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Level Up Ep. 4: A Leadership Culture

James Lee reunites with managers from the first community where he was an Executive Director to recall and revisit what elements of their leadership culture made the team special.  Does culture correlate to performance?  How does an interview signal the culture of the leader and the team? How do you get an entire group of people to buy in to and contribute to a positive culture?

In this episode, we take a look behind the curtain to ask the central question about culture and its relevance in business – does culture impact performance?
Meet the Guests:
  • Karen Dooley – the Sales and Marketing Director.  Today she is the Sales and Marketing Director at Memory Care of Westover Hills in San Antonio, TX
  • Lora Williams – the Health and Wellness Director.  Today she is the owner of Williams Career School of Excellence in San Marcos, TX
  • Angela Mattingly – the Memory Care Program Coordinator.  Today she is the Sales and Marketing Director with Civitas Senior Living.


James:
Hi and welcome to another episode of Level Up with James Lee. I have a really fun episode in store here for us today. I have invited members of the management team where I was a first-time executive director. And I have three of those managers on the call with me today. They’ve all gone off to do their own things. And this is a little bit of a mini-reunion for us. So I’m excited to have this conversation and share it with all of you. So welcome, ladies. Good to see you again.
Ladies:
You too.
James:
Karen, Angela, Lora. I wish we could do this in person. But we’re all a little bit far away from each other. Angela, you went the furthest to Dallas, so when you get back to San Antonio, we’ll have to see you in person. But it’s so good to see all of you. How are you doing right now during the pandemic world of senior living? First of all, how are you guys? Lora, I’ll start with you. Who’s going to speak first. I’ll direct traffic here. So Lora, how are you doing?
Lora:
I’m doing very well, actually. On a personal note, I’ve just been grateful because now we have a senior in the house, so it’s been exciting. I took the promotion from Brookdale, so I was able to be at home with the girls and really cherish that time because I’m about to have a college student it’s kind of weird. So on a professional note, my husband and I launched our own career school and we started off with a CNA program and we’re about to launch his HVAC program. So a lot has happened since our time working together. So we’ve definitely utilized the COVID pandemic to move forward.
James:
That’s amazing. You know what, as we’re doing this, it occurs to me. I should introduce who all of you are because I know you of course, but the listeners don’t. So Lora Williams was our fearless leader in the clinical world, our health, and wellness director. She is now the, well, she just gave her own intro here. So she’s running a school for CNA’s and just kicking butt. It’s awesome to see you. Thanks for being on with me today. Karen Dooley, sales director extraordinaire, Karen and I have had a chance to work together more than once. She signed up for it more than one time. So she’s either crazy or she really believes in what we’re doing. Maybe a little bit of both Karen.
Karen:
Yeah, I would agree. It’s a little bit of both. Lora don’t laugh too hard.

James:
Karen, how are you doing right now?

Karen:
Good and doing really, I’m a sales and marketing director for a stand-alone memory care community, which I just love the work that we’re doing. I’m doing a lot of zooms, promotional and educational items on that. So, a lot of zooms, educational CEUs that I’m talking to a lot of people, during this time in the pandemic and reaching out and see how we can help.
James:
Yeah. How’s my buddy Allen doing?
Karen:
Allen’s good. Allen’s good. He’s doing really well. He’s been working from home this year and I’m sure everyone understands that. Coco Chanel, I don’t think you’ve met the new edition. You got a chance to meet her.
James:
Well, Coco and Chanel, Karen’s two dogs, at the time her two dogs made a lot of appearances at our community and so we just had to kind of look past that people were bringing in pets to work. And speaking of bringing pets to work, Angela Mattingly, our Clare Bridge, our memory care director for the community where we were at, and here’s Bernie. Hi, Bernie making an appearance on Level Up.
James:
Angela, You moved away from San Antonio. Where are you? How are you doing?
Angela:
I’m great. I am in Dallas, Texas now working, as a sales and marketing director at a campus, independent living assisted living and memory care and a Midlothian.
James:
Well, we have other members of our team who we’re recording this episode at 7:00 PM and these two couldn’t make it because they’re both at work. And that’s pretty typical of assisted living. So, Patrick Madewell and Jennifer Cooley, when you listen to this episode, just know we missed you on this recording, but we’re thinking about you guys too. So let’s dive in. I invited you to this episode, we didn’t do really any prep for this, right? So everybody just nod your head in acknowledgment that there was no prep for this other than let’s talk about our leadership team. So I have no idea where this episode is going to go, but I’m interested to have the conversation I don’t know about you, but I think about our time together at Brookdale San Antonio and I think how magical that time was.

