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LEADERSHIP LESSONS LEARNED FROM OUTSIDE SENIOR LIVING


the world works,” he said. The better that executives can understand their employees the better they can help them personally with support measures while putting them in a better chance to succeed, said Comer, whose background includes time at a big- box retailer and in higher education. “It’s important to acknowledge that there


are major stresses for our employees outside of the four walls of the workplace,” he said.


helped implement. Every time she visits a community, she strives to spend time there with management development program participants. In some ways, she said, those efforts are about “paying it forward.” She also teaches modules to program participants. “A lot of the focus for me when I joined


the company and where I have continued to focus is around employee development,”


“We can learn by stepping outside of our industry and taking a look at practices that other high-performing organizations use that are applicable to us, whether it’s from


hospitality or whether it’s a service industry,” Whitcomb said. “There are many fi ne organizations out there, and there are a lot of great lessons out there for us to learn.”


An emphasis on development Whitcomb was among several executives who expressed gratitude for the mentor- ing they received at previous stops in their careers. Whitcomb worked in a variety of departments within United Airlines, but she never sought out the positions. Re- peatedly, she had supervisors recommend the moves for her. The result was that she gained comprehensive business experience that gave her more fl exibility and opportu- nity for her career growth. “Most of my career decisions at United


had to do with strong mentors and my desire to be a more eff ective leader,” Whitcomb said. “I believe knowledge is important. The more I knew about the business the more eff ective I believed I could be in my role.” Whitcomb said her personal experience


at United helps guide her in employee development today. “I learned the importance of developing


talent and pushing your top performers,” Whitcomb said. “If I didn't have some- one that did that for me over the years, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities that I did.” Whitcomb conducts coaching sessions


with front-line employees in a manage- ment development program that she


10 SENIOR LIVING EXECUTIVE MARCH/APRIL 2019


Whitcomb said. “Within my fi rst year here, we put in place a management development program. That was based on my philosophy that we need to give front-line employees an opportunity to see a career path. Someone saw something in me early in my career and gave me opportunities to progress, and I really felt like there was an opportunity to give that back.”


Knowing a lot while knowing your limits As executives move up an organizational ladder, the breadth of their knowledge must expand. However, they typically will never be the experts in certain areas that many of their peers and employees are. For that reason, Dollenberg said, he learned at previous career stops that leadership “is about relying on and trusting the expertise of your team.” “I'm quick to acknowledge that I'm not


the expert or guru on many of these topics, but I believe I can help think through prob- lems and challenges and ask questions that help get to the root cause of a problem,” Dollenberg said. “I want to be a partner in the problem-solving process.” At McKinsey, Dollenberg learned a structured, analytical, and collaborative


approach to problem-solving that has resonated with him. He said that experi- ence infuses his work on a daily basis, saying it is “100 percent transferable across industries.” Dollenberg said a key kernel of wisdom he has gained is that successful leaders listen to their team and unsuccessful leaders don’t. “I’ve seen that at every step of my career,” Dollenberg said. As his career progressed, Richardson said


he learned the importance of understand- ing your strengths and weaknesses. In that vein, he said it is important for leaders to not be enamored with their own ideas at the expense of others. “If we have a problem, I might have a


strong idea about how to solve it, but I have found a high value in bringing people to the problem and working through it together,” Richardson said. “Because oftentimes diff er- ent people can bring diff erent perspectives that you didn’t expect. If you can manage that process appropriately and not worry about who gets credit, then often you can fi nd better ideas through the process.” Richardson said working collaboratively


to help solve problems is an essential part of leadership not only because it leads to satisfactory solutions but because it ensures that executives are not left in the dark on important matters. Richardson said senior living executives must be able to com- municate eff ectively with a broad group of people and to understand the specifi cs of their concerns and responsibilities—and when they have a problem, help them fi x it. “Colin Powell said when he was general


that if people stop bringing you problems, then you have failed as a leader because they either think you don't care or you don't have an open door wide enough for them to walk in and feel comfortable to tell you that they’ve got a problem,” Richard- son said. “You need to be approachable and helpful to people.”


Smart people, clear direction Richardson said he has learned over the years that leadership in business is remi- niscent of coaching a basketball team. The goal is to surround yourself with the best players possible, put them in position to excel, and then trust them. “You can make sure they understand


what’s expected of them, but then you have to let them do their job,” Richardson said.


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