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Level Up: Ep. 1 – Why this podcast?

In the very first episode of the Level Up leadership podcast, host James Lee shares his guiding principles that motivated the creation of his show.  This introductory episode invites listeners to get a behind the scenes look at James’ goals for his work, how the podcast ties into it, and how he hopes listeners will benefit from the show’s unique focus on learning, hence the name “Level Up.”
Known by those closest to him in the senior living and healthcare industry as an out-of-box thinker and motivational leader, James has formatted his show so that he continues to build upon his work toward a balanced “head + heart” leadership philosophy. Listeners are given intimate access to his learning journey in a way that they, too, can benefit from the podcast’s expert guests while engaging in a peer-to-peer learning community.
James is the founder and owner of Bear Wise Consulting, a frequent speaker and moderator, and a seasoned leader in the senior living industry. In a profession marked by aspirations of doing good for others, his promise with his partners and colleagues is simple “Be Great at Good.”

You’re listening to Level Up with host James Lee, a senior living and healthcare leadership podcast built for those who want to be great at doing good.

Hey everybody, this is James Lee, and I’m so excited to share with you a little bit about my upcoming podcast Level Up. I am a fan of this medium. I think podcasts are awesome. I listen to several, both in the senior living industry and just in general. I think there are some really great ones out there and I’ll continue to listen to them. So, you know, it’s hard to reinvent this kind of outlet. So this is just my offering into all of those various options. And I’m excited to tell you about Level Up because it’s my attempt to add kind of really being authentic about the process of learning and growing as a professional. So rather than just have guests on that speak about some subject matter expertise or their company or their kind of version of our industry.

What I want to do is be honest and genuine with you about why I’m doing this in the first place. There’s three kinds of people here in the, if you call them stakeholders of a podcast, that’s me, the podcast host, there’s you the listener, and then there’s the guest. I won’t always have a guest, but the guest is a part of that kind of triangle of stakeholders. So, you know, here’s kind of what I believe and the reason I want to do this podcast. There’s kind of three central principles if you will, of my life, that if you’ve worked with me, if you know me, I think, this will all feel pretty intuitive to you. But, I think there’s some value in having principles, ideals, things that you can describe that are really essential to you as a human being.

And so here are three of them, not all of them, but here are the three that I think are always forefront in my mind, particularly as it relates to the professional environment. So number one, it’s a principle of self and others. I believe that self-improvement is the best way to serve the people you love. I think that improving your skills, improving your abilities, improving your standing, you know, always working on yourself. There’s a virtue of selfishness, that, you know, when you think of it, in terms of not just about me, me, me, not that version of selfishness, but the version, maybe a philosophical version that is if you are improving your own condition, if you’re improving your own abilities, that’s the best way to serve the people you love. So that has been a principle of mine and a primary driver of why I work the way I work, why I educate myself the way I do, the endeavors that I have outside of, you know, just my day-to-day paying job.

So that’s the first principle I live by. It’s the belief that self-improvement is the best way to serve others. Number two is really about wisdom. I believe that knowledge is power. Wisdom is a superpower. Knowledge is actually pretty easy to come by and there are tons of people offering knowledge. I’m one of them. But there’s a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. And I think that difference comes through courage. It comes through the ability to have courage and vulnerability to question the knowledge and question your retention or your kind of mastery of that knowledge. Wisdom is on the other side of courage. And so that’s the thing that I strive for. And I think wisdom is the kind of ultimate way to serve others. So when you’re improving yourself, it’s not about just gaining knowledge, it’s about doing something with that knowledge and having the courage to confront your own beliefs, confront your own mastery of a topic, and get to the other side of wisdom, which is really meant to serve others.

Number three is I believe in striving for harmony, not just balance. I think this has to do with, you know, something I’ve always struggled with is this idea of, for example, work-life balance. You know, that there’s some magical kind of fulcrum point of hours that you spend at work hours that you spend at home, hours that you spend with your family, your friends, you know, I, when I was striving for that sense of equal balance, I always felt off. But when I really started to adopt this idea that, you know, not everything has to be equal, they just have to be in a state of harmony. And I think about, you know, in the natural world in nature, the balance in the way that maybe most people think about it as equal parts, you don’t see that in the natural world, you see things in a state of harmony.