James:
I’ve been in a lot of senior living communities before that and after that, but there was just something really magical about that team. And incidentally was also the first time I’d ever been in a lead leadership role of that kind. It was a first-time executive director role for me. And the three of you along with Patrick and Jennifer were people that I somehow, through luck and fortune met and had the pleasure of hiring you onto the team. And I’m sure all three of you have some stories about the interview process. I don’t know if I want to bring that up, but we’ll talk about that. Okay. We’ll talk a little bit about the interview process. But what an amazing time that was for me, and I hope it was for all of you. So I’ll just start there, with kind of an open-ended question. What was your memory of the leadership culture of our team and what do you think made it special for you?
Lora:
I’ll jump in. Initially, the first thought that comes to mind is that I was challenged on the level that I hadn’t been in my career. And I think that really made me enjoy it the most because I am an individual that gets bored pretty quickly, especially if I’m doing something over and over and over. I mean, nursing already has it surprises, but to be a health and wellness director and assistant living, I had already had a role exactly the same underneath different leadership. And I had a perception of that. But I specifically chose you because you challenged me in the interview process. And instead of me just being interviewed, I almost felt like a student and that excited me and made it more intriguing. So I knew that I would grow and that’s what I expected to do is to grow. And I would hands down would say that that was the best part of my career as a health and wellness director. And as an LVN before I got my RN, for sure.
James:
Yeah. It’s interesting that that interview process was kind of when you committed to that journey. And of course, all of us on this call together, we know what challenges we experienced at that community, but also how that probably made us stronger as individuals and as teammates. So I remember Lora, when we did the interview, I think I gave you a homework assignment, didn’t I? Did everybody else get a homework assignment? Or was that just exclusive to Lora? I don’t remember if I did. Oh, you still have it? So Lora is holding up a post-it note. So Lora, what was your recollection of that interview moment and the post-it note?
Lora:
I remember it verbatim actually. I think one of the questions you were asking me was about my training and development style because I had mentioned that I really, and it makes sense that we have a school because I really see importance of training and educating the people that are taking care of our seniors. But, you told me to put my trainers down on an index card, not an index card, a post-it note. So obviously, I leave this interview and I’m like, okay, like really help me Lord. How am I going to sum up all of these thoughts in my mind? You know, the years of experience, because at the time I still was on staff at ACC. So I taught and I hadn’t been teaching, so I never let it go, but I was thinking, how am I going to just put all of that on this? So, that, you know, had me up for a little while, but it also caused me to focus in and really create a strategy around what I did instead of it just being this thing that I know inside and that it would just come out if you ask in that moment. So even in that moment, I had to think about what is my strategy? How am I going to develop these individuals that I’m entrusted with?
James:
And did you feel like that kind of that assignment followed through then that style was kind of consistent through our work?
Lora:
Definitely. We built upon it over and over and over and ultimately our goal was to perfect it to some degree. Right?
James:
I’ll tell you, you had the job before the homework assignment. But I was just really curious what you would bring back from that. That’s awesome. So, Angela, I’d love to kind of ask you the same question. What’s your memory of the experience of being on that team together? What made it stand out for you?
Angela:
I think coming straight out of college as a graduated music therapist,I really had not found a job as a music therapist. And so I kind of started looking into senior living and really thought, okay, well, I can merge this experience kind of in a purposeful way. In the meantime, and, what I was kind of really intrigued by in the interview and when I started was you saw that in me and you let me bring that to the table. It wasn’t just, you know, well, I know you did this, but this is how we do this. It was, that can be great. And, I was just really inspired, I think, was the word that you had this out-of-the-box kind of perspective on engagement.
James:
Yeah. Well and I hope that your experience was that wasn’t a gimmick or a shtick of the interview, but if the actions followed through and letting you kind of develop the program, even as a first-time professional in our field if you don’t have that autonomy and that kind of the keys to the car if you will, you’re just not going to be engaged. And I’ve worked with so many program people and I think we’d all say Angela knocked it out of the park in her first go around. So I want to come back to that here in just a moment, but hold on, let me take a sip of my whiskey before I go over to Karen, Karen Dooley. I’ve had the pleasure of working with you more than once. I have so much respect for you. I’m saying all of these nice things, just so when you talk about our team, you’re front-loaded with a lot of niceties.
Karen:
I see your strategy, James.
James:
In all sincerity, we started that professional relationship together at a community that was really struggling with occupancy. It’s a hot topic. It always has been, and it continues to be a hot topic in our industry is occupancy. And most people, just have the opinion that sales and marketing is like this standalone thing. And you just have to put your head down and work hard and everything will be better. We had some pretty great success, from a sales perspective, I think we started in our 50 percentile. And then by the time I left the community where we were in our mid-seventies on our way to 80 and then some. So when you think back on our time together, what made the leadership culture of that community stand out for you?
Karen:
Yeah, well, I have a post-it note too, and this was on my computer every day. It says, I don’t know if you guys could see that, but it says goal operating margin 25% and occupancy 84% at the end of the year. So this is on my computer and I’ve kept it all this time. I found it in my desk, but I think James, it all started with the interview. And I remember that interview like it was yesterday. It was like three hours long. But it was a conversation and it gets you inspired and motivated and your mind just keeps going. Everyone that comes out of an interview, I think maybe a little worse for the ware, like what just happened to me. Right. I just got interviewed by James Lee, but I think it all starts with the interview in that you find people that challenge the status quo. You don’t just want to be outside the box and do things differently. And when you challenge us to do that, it starts with the leaders that want to do things differently. I think that’s how the culture started, you know?
James:
Yeah. You know, culture has to start somewhere. And it doesn’t always have to be the executive director. It certainly helps if it is the executive director, but as a team, there was something real palpable about that team. And, I remember one of my proudest moments was being out on paternity leave for six weeks, eight weeks. And I came back, I didn’t get a single phone call or a text message or an email while I was gone. And then not only that but when I came back, you guys had like eight move-ins or something as a team. We had like hiring events and I was like, I came back and the community was so much better than when I left. And I thought how amazing that was. And I think that right there is a testament to leadership isn’t a person, but it’s a culture. It’s our entire team. What do you guys remember about that time? When I wasn’t in the building for eight weeks, what was that like? I actually have never asked you guys what that time was like.

