also helping leaders and managers putting tools in their hands to say, here’s another set of data points you can use to make your decisions. Not that every decision is all about data, but if that’s part of the decision process, I think we just make better business decisions. So, you know, and I’m a pretty simple guy, so to me, it’s easy for me to remember, and it’s an easy story to tell, and I think that’s, we have a tendency, even some sort of make things very complex, right? So I think if we continue to, to, to boil it down to LEAD, and I think that’s starting to really resonate within the industry and our company.


Josh: Well, so for those note takers out here’s a quick recap: so lead is listen, engage and empower, ask the questions and the data. So I love that. I think that’s easy for our listeners to get a hold of. I mean, each one of those topics: the data one specifically, I know even in our organization that’s much smaller than yours, we get inundated with data, right. And we’ve got all these systems capturing all this data, but I think one of the things, and I’d like to know your perspective on this, is it’s one thing to just capture all the data, but I don’t know if I’m on an island here, but I know a lot of times I see all these dashboards and this data, and you’re like, what the heck do I do with all this? How do you guys deal with that? I know you’re capturing a lot of data, but what’s the real, how do we turn that into useful information?


Doug: That’s a good question. And I think we struggle with that because again, we don’t even realize how much data is out there. And then, you know,  as we work on becoming an automated integrated system, that’s even then explode even farther. But if you think about LEAD, you go back, listen to the closest process, we should not be collecting data just to collect data and create a nice little bar chart. We need to listen to close to the data. What do you need to know? What can we do? Like nurse says,I’m miserable. I can really use this for this point, cause I’m not sure how, what we’re doing, right, and we’re getting that data to them. So we’re creating dashboards and we’re using data in terms of not just what I want or what our CFO wants, because we can get down very granular, but it’s very useful for the people. And so we’re responding and listening for them to tell us what they want versus us saying, here’s what it is. 


And then the second part of that is that we are actually, you know, as we ever were an IT company, we have a lot of opportunities to control and really expedite these. We’re going to bring on electronic data scientists or data analysts to come in and help us with that. Because again, I think I know that if somebody is following you, there’s a couple of points: you check their physical therapy, check their diet, you check their meds, which is probably about 20 other points, data points we should be looking at to really make a true assessment. If you have somebody who comes in here and weight knows about data and says, hey, let’s start connecting all these different dots. Or then all of a sudden we’ve just become a lot better at our decision making and our analytics. So yeah, there’s a lot to do with it, but again, it can’t be just a fill a page worth of our chart.


Josh: Yeah. Well, I think that’s great information. And, you know, I know from just talking to other industry professionals, regardless of the organizational size, we’re all kind of facing those same challenges. And I think applying those lead principles, that’s a really, I think, great formulized way for us to break it down and kind of keep on track and stay focused on really what’s important because it can just be really overwhelming. And, you know, I think it’s overwhelming even at your level, you know, at the C-suite as leaders, but you have to think, oh my gosh, if it’s overwhelming for us, and then you’ve got the hands and the feet of the operation that are down there with all this data as well, how it could,  if we’re not really careful, it’s almost counterproductive all that we’re pushing down to them. If it, if it’s not meaningful to what they’re doing. 


Doug: That’s a good point. And if I can, I can just share a little bit further, like,  if you want to talk about turnover, I can look at a system wide turnover and say, oh, we have a 50%, 60%, oh, we’ve got a turnover problem. Well, that’s a generalization, but when you break it down and you look at, hey, we’ve got two communities that have high turnover. So then you start talking to them as managers, what do we need to do? Here’s what your data’s saying. How can we help collect this? And then you start solving the problem, because now we’re not making seven communities do something different when we’re focusing on there’s one or two and bringing them up, then all of a sudden, we fixed the problem. I think that’s what we’ve done in the past. I think that’s why we couldn’t move forward because we’re looking everything at a system level when you can break that down and get down to those manager’s hands and say, your turnover is 75%. We’re going to be very focused with you in your training and then how you recruit or how you’re onboard. Now you start solving our problems right now. We’re really getting into detail. That’s how you start fixing it from those closest to the process. So a good point. And that’s, and that’s how you have to look at this. You can’t look at that as well, all from a big picture and tell the true story. 