You see, you don’t see equal numbers of trees on this side trees on that side, but you do see a natural curation of that ecosystem that provides a sense of harmony. And I think that ideal is really great in life. There’s holes in all of this, of course, but it’s just my interpretation of that. So, I strive for harmony over balance and it gives me permission to sometimes focus a little bit more on work, focus a little bit more on friends, focus a little bit more on myself. But if there’s a higher ideal that I’m striving for I can move past this concept of just equal parts balance and get to a state of harmony. So those are the three kind of driving principles that I live by, and it influences a lot of the way that I work.

So that’s a little bit about what motivates this podcast. So let me tell you a little bit about how I’m going to structure this podcast in a way that I think may provide some value to you and to myself and to the guests who will join the show. Okay. So this podcast is called Level Up because I think going back to kind of principle number one, I believe that we should always be self-improving, improving our own skillsets. So Level Up is about challenging ourselves to actually be okay with not knowing everything and go through the process of learning things from people who have a different lens who have a different way of sharing their expertise and to level up our own skills so that we improve our capacity to serve the people that we love. And so as part of that, I’ve always subscribed to the belief that great leaders have dexterity in two different kind of parts of leadership.

And I described them as the head and the heart. That’s business intelligence and emotional intelligence. A lot of people talk about this. A lot of people certainly have their own expertise in these areas, but for me, I think it’s about blending those two. And again, going back to principle, number three for me, which is to try and find a state of harmony and not just balance. I think that it’s not just about having 50% business, 50% emotional, it’s about how do you bring those two philosophies together to maximize your effectiveness, to maximize your ability to influence the teams that you lead? That’s what I really care about. So the Level Up podcast each month is going to be kind of a two-part on a single topic. So these episodes will air about every two weeks. There’ll be two episodes each month.

One of them is going to skew a little bit more towards the business intelligence side of things. So we’re going to get really in the weeds sometimes of the quantitative parts of the work that we do. The real business acumen sides of the topics that we’ll explore. The other episode, part two, we’ll focus on the emotional intelligence applications of that topic. So, for example, if we’re talking about, interviewing, interviewing skill sets, we can all improve at that skillset. There’s certainly a business acumen side to it. What are the kind of key metrics that you need to be looking at if you’re leading a team? How do we measure retention? And are we looking at retention from a perspective of revenue generation and not just expense management? That’s how I might explore that topic from a business intelligence perspective. From an emotional intelligence perspective, I may be looking at that in terms of, how do you help people feel comfortable in an interview? How do you engage with people so that they present their best selves, and that it’s a conversation over a formal Q&A field to it?
There’s an emotional intelligence in an artistry to creating a safe environment where people do present their best and most honest selves. So those are, that’s just an example of how one topic may have two different sides to it. All right, now that we’ve gone over my why, the principles or the beliefs that I have driving a lot of this, and we’ve gone over the framework, which is a two-part episode, part one we’ll really focus on business intelligence, part two, focusing on the emotional intelligence. Now, let me tell you a little bit about what’s in it for you.

And more importantly, having some genuine conversations and some authenticity about why I want to do this podcast in the first place. This costs me time, money, and there’s something I want to get out of this. And I think a lot of podcasts are really focused on the guest or talking about a company or a subject matter expert. And I’ll certainly have elements of that throughout this podcast. But what I want to do is tell you kind of just honestly, from my heart, what’s in it for me. So here are kind of the top three things that I think of when I think of why do I want to invest my time and money into doing a podcast? Well, the first is that this podcast is not about getting guests on the show or just getting listeners or subscribers.

If all of that happens, that’s really incidental to the real goal. And here’s the honest goal. My goal is to level up my own skills. There, I said it. This is about me. This podcast is about how do I level up my own skills? Where can I go find the experts to improve my own abilities to serve this industry? There’s a lot of things that I feel very skilled in, but there’s a lot of areas where I feel like, you know, man, I’m really just kind of at the beginning level of this topic, or I’m moderately okay at this topic. So I want to go through the process of exploring those areas and I want to record it, and I want to share that with you. So the first thing, here, what’s in it for me, I want to improve my own skills. I want to level up my own abilities and meet interesting people.