Lora:
It was different. I just remember it being different because, number one, we were celebrating with you. It was a very unique time, not to have you in the building leading the stand-ups. I know we talked about the interview, but even our stand-up meetings were always about development. It was never like, Hey, this is what I’m doing today. And bye. There was always this thing that we have to think about and focus on or meditate on if you would throughout the week. So to try to maintain that, I think that was a challenge for our team. I don’t know about what y’all think, but I think that in itself, we have to start the day off with some type of focus and to just continue to keep that energy and that the team, the job of the team together. So that was one of the thoughts that comes to my mind initially.
James:
Yeah. Karen, what are your thoughts?
Karen:
Well, you know, I remember you always said, “The test of the team is how it works when you’re not there.” And you had a joke that when you weren’t there, we always got move-ins.
James
Yeah. That’s true. It was no longer a joke because it happened all the time.
Karen:
I know, but I think that’s just a testament to you as a leader and our team together that whether you were there or not, even though you’re our fearless like we carried on and did what we needed to do and made it happen.
James:
Yeah, I was so proud to come back to that community. I knew it would be fine. But I came back and I think all of the regionals were like, ‘James, could you take a little bit more time off from work? Everyone’s doing really great without you.’ So let’s pivot from that a little bit. And I’m curious about culture and performance. It’s again, one of those things that our industry talks about a lot that, does culture matter? Does it actually translate to performance? I think we’ve talked about the interview and how that was a little different. We kind of alluded to stand up. Our stand-ups were epic! Sometimes they were like, I could sense in the room, like, okay, wrap it up, James. We’ve all got work to do. But other times it was like, I could feel that energy in the room, like, okay, we’re back to work, you know, let’s get going. And I’m curious what standup meetings have been for you all, since that time.
Karen:
Well, James, I think you have to explain kind of our standup culture because nobody does it the way that we did it.
Angela:
The whiteboard.
James:
The whiteboard culture. Absolutely. So what I remember about the standup, one of the things I committed to going into that role was, I’d been a part of so many standup meetings where it was just a reporting of what you did that day. And people spent maybe shorter amounts of time together, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, but all you got was, here’s what everyone else is doing today. And I thought, even if we have to spend a little bit more time, let’s build our culture in this moment at standup. And so I knew that I may not see some of you for the rest of the day, depending on how the day went. And I thought if I only get 30 minutes or 45 minutes, whatever the time needed to be, this was our investment in our leadership culture.
James:
And that’s where I had to go all in. So I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that most of my leadership prep was to prep for standup. And then it was like, okay, the day is often running. So one of the main components of standup that I remember is the introduction of the leadership quote. And so I really wanted us to focus on our building and our thinking of leadership, more so than the actions we were doing every single day. So I started off with that. I would bring a leadership quote for the week on Monday. I love quotes. You guys know that. I put up a quote for the week, we would discuss it, and then throughout the rest of the week, everybody would give us like applications of that leadership quote. It would be something to challenge you, focus us as a team.
James:
And then what was really cool was that on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, people would bring back, ‘Hey, I was thinking about the quote when I came across this situation.’ And then, ‘here’s what I did with it.’ That naturally evolved into you guys taking the reins on that. So, we all went on rotation and Angela would bring the quote for the week and then Karen would do it the next week. And, Patrick always tried to get out of it. And he was like, no, I did it two weeks ago. But that was really fun for me to take a step back. And it was all of those moments of, I may have introduced something, but then the moment of stepping back and seeing everybody else just step into that leadership role was really, really amazing for me. What was it like on your end? Angela, I’m interested for your thoughts on this.

