Leadership and the River Bank Builder

Whenever someone used to ask me how I would describe my leadership style, I never had just one answer.  You see, it changes.  I am a leader for a large group of healthcare professionals.  I am also a coach for most of the time.  But I also am a mentor, a shoulder to cry on, even a drill sargent at times. I’m a peacemaker, a businessman, a dollars & cents watcher, and a check and balance for clinical outcomes.  I’m a housekeeper, a dietary staff member, a maintenance guy, and a lot of other things. 

I lead some people with positive reinforcement acknowledging their small successes.  Others, you usually have to threaten their life to create action (Not literally their life!).  Sometimes I lead by staying behind the scenes and giving verbal cues.  Sometimes I have to take the lead and push things forward.  I have the attitude that I’ll get things done with you, without you, or through you, but I also know that I’m not successful if my team isn’t successful.

Sometimes I lead with a management by walking around style staying visible to the staff, residents, and families much of the day.  Sometimes, I stay in the background and watch what’s going on.

How would I describe my leadership style today?  I would tell you that I’m a River Bank Builder.  I’ll explain.  You see, usually when I enter a new facility or organization, I feel alot of energy.  There’s usually a few people there who’ll bend over backwards to try to help you and then there’s also some there that make you wonder how they’ve been allowed to remain for so long.  One thing’s for sure:  There’s both positive and negative energy crashing all around and flowing like a river.  Make no mistake, even the worst employees usually have a lot of energy.  Shoot!  It takes a lot of energy to stir up trouble every single day!

As a leader, it’s my job to wrap my arms around this river of energy and give it banks to direct it in the direction I need it to go.  This is how progress is made.  Your staff need someone willing to take charge and confidently share with them a vision of where they’re going and how they’ll get there.  To have a common goal is the thing that is absolutely necessary to motivate your staff and push the facility to the next level.

There’s a lot of work that goes in to building those river banks.  They have to be constructed and engineered in a way that lasts for years without constant maintenance.  You must make sure that the stones you select are strong and when you put them in place, they’re secure.  I know my river banks must be strong and must hold a rushing flood.  I know my river banks must be watertight and not allow any energy to begin seeping out in the wrong direction eroding our hard work away.  Just as the erosion of a river bank can be expensive and cause damage to it’s plant and animal species habitat, the erosion of your river bank can be just as costly and just as damaging creating problems in your facility’s work environment.  

We must make sure to remove any obstacles in our river so we don’t just crash against the rocks over and over losing our momentum.  I know to prepare for a drought where the energy level seems to be at an all-time low and to be ready to attempt employee motivation irrigation techniques.  I also know that sometimes the river floods because there’s so much energy, there’s just not enough room for everyone’s ideas and I have to know where to build a dam to slow things down. A river is unpredictable, much like employees, but with the right structure, can be directed successfully. 

Once you’ve built your river banks successfully, you must maintain your river.  You can’t let just anyone wade into it.  You can’t just build it and forget it because sooner or later you’ll learn that someone is dumping their toxic waste of negativity into it and poisoning all the little fish.  You’ve got to make sure this river has everything it needs for the survival of it’s inhabitants and you have to make sure to ward off angry predators.

What happens if I don’t build those banks to direct all this energy?  Things fall apart.  Morale drops.  Systems that once worked now fall to the wayside.  Turnover increases.  You start hearing the familiar phrase, “They’re just here for a paycheck.”  Sound familiar?  Of course it does.  Every facility goes through a cycle of this negativity.  Sometimes it lingers on with a few staff or family members for quite a long time; other times, you can weed it out quickly if you recognize it immediately and address it.

Is this a new concept?  Not at all.  Every successful leader knows that he/she must rally their troops, assign them the task of accomplishing a major common goal, and that the troops must have complete confidence in the leader…whether the leader is actually confident or not is a different story.

Tell me about the rivers of energy you’ve encountered and the river banks you’ve built.  I’d love to hear your stories!

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