Josh: Yeah. I mean, it’s great information andI think one of the things that, you know, I personally so appreciate and it’s one of the things that I think you touched on in the beginning of your story is you had great mentors that brought you along in the industry. And I think today, what we’re talking about, these kinds of conversations need to happen more because the experiences that you’ve learned and that other leaders have learned passing that information down and helping learn from each other, I hope that’s one of the key things that we achieved through this podcast. And we so appreciate you taking time out of your super busy schedule to just share some of your insight and be very transparent. 


That’s one of the cool things about our industry that Lucas and I have talked about so much that we think separates senior living senior housing, the aging services from a lot of other divisions. People that have lasted in this industry and that are here, they’re here because they’re passionate about people and they’re compassionate people. And so the collaboration is something that I think really sets our industry apart. 


Doug: And critical to our success. We cannot do this alone, right? We there’s just, no, we don’t have the resources, we can’t do it. So the more we can collaborate in partnership and it’s truly viewed that way versus one being the dominant player the better off we’ll be. And you’re absolutely right.


And in getting this exposure and storytelling to people outside our industry even is going to be critical. They bring different, you know, five of my last eight executive highs. We’re all going outside this industry and they’ve brought a different perspective. And I know some of them thought, well, that’s going to be a stop gap for a year or two. They realize what we’re all about. And you know, some of them are here at three, four, five years saying that I never thought I was gonna be here this long. So they’re the great things to do if we can pass that wide net by these podcasts and have others hear about us. I think it’s just phenomenal. And again, I want to applaud you for the job you guys are going with this.


Lucas: Well, thanks, Doug. You know, on that note to round out the show. The deck has been reshuffled in our world, so to speak, given the pandemic. And I think that workforce and labor, I know you don’t have a crystal ball, no one does. But there’s a major opportunity. As that deck has been reshuffled, people’s career paths have been drastically shifted. And we want to get the word out there. Since you got such, you were influenced at such a young age, talk to that person out there that is either had that major shifts at any age, but specifically the younger people that said, you know what? I thought I was going to be a general manager at a hotel for the rest of my life, or I thought I was going to run a restaurant or whatever that may be. What would you say to those people about the senior living industry? 


Doug: Filter out the noise. Because I will tell you, when I went to college and I told people, my major’s long term care administration, they were looking at me like, what? Why do you want to do and go do what something we’ve had administrative, or it was a lot of feedback, but, you know, and these guys were marketing or accounting. And even when you come out of college, these individuals may go to a big accounting firm and make a lot more money initially.


But long term, this is a great industry. While we’re not recession proof and we’re not pandemic proof, we play a viable role. Healthcare does in general. And that includes independent living, assisted and skilled. So I think when you talk about a career path that has lots of opportunities and a lot of us are diversifying our revenue streams. So, we have an IT company, we have a pharmacy, we have home care, we have home health. We’ve got a pace program. You can come in at one level and expand to multiple different business lines. And so, not only from a career path, but also from a security perspective, healthcare is going to be here in some form or another and lifestyle and community. 


So I would say that filter out the noise. If you’re passionate about making a difference in having a higher purpose, which we hear a lot about the millennials are, because they want that higher purpose. Wow. What a better field? And a field that is thirsty for new things. So I think you could come in, anybody can come in and put their fingerprint in this industry at a very young age and have lots of career success. And others like myself are anxious to do that and help.


Lucas: Doug Leidig, CEO of Asbury communities. Excellent conversation. What a wonderful way to end and round out the show with a great comment there. Thank you for taking time out of the busy schedule and taking time from your organization to teach us and tell those love stories. I appreciate it. 


Doug: Thank you for inviting me and thank you for all you’re doing. And I look forward to your future podcast.


Lucas: Absolutely, well, Josh, like we say, to all the people, all of our audience and listeners to the senior living industry, the people that are out on the front lines, we’re thinking of you. You guys are heroes. You’re not forgotten and we’re rooting for you. And thanks everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.


Ep. 134: Doug Leidig