Angela:
I really liked it because for me, that was my first impression of senior living. It was my first time being in a standup and so it was all I knew until I left and I had experienced other stand-ups, which y’all would agree is the typical experience of a standup. But, I liked that we felt like we all were contributing to it. We all had to buy into this vision. It was something that you kind of gave us and we either had to take it or not take it. And we did because we all bought in and we all wanted to be a part of it. So I really liked that practice.
James:
Lora, what about that stand-up was kind of indicative of our leadership culture for you? So beyond me introducing anything, what did it become for you? What was stand up for you? And I guess more importantly, what have you taken away from that? What do you still maybe do today not as a replica of what we did, but what are some things that you learned that have become a part of your own leadership style today?
Lora:
So I think I remember at least one quote that everybody did. For Angela, it was from the book, “Girl Wash Your Face,” and I actually purchased that book based on the quote you shared. And for me, I think one quote that I shared towards the end of my time there really sums up our culture, which was by Steve Jobs when he described his dad telling him to paint the fence, and he did what everybody does is painted it on the outside. And his dad challenged him, why didn’t you paint the inside? And his quote was, “Because only we see it.” And really that quote has been resounding in my mind in the past few months because I remember that that was our focus. It wasn’t about the outside of the building, now yes, obviously, hands-down our maintenance guy did what they’re supposed to do, so it looked aesthetically well.

Lora:
And actually, Karen made sure that it looked aesthetically well, and on the inside. But we invested in us, we invested in our caregivers, every role that was in that community, we had them in mind. So the standup challenged us on that frontline staff that we had to then lead after we left that building. So that whole meeting for 30 minutes, sometimes it would be an hour, it shaped how we viewed every interaction from that day. So that’s kind of what it sums up for me, how do I implement it now? So our school is not the average CNA school. We do have a leadership focus because being in senior living, starting off as a CNA myself, and just kind of do a stair-stepping in my career, I understand that what causes caregivers to stand out the most and not so much for another role, but just even how they provide care to that senior when the doors are closed, it’s all about their perception of themselves. So, I knew that was important prior to our experience, but I definitely felt it and I saw the fruit of it because of our experience. So it’s definitely something that I carry on in our family business, for sure.
James:
I’m so proud of the experience that we all had of taking care of our frontline. I don’t know if y’all remember this stat, but it’ll never leave my head. We went from an annual turnover rate of, I think 128% down to 62% at the time that I last measured it. And it had probably gotten better since then, but I left kind of in the middle of a period of measurement. But that’s incredible to go from over a hundred percent, which is about average in our industry, to get it down about 62% of the very next year. And then, whittle away at that. I’m going to share a story of one of our frontline associates. You know, maybe you guys will think of something too. But I remember one morning, I got a text from somebody and all of the cooks were gone for one reason or another.
James:
And so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get up.’ And I went to the community. Gosh, I forgot his name now. I think what was that young man’s name? Maybe you’ll remember. But I showed up to work and there was a young gentleman there. I think he was maybe 20 years old. He wasn’t scheduled to work that day. His wife was expecting to give birth, I think that week. And I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he was like, ‘I heard the cooks weren’t here. So I came in to cook.’ I was like, ‘Who called you?’ He was like, ‘Nobody, I heard nobody was available.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, go back to the hospital. Thank you for being here.’ But that’s amazing.
James:
Like, I’m here to cook, don’t worry. But that was such a cool experience for me to walk into the community and see this young man who, this is probably one of his first jobs. He’s about to have a kid and he thought so much about the residents here and the culture of our team allowed him to think, I’m just going to come in and do it and it’s going to be fine. And of course, it would have been fine. And had I not been there, it would have really been clutch for him to be there to cook. But I just remember that story. And I remember there were so many stories like that. And I wonder, what you all think led to that, cause that’s not normal, is it? I mean, it’s not normal that that experience that we had happened all the time, right? Yeah. Karen, what do you think? Why do you think that happened so often at our community?
Karen:
You know, and I think James, you put on the whiteboard.
James:
Yes. We’re going to come back to the whiteboard, cause this is definitely an inside joke. And I’ll explain that. Yeah, go ahead.
Karen:
But you put three words on there and you talked about as your motto: engage, educate, and innovate. Right? And so everybody there talked about it. How many times have we talked about engage, educate, and innovate? Like drilled into us. But everybody got that and understood that. And so you didn’t wait for somebody to tell you to do something. You just did it. And that was the culture. You just did it.
James:
I love, I love that y’all remember that. So for people who are listening, it was basically a pyramid. It was a kind of a leadership culture thing that we all bought into. It was a pyramid with three layers. The bottom layer was to educate and everything that we aspired to do as a team was built on education for ourselves and for our teammates. And that as leaders, that was our first responsibility was to educate people. And then if you had that, you could move to the second layer, which was to engage. And Angela talked about that earlier that, like it’s a different feeling to engage in your work versus just participate in your work. And then that very top layer was innovate. So you can’t get to that stage without the first two. And so over and over, we kind of use that as kind of a leadership model for us. And I remember Mike, our maintenance director, he went to an interview and he used that. He used that to talk about his leadership style and he got himself like a $10,000 raise and went off to another job. And then he came and he told me that he used that in the interview.
James:
But I was so proud of him too. Cause I remember one of my first interactions with Mike was, he was like, I’m just kinda, he just admitted it, he was like, I’m kinda, I’m stuck in my ways and I know what I need to do and I’ll get it done. And by the end of it all, he kind of turned around.
Karen:
I think he said that in stand-up didn’t he?

