LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 03

Leadership Brings It All Back to Mission

May 13, 2013 | by Gene Mitchell

Leadership Brings It All Back to Mission

The number of leadership models out there, and the quantity of books, programs and other resources on improving leadership that are available, may seem intimidating at first to someone interested in the how of leadership.

But one thing that became apparent in talking to LeadingAge members in developing this issue was the central role of mission—the why of leadership.

Our members devour leadership advice that can make them better at their work. But I’m often struck, when talking to them, by the way discussions of leadership almost always find their way back to mission. Getting better at leadership isn’t done in the name of efficiency for its own sake. It’s done in service to the mission that these not-for-profit providers live by, and ultimately to the people they serve. In some cases leadership is a matter of refocusing an organization that has drifted away from its mission; in others, it might be adapting a firmly held mission to new realities and a changing world.

In this issue, you’ll read about how members meet “The Challenge of Leadership.” It starts, however, with a take on leadership that has nothing to do with running a CCRC or adapting to changes in regulation or funding. Read “The Power of a GoGo,” by former LeadingAge chair Steve Proctor. He tells the story of the kind of leadership that’s needed in a place of desperate need: Zimbabwe, an African country that has been devastated by AIDS, leaving vast numbers of orphaned children to be cared for by grandparents (truly fearless leaders in their own right), along with churches and NGOs.

In “Leadership in Action: Case Studies,” there are several stories illustrating a variety of leadership challenges—from turning around an underperforming organization to refocusing an established provider on new opportunities to revving up creativity to meet challenging changes in funding models.

Good governance can’t be left out of the leadership equation. See “Leadership Through Governance: Boards Take Action for the Future” to learn how boards have made innovative changes to update their focus and practices.
The next feature was a lot of fun to do. Following an informal poll of members to learn what leadership and management resources they lean on, we interviewed some of the respondents to find out how they used their favorite books and other resources. Members had a lot to say! See “What’s On Your Leadership Bookshelf?

One of the most exciting developments of the last decade in our field has been the launch of new leadership academies—both by LeadingAge and increasingly, by our state association partners—to groom the next generation of leaders in aging services. Read “Seven Years of Leadership Lessons” for LeadingAge Leadership Academy fellows’ insights into how the experience changed them and helped their organizations.

Want to find leaders with a lifetime of experience? Look no further than the residents and clients you serve. “It’s All About the People We Serve” (this issue’s installment of our “People We Serve” series), profiles remarkable seniors and staff in our member organizations. One amazing thing about these stories is discovering how many of those seniors have been accomplished leaders in their long lives.

In our Leadership Department article, “Thriving By Adaptation,” we interviewed Mary Jo Lewis, M.D., who comes at the subject from the perspective of a physician and health system administrator. She presented an interesting half-day session on “adaptive leadership”—based on the work of Ronald Heifetz and others—at this year’s PEAK Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.

In “Nursing Homes May Have to Adapt, Rebrand to Thrive,” you’ll see how one member is planning to change the ways it approaches one of its traditional strengths—skilled nursing—to cope with health care reform, consumer demands and an underserved demographic.

There’s one thing I heard many times in my conversations with members about leadership books: practical beats theoretical. That principle is illustrated on a micro scale by a member-written article, “Better Communication Means Better Staff Problem-Solving.” Learn how one member has found a technique to help supervisors deal with frontline staff performance issues, improving discipline and reducing turnover.