The Extraordinary Leader

What does it take to be a truly extraordinary Senior Living leader?

For months my mother struggled as she tried to find her way through her new world. She had recently moved into a Senior Living community in West Chester, PA. It took “us” 10 years to go from “maybe” to “move-in,” and I often wondered if it would ever happen. 

She has a very familiar story. She had lost my dad, and though she had enough money to keep up with the house, it was all becoming too overwhelming. As the years went on, she grew scared of her future. Who would take care of her? How could she ensure she would not be a burden to her adult children? What would