Lora:
All the time. I just shoot at the hip, that was his other one. I just shoot at the hip.
James:
So let’s go back to the whiteboard cause actually, so there’s an inside joke here about the whiteboard, but I also think it led to a little bit of this kind of culture on our team. Angela, what do you remember about the whiteboard? So for people who don’t know our team, what’s the deal with the whiteboard?
Angela:
So the whiteboard you would use to create different things for us to reflect on, to teach us different leadership models, and to really help kind of guide our vision for our team.
James:
Yeah, that whiteboard was in our kind of standup office area. It was a small one too. It wasn’t that big, But I remember, well the big one I’ll get to that one, the one that was in the office was just a little thing that, you know, little picture frame size whiteboard that we had in the office. And I remember we would go through the meeting and at some point, I would just migrate over to that whiteboard and we would kind of draw out the thing that we were talking about. Sometimes literally we would just draw a diagram of it and kind of work it out in real-time. And, by far and away, the best gift I have ever received from a team, was one Christmas, I went up to the activities room, everybody was gathered there. I was like, what are we doing here? Did I miss something? And then you guys kind of revealed this huge rolling whiteboard. It was gigantic. And I remember just feeling so happy and so proud in that moment of like something that was just a small little thing for us in a whiteboard became so pervasive in our culture that you guys chipped in on the biggest whiteboard I’ve ever seen, and then jokes on you, I use the whiteboard all the time and we took it everywhere.
Karen:
Yeah. And that thing was on wheels! It was massive. And what I remember too is we all wrote sayings or things that we’ve learned on there too, like I remember MBAR. It got drilled into us. And a lie and revenue minus expenses and just all the things that we’ve learned. And we all wrote on the board and you were so excited because you’re just an educator. You just are, and you love that.
James:
I was excited to see that and it was really just a touching gesture of like, Hey, we’re behind, what we’re doing here. And it was funny, first of all, and I had a good laugh. And then when I sat down to think about it, it was such a perfect gift because it was indicative of what we all bought into. I want to move to kind of like a final topic here and then I want to leave some time for you all to kind of summarize and leave some takeaways here for people who are listening to this and are thinking about leveling up. Leveling up their own skills and their abilities. I’m interested for you to summarize, what was one of your takeaways from that time and how can people draw a lesson from that and incorporate it into their own lives?

James:
So we’ll end on that note. But before we do, the last thing I wanted to talk about was, coming back to something we brought up earlier, which is culture and performance. How does culture translate to performance? And at the end of the day, if we were to go back and look at all of our measurements, our occupancy, our NOI, our psychotropic med-use, our falls, our engagement, all of those things. We improved in all of those measures, but we rarely talked about them specifically in terms of like, ‘Hey guys, let’s all work on this KPI or let’s work on this KPI.’ You know, the results were kind of an after-effect of the work that we truly did as a team. I remember the first quarterly business review that we did.
James:
And then it led into future quarterly business reviews. And people still honestly don’t believe me that we did this as a team. So here’s kind of proof in that. So the quarterly business review was going back to that pyramid of educate, engage, innovate. It was my commitment to the team that if I’m going to be a leader of people here, I have to lead with education. And so the very first thing I thought was, let’s talk about business. Let’s talk about financial literacy. Let’s talk about NOI, let’s talk about expenses. Let’s talk about revenue. Let’s talk about all of these things. And I remember the first one that we did, everybody kind of walked in like, Oh, what are we doing? And I think I prepped most of the stuff into the first business review.
James:
A few of the managers had a little bit more comfort with it because like in the world of sales, we talk a lot of metrics, but even Karen, I think you were challenged through some of those quarterly business reviews to push beyond what you already knew. But I remember for the most part, people were mixed of like excited and a little bit of, I’m not sure what to expect from this. I’d love to hear from your perspective, your experience of that, and in particular, the latter, the later versions of the quarterly business review. So we all know the first one was a little bit nervous for people, but by the second or third or fourth time we did it, I mean, I’ve got some takeaways here, but I’m going to hold on to that because I want to hear what your thoughts are on that. Tell me about the business, the quarterly business reviews. What did you take away from that?
Karen:
Well, I’ll start because nowhere else would you really see department heads including a maintenance director, business office, the culinary director, putting together PowerPoint presentations about KPIs and smart goals and what their goal was if they reached it and how they can also improve on that. So the takeaway from the last one that we did, I remember, every single department talked about revenue. I remember you asked, what is your aha moment? I was like, I can’t believe everybody from activities to culinary, everybody put into… Angela did a survey. So just everybody talked about KPIs, revenue, and that’s really unheard of. It went up before you were even leveling up.
James:
That’s right. We were the original level up. This team right here. Angela, I remember that, I remember you did a survey and you collected your own data because the data wasn’t like available. In the same way with nursing and with sales and with maintenance and finance, there’s a lot of systems that are already in place for you to measure performance and data, but for resident engagement, even though there’s more companies doing that now, even four years ago, three years ago, there wasn’t a lot of options. So I remember you did a survey to collect some feedback and data from, I think, family members and I can see it in your eyes. You’re like, okay.
Angela:
I remember now.
James:
But tell me about your experience about the quarterly business reviews. What was that like for you?
Angela:
I loved it. Being in sales now, it’s so easy to measure everything, but in an activities role, it is a challenge to be able to measure activities and engagement in that way. And so I think the biggest takeaway for me from the whole experience at that community, might’ve been these because for me, that was really my aha moment. Like I want to do more, I want to keep going because I had never been exposed to the fact that activities has such a big correlation with falls and that the wellness director and activities directors really need to partner together. And that makes a huge difference in overall quality of life and quality of care. So, I think it was huge that you let us kind of involving all the stakeholders and making us feel like we all had purpose and had a piece of it even maintenance and culinary. Like you said, diets for residents and budget. I thought that was amazing.
James: (39:46):
Yeah, it really was a special moment for all of us, I think. And, you know, you said, I made you feel purpose and you know, I’m gonna change that a little bit too. I acknowledged your purpose. I acknowledge that we all bring purpose to the job, no leader, good, bad, or indifferent gives you purpose. All they can do is acknowledge that you have it. And then help you bring your full self to the job. And that was something that I always, tried to be very mindful of is that, like we did a lot of one-on-ones, all of us. A lot of one on ones. And you think about organizations or teams where you have your annual performance review. Like once a year, you sit down with your supervisor and you talk about the entire year’s performance and you try to summarize that up. How often did we have coaching conversations?
Karen:
Every week.

