The Executive Director: The Heart of the Community

An Assisted Living community is many things to many different people. To the residents, it is home—the place where they receive care and comfort. To family members, it can be a place of respite, where they know their loved one is receiving needed assistance. To the multitude of people who care for the residents in one way or another, it is the workplace. And to the executive director who is responsible for making sure that all residents receive high-quality service and all employees are performing the proper duties, it can be a place of opportunity. Executive directors are the leaders of their Assisted Living communities; with the right combination of traits and skills, they can also be the heart.

The Executive Director: The Heart of the Community / CALA News & Views Winter 2014Because their communities serve a wide range of residents with varying levels of care needs, Elmcroft Senior Living looks to identify certain behaviors when it hires executive directors. According to Elmcroft’s Chairman and CEO, Pat Mulloy, “we provide independent, Assisted Living, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, and dementia care services to over 1000 residents in San Diego and Los Angeles. Of all the ingredients necessary to creating a quality community, none is more important than that of choosing the right leadership team—and that begins with choosing the right Executive Director.”

“When, as a leadership team, we came together in late 2006 to create Elmcroft Senior Living,” he says, “we agreed on a mission statement and core set of values.” These values and mission statement inform the qualities that make an effective executive director. Mulloy says, “our seven core values are a commitment to being a team player; being creative; acting with trust and integrity; being compassionate; holding each other accountable; acting with respect and humility; and maintaining a passion for excellent service.” Elmcroft’s mission, he says, is “a commitment to enriching the lives of both the individuals who work with us and the individuals who live with us.” A great executive director will encompass all of these values; he or she will be creative, trustworthy, respectful, compassionate—a team player with accountability and a desire to serve. “When we interview, we look for specific behaviors that exemplify these values,” he says.

According to Christian Holland, Healthcare Risk Consultant for Barney & Barney, executive directors must also have some skill when it comes to compliance and risk management. In particular, they must demonstrate good time management, be able to motivate employees to perform consistently, and possess a commitment to maintaining a high level of compliance. “Executive Directors must have the patience to fully deploy risk techniques and compliance programs,” he notes, “while simultaneously maintaining focus on…collegiality, human caring, and human interaction.”

As a growing company, Oakmont Management Group has the advantage of looking at positions such as the executive director of a community in a new light. According to Dean Mattsson, Vice President of Operations for Oakmont, it’s important that an executive director be balanced, open-minded, and intuitive. “We are looking for well-rounded people who can multi-task and deal with a multitude of different issues on any given day. Finding someone who can solve problems, improve processes, and have the community functioning as efficiently as possible is key.”

He says that an executive director who can relate to many different types of people is important as well. “When we find an ED that isn’t afraid to clean the pool on Monday because a maintenance tech is out sick and can then turn around and address the entire resident association on Tuesday dressed in a shirt and tie, using a professional looking PowerPoint presentation, we know we found a good administrator.”

This ability to relate to and work with different types of people extends to the executive director’s human resources duties. According to Mattsson, the executive director must not only be versed in HR rules and regulations, but must have good intuition when it comes to hiring. When an executive director can identify and hire the right kind of people for the right positions, it can elevate a community’s service.

Mattsson says that, as a leader of a group of associates, the executive director should be “someone who will pass along credit to his team when they are successful and look inward when there are setbacks.” In addition, he says, the executive director should also create a culture that celebrates the high-quality service, fun, and love being provided to both residents and employees. To that end, Mattsson says, the most important quality an executive director must have is “someone who will instinctively take ownership of the community. The team as a whole should realize we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

This post was excerpted from “The Executive Director: The Heart of the Community,” first published in CALA News & Views Winter 2014: Leadership.


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