That’s part number two for me, I really want to meet interesting people in this industry, but also outside of this industry. I think that we need a lot more thought leadership invited into our space. And so I’m going to reach out to universities, I’m going to reach out to different leaders from other industries, and I hope that I have enough guests to join me for this. And I’ll definitely be soliciting you the listener for any contacts you may have. So towards the end of my episodes, I may kind of talk about here are some things I’d love to address in the next three months. And if you have any contacts for people who would be great to speak on that topic, I’d love for you to engage with me on that. Number three, pretty obvious and intuitive to this, but again, bringing transparency around this podcast, number three is building my own personal brand.

So I do consulting work as a full-time job. Now I launched that business at the beginning of this year, 2021, and I know that having a podcast, doing some blogs, being active on social media, these are ways to build my own personal brand and build my brand as a thought leader in the space of leadership strategy and innovation in senior living. So again, while I feel that I have a lot of expertise to lend in those areas, I know that I can improve my own abilities along the way. So being able to record this and share that learning process with all of you, there’s certainly going to be a benefit to me on my income producing side of things, which is building my own personal brand, and building the kind of audience to kind of source my consulting work, which is what puts bread on my family’s table.

So those are the three things that are in it for me, I get to level up my own skills. I get to meet interesting people and I get to build my own personal brand through this effort. Let’s move over to the guests. Here’s what I think would be in it for the guests. Number one is that they get to build their own thought leadership brand. So I’ve got a few people in mind already for the first couple of months, couple of episodes. And I really hope that they say yes, a couple have said yes, but I’m really excited about their opportunity to continue to build their leadership brand. There are certainly people I’d love to talk to that I probably won’t ever have access to. But maybe, who knows. But I think that there are people that are accessible that are maybe leading their own businesses that are entrepreneurs and consultants themselves.

And I think that their being on this show allows them to build and continue to grow their own thought leadership brand. Number two, this is really going to appeal to guests who want to share their expertise. I think that we are all part teacher, part student, and this is an opportunity for people to play the role of teacher. So the guests who will be on this show, it’ll be me and them, and I’m going to walk through, you know, questions and topics and explore things that really just kind of drive my own curiosity and expose the things that I want to improve about myself. It’s almost like a counseling session of professional skills that you get to listen in on. And then here’s number three, whether they are in the industry of senior living or healthcare or not, I think it’s a neat opportunity for people to kind of tap into an audience, share their expertise in a new way. Particularly for people who are not in our industry that come on as guests.

I think that’s a really neat opportunity for people to influence the world of senior living, the way that we regard the aging process, the way that we look at older adults in our country. I think it’s a neat opportunity for people like if you’re normally in the tech world and speaking to a tech audience, if you can bring that expertise into senior living and know that by the end of this conversation, maybe you’ve affected somebody’s thinking in how they’re gonna address problems facing the senior living industry. So, you know, those are kind of what I have in mind in terms of what’s in it for the guests on the show.

And last, but certainly not least there’s you, the listener. There is no show, there are no podcasts without you, the listener, the audience, and I really hope that this is something that will be of value to you. Enough to the point where you listen in on a regular basis, that you engage with me and then share it with other people. So here’s what I hope in terms of what’s in it for you, the listener. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for you to level up your own skills. I think that learning is sometimes really not approachable, meaning sometimes I know I’ve felt this way, that there were areas that I wanted to improve, that I didn’t necessarily want to go expose those weaknesses to my own boss. So for example, if I wanted to learn about financial statements and get into a position to be an executive director or a business office manager, you know, it felt odd to go to somebody and say, “Hey, I want to do this job. And by the way, will you teach me a little bit about some of the core things that I should already know?”