Lora:
I mean, it was pretty often. I couldn’t even give it a number, but it was very focused. So when we say that, I think just for the audience that it wasn’t like, we just decided this week is going to, we had a goal in mind that we could measure based on where we want it to go. And who were involved in it. So you didn’t just tell us, Hey Lora, this is what you should focus on. This was something that I had to buy in for myself and really put a vision to the department that I was leading.
Angela:
I also think, I would say maybe I saw mine closer to quarterly, like the really structured and plans one, you always gave me an agenda in advance, so I can really work through it and come prepared. But it, wasn’t also just about performance. It was about what can I do for you personally and professionally? What do you want? Not just about, just the job and activities. It was about what can I do for you to help you get there?
James:
Yeah. Yeah. There was definitely a lot of prep, I think on both sides. You knew anytime we were having a coaching conversation, it wasn’t off the cuff. I was not shooting from the hip. We prepped for that. You had an agenda and more importantly, as you guys have referenced, you contributed to that. You contributed to the agenda. And I think, when we ask ourselves, did our culture correlate to our performance? I think that’s a pretty resounding yes.
James:
I don’t think anybody could look at that team and think, they had okay performance. I mean, in the end, we weren’t a hundred percent with the full waitlist, but when you think about where we came from to where we ended up at the end of all of our time there together anyway, it was pretty undeniable that the performance that we had as a team derived from all of these things that we’re talking about.

Lora:
Definitely.

James:
I wish we could all like just form a company and work together again. So, sorry to the bosses of anybody, on the call here. I’m not trying to poach people. But if I do get a chance, first three people I’m calling here. This has been really fun. Let’s wrap up here.
James:
Okay. So, we can go in any order and I’ll also contribute to this. This has been so fun for me and I gotta say, not just for this episode, but how much I appreciated that time. And I learned a lot. I really learned a lot as a leader as just as a person, not as a leader of a team, but just as a person. I had a lot of feelings and thoughts coming into that job of proving myself. And I think we all feel that in some way, in every role that we were in and I’m no different. And, you have insecurities as a person. You have things that you want to prove to yourself and other people, but what was really magical about that team was that you all invited me to lead and that that’s not a given. You all accepted that we are all gonna do this together.

James:
And that everybody has to have a part in this. And the fact that you allowed me to lead, even in moments when it was hard, we’ve all had some tough conversations, but there was always just this foundation of respect and love there. I’ll always be grateful for that time that we had. And so that was my big takeaway is that leaders learn as much from doing as they do from leading. So that was really fun for me. Let me let you all have kind of the last word here instead of James for crying out loud. Let’s let you all have the last word here. This podcast is about leveling up. It’s about challenging yourself to grow as a person. It’s about challenging yourself to question the things that you take for granted and think you know, and just to always improve yourself, and that that’s the best way to improve the lives of the people you love. So drawing upon our work experience together, is there one thing that you could maybe think of to give advice to a listener here who’s maybe listening for the first time? How should they think about culture and the importance of culture in their own personal and professional goals?
Karen:
Well, I think as I mentioned earlier, I think it starts in the interview. So, and oftentimes, you’re selling yourself and the company selling themselves for the job, but it’s so important to interview the boss. Who your direct supervisor is going to be, and ask them, what is the culture here? And if I’m coming up with the answer, that’s not a good sign. Cause then the culture isn’t intentional, right. And something you always have to be working towards. But, I think the secret sauce to really our team was we wanted to make each other better. And that I’m better today because I’m around all of you than challenging yourselves. And, we could bring out of the box ideas of, this is what I want to do when you’re like, okay, how are you going to do that? And not put in a box. And I think it starts with trust. The team that you’re on because we’re able to be vulnerable. You can make mistakes and not feel like you’re gonna get in trouble or whatever. Because you encouraged us to fail because that’s how you learned. Yeah. But we all were vulnerable. I think we’ve all seen each other cry, maybe not James, but all the girls cried. Maybe Kipp too. I think I saw him cry a couple tears. We were all vulnerable and that made it real and authentic.
James:
Yeah. I love that. I love those takeaways Karen. This has become an aha moment summary. I mean, how typical of us to get on a conversation and end with aha moments. Those are some good ones Karen. It’s funny, I was having a coaching call with somebody, it’s part of the work I do now in consulting, and I had a coaching call with somebody and she said at the end of it, “Has anybody ever cried with you before?” And I thought, yes, we have shed many a tear on our teams and in the interview. No, you guys did not cry in the interview and I wasn’t trying to make anybody cry. But you know what? We all got to a place where we felt the safety and the vulnerability, and I never took that for granted. And I hope you never felt like I did. It was such a huge sign of trust. And I wanted to safeguard that. So good takeaways, Dooley. Angela, Lora, what are your kind of bits of advice here in terms of culture and its role for professionals?
Angela:
I think my biggest takeaway would be the two phrases that I disliked hearing the most would be, ‘that’s not my job and that’s how we’ve always done it.’ So leaning on your teammates to collaborate is so, so important. Supporting each other, educating each other, knowing that staying in your lane is not an option. It’s so important. And the only way to really be successful is to support each other and to teach each other about each other’s jobs and how you can be successful together.
James:
Right. That’s amazing. You know, it’s such a timely takeaway too. We’ve all been living through this pandemic for over a year now. And, I think about my mind automatically went back to our team, our team. And I thought if I was going through the pandemic with this team, I would feel a lot safer right now. And I think part of that was this belief that you just take care of each other. And, it was funny to me at the time, but reflecting back on it, I realized how special it was that, you guys just on your own started bringing me lunch. Cause you’re like, James, did you eat today? And like a different person would just bring me food and then sit in my office and eat with me or just drop off food and leave.
James:
And I thought, how amazing that we all just took care of each other. Simple things of food and rest. And did you take time off? And, we didn’t just talk about like, Hey, you know, you have PTO. We would celebrate like, okay, what did you use your PTO for? Yeah. So I thought that was really good. Thanks for sharing that Ang. Lora wrap us up. What’s your takeaway for listeners on how to level up culture as a leader:

Lora:
The first thing that came to mind is to know that there is a culture. I think one of the many defining moments that we had was really defining our frontline workers. You were like, we need to know who they are and we need to know what challenges they face before they even walk into the door. And how do we develop them? And I think that still makes my heart burn because having students that are in a caregiving role, usually, it’s all a memory care they’re coming to our school. They’re telling me these stories that we would have just not had in our team. We just wouldn’t have allowed it number one, but two, the people that they’re sharing, how they do not give quality care, you know what I mean? They would have been developed a lot further.
Lora:
So I think that’s a big way to level up in senior living is to know who you’re hiring. Like, Karen, mentioned it a lot of times, we need you come on in. But we miss a significant opportunity to really know where that person wants to go in their career. Do they even have an idea of what that looks like? And also to kind of give a pulse to who we are as a leadership team? Are we going to take off our hat and go on the floor and work with those individuals. Just to kind of telling with what you were saying about the food. One thing that stood out to me throughout our time together, as you would come up to my office and you’d be like, Hey, Lora, are you still here?
Lora:
You know, and it wasn’t expected of me to be there doing 12 hours. And that was something I had to re-work in my mind. And I don’t think that’s a norm. It’s expected for the nurse to be there and labor alone a lot of times. So we did everything together and I think we need to know our team. We need to know number one, that they’re bringing in a culture, even if you don’t define it, there are several cultures that are influencing how your frontline workers are making decisions. And if you don’t define that a lot better for what that really looks like and raise that standard, then you’re going to have chaos. And sadly our seniors and the workers, even the ones that are very focused and great are going to just kind of suffer for it.

James:
Yeah, man, I feel like this is a masterclass for how to run an assisted living. Let’s record a few of these and sell them. Really, really amazing takeaways here. And that kind of reminded me of how we would celebrate people’s growth and their promotions, even if it wasn’t with us. And we would learn, ‘Oh, you want to go do this or you want to go do that,’ And then we would find those opportunities and you guys came up with a lot of those programs yourselves of like these internships that people could go do within our own community. And I remember celebrating one time, um, what was it? I think it was Aida.
James:
She was in culinary and then she got a job as a business office person for CarMax, I think. And I remember we all celebrated that. I mean if that’s not a picture of culture, I don’t know what it is. That we celebrated people’s growth wherever it was. And not only, but people didn’t do it behind the scenes, they did it in full view. You all truly allowed me to go start my MBA. I could not have done that without all of your buy-in to say, we’ve got your back. All three of our nurses started their RN program. Lora finished hers while we were working together. So many people leveled up during our time together and we not only supported it, but we encouraged it and we held people accountable to their own growth.
James:
And I think if you can bottle that up and give it to other people, just think what our industry would be if this was the norm. I think this is going to be a really cool episode for people to listen to. Karen, Angela, Lora, so good to see you. Thank you for sharing some of your time. You guys went really easy on me today. I thought I was going to get roasted a little bit more and all I got was interview and whiteboard. So I’m going to consider that a win. So good to see you all. And we should do this again. We won’t record it. We’ll get Patrick and Cooley and some others on that would be really, really fun. But I hope you guys are all doing great. I respect you all so much. I love you. I appreciate the work that we did. Thanks for being on with me tonight. Yeah. Thank you, James. Everybody else listening to Level Up, I hope you make it an awesome day. Go serve somebody in your own vision of how to do this thing. So thanks for listening to another episode of Level Up.

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Level Up Ep. 4: A Leadership Culture