Wise Leadership


Chris Perna, CEO, The Eden Alternative

Good Afternoon, ProviderNation.

Thousands of books have been written and tens of thousands of articles, lectures, and videos have been used to teach leadership.

At The Eden Alternative, we have a set of 10 core principles that drive everything we do and teach. The 10th principle, our capstone, says, “Wise leadership is the lifeblood of any struggle against the three plagues” of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.We believe there can be no substitute for wise leadership when it comes to creating care environments that support culture change and person-directed care. But what constitutes wise leadership? And what makes wise leadership so elusive?

Leadership is about leading… right? Well, not so fast! My experience tells me that wise leadership is actually the effective use of many different tools, such as communication, vision, relationship building, competence, selflessness, and many others in the pursuit of a noble goal. In this case that goal is person-directed care.

Leadership isn’t any one of these tools alone; it is a combination of all of them used at different times and to varying degrees. There is no magic formula that tells you when to apply any particular tool and in what proportion.

I’ll call it the “squishiness factor.” A leader has to decide when and how to apply the tools at their disposal using a combination of experience, discernment, and gut instinct.

A leader needs to understand the context of the situation and be engaged in relationships with the people involved to be most effective.

Some of this can be taught, but much of it comes from within the leader. As if that isn’t hard enough, a leader also has to decide when and how to let others in the organization use their tools. This gets to the issue of empowerment or, in other words, a manager’s willingness to give up their role as the “manager.”

This is a huge challenge for many managers in long term care who have worked hard to climb the corporate ladder in a very hierarchical environment. They have earned their position and the authority that goes along with it, and they often don’t want to give it up.

However, this is exactly what a good leader does. A manager protects their power while a leader learns to share their power.

A leader helps others to grow by allowing them to take ownership and responsibility by giving them the authority, autonomy, resources, and information they need to be successful, not hoarding those things for themselves.

At its core, wise leadership is about helping others to be successful. Wise leaders are comfortable in their own skin and create an environment where others look to them for guidance, not answers.

Wise leaders consistently demonstrate that they have command of their tool set and can use experience, discernment, and their gut to pick the right tool at the right time.

Finally, wise leaders create an environment where power is distributed to all, so everyone can experience growth by taking ownership and responsibility.

Wise leadership is the elusive but essential ingredient for successful culture change and genuine person-directed care.

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