So I hope that as we explore topics throughout this podcast, it’s an ability for you to really just kind of be a fly on the wall and listen in on the learning process that I’m going to go through. And in that regard, level up your own skills. So I will certainly introduce and kind of foreshadow topics that I’d like to go through. And this is kind of an encyclopedia kind of method here. You don’t have to listen to the episodes in order, you can just listen to the ones that interest you. But a topic might be, for example, one of the first podcasts that I’m going to do is on the topic of strategy.

So what is strategy? How do we define it? Why is it important and why do a lot of people get it wrong? So the podcast title will explicitly say, this one is about strategy. This one is about data science. This one is about whatever. So, you know, there’s a lot of different topics that we can go through. There’s an endless list, honestly. So what’s in it for you first and foremost, your ability to tap into a conversation that’ll help you level up your own skills. Number two, these are certainly aspirational for me, is that I hope that this podcast will give you kind of a route to an engaged learning community. I think that there is extraordinary power in learning from a community where there’s no pressure, it’s social learning. And in fact, those of you in the learning and development profession will certainly know this.

I know from that time that I was a sales trainer in our industry, that social learning contributes to far more of our own professional growth, than formal learning, you know, structured learning in terms of like your supervisor to you, social learning, is really what this is about. So, hope number two is that you can be a part of an engaged learning community. And number three, really, there’s kind of some crossroads here in some of the other stakeholders, but number three is that you gain access to a variety of experts. I feel sometimes that there’s a lot of the same speakers. There’s a lot of the same topics. There’s a lot of the same subject matter experts within the world of senior living. And I am certainly cognizant of the fact that I might fit into that category that I just described.

So I’d love to be able to speak to a lot of different people. But I can imagine there are times when people are like, “Oh, James, I’ve heard him speak before. What are you going to say this time?” So, if you’ve ever felt that way about me, this is a way that I hope will expand on that and bring new voices into these conversations. So, number three is gain access to a variety of different experts that we might otherwise not hear from in this industry. So there you have it, that’s putting everything on the table. What’s in it for me? I get to improve my own skills, meet people, build my own personal brand that leads to paid work. What’s in it for our guests? They get to build their own leadership brand, share their expertise, and impact the senior living profession.

And what’s in it for you, the audience? You get to be a fly on the wall, level up your own skills, be a part of an engaged learning community and get access to these really cool experts from a variety of different fields. So there’s my mission statement. There’s my wish and what I’ll put out into the universe. I hope that this is a successful podcast in that it meets all of those value propositions. And I promise to be engaged here with you, the listener, because again, there’s no podcast without you. So I hope you’ll join me on this journey of the Level Up leadership podcast. I want to end this episode by thanking the Bridge The Gap team. They have been so instrumental in helping me to kind of think of myself in a way that it gets really uncomfortable to think about yourself from a position of, you might have something to say that others want to listen to.

And there’s this, let’s be honest, there’s this kind of icky feeling about putting attention on yourself. But the Bridge The Gap team, Josh, and Lucas and Sara, those three in particular, they’ve really helped me to just have the courage to put it out there and that for the people that my message, you know, if it resonates with you, you’re going to stick around and if it doesn’t then, you know, no harm, no foul. So, they’ve been incredible in giving me ideas. They in fact are the ones that produce this podcast for me. There’ll be partners and getting the word out there and my podcast will live kind of as a subset of their Bridge The Gap, umbrella brand. And I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that.

So thanks to you guys for starting all of this. And I hope that I am a good steward of that idea that if we educate and inform and influence those people in our industry, that it means a whole lot of good for not just the seniors, not just the families, but also all of us. So thanks to you guys for being a part of this and as a little Omaj to that, Lucas McCurdy, my great friend and co-host of the Bridge The Gap podcast, he’s the voice. He’s the voice that intros and outros me in all of my episodes. So there’s my little nod to you, buddy. I appreciate all of your support. Thanks for listening to Level Up leadership podcast. And I can’t wait to experience this journey and have you along for the ride. So here’s Lucas sending me out.

Thanks for listening to Level Up podcast. We hope you’re inspired to lead every day with both your head and your heart. Connect with James Lee at and on social media @seniorlivingguy.

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Level Up: Ep. 1 – Why this podcast?