Harry S. Truman said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Strong leadership is what helped develop the Assisted Living concept, bring it to life, and encourage it to grow. But what makes a good leader? And how can we encourage potential leaders within the ranks of Assisted Living employees?
While its communities solely serve residents with dementia, Silverado’s philosophy of what makes a great leader is universal. Kathy Greene, Vice President of Operations for Silverado, says that associates who exhibit passion and purpose are a great fit for an Assisted Living community. “We look for people who want to grow and to inspire others, people who want to make a difference and change lives,” she says. “We also look for someone that has business acumen, but we hire for the passion.”
Nathan Levoit, Silverado’s Senior Director of Employee Relations and Recruiting, agrees. “We want to know who you are, not necessarily what you do.” Instead of focusing on what an associate can do or has experience with, says Levoit, “we’re more interested in the why: why do you want to work at Silverado? Why do you want to care for residents?” He adds that they can teach the skills needed for a job, “but we can’t teach the passion.”
According to Greene, leaders within the community will also exhibit empathy, patience, and “the ability to listen with understanding.” She explains that team members may be as close to family members as they are to residents. A staff member with great leadership potential will be able to empathize and communicate effectively with all involved in the resident’s care. “We’re caring for the families, too,” says Greene, “and we want to hire people that understand that. Most of all, we are looking for heart.”
Levoit notes that the development of leadership begins with the hiring process. “When we’re hiring, we identify those individuals with the passion we’re looking for, then we have training available to encourage their leadership abilities.” Silverado’s Leadership Development Forum (LDF) is one such program.
According to Jim Farmer, Silverado’s Manager of Organizational Development, “the Leadership Development Forum is an intense, year-long program designed to equip candidates within the company that exhibit high potential with the skills needed to grow as leaders. We teach skills such as flexibility, business savvy, and communication styles. We teach them how to handle change within the profession.” The candidates meet every other month for two days. Throughout the intensive year-long process, candidates work on a “capstone project:” they identify a problem or opportunity in the organization, come up with a solution, and present it to the executive committee. Some of these projects are then implemented at a community or within the entire company.
Describing how the leaders are identified, Farmer says, “the process begins by asking current leaders to nominate a candidate—an employee that is looking to grow in the company or expand their influence in their current position. These nominees are then interviewed to determine if they will be a right fit for the program.” When the candidates are approved by the executive committee, they are invited to join the program.
“We host the sessions every other month at our home office in Irvine,” says Farmer. “Sessions are taught by executives, who share both their successes and their mistakes. It’s a great way to build relationships and to show that there are always new learning opportunities.”
Levoit adds, “I am a graduate of the LDF program, and I found the relationships built with my fellow participants to be very valuable. You get to know people at all different levels and in different positions.”
According to Farmer, in the course of the year, the participants will read three books, as well as 10 to 15 case studies and journal articles. They’ll write two papers and complete four personality and leadership assessments. “The idea behind the assessments,” he explains, “is that we want each individual to understand who they are and how they lead. We can then build off of that knowledge.”
While the program is a big commitment of time and effort, it’s proven to be a success. According to Levoit, 60% of the administrators in Silverado’s 33 communities have been promoted from within; of those, 70% graduated from the LDF. Employees who graduate the program go on to build new Silverado communities, train other LDF candidates, and develop their capstone projects. “Sammy Hassan, who is now the administrator of Silverado Beach Cities, is a great example,” says Levoit. Hassan’s capstone project was an employee meditation program known as Pathway to Courage, which he implemented while working in the Belmont Hills community. That program went on to receive CALA’s 2012 Innovations in Quality Award.
This article was first published in CALA News & Views Winter 2014: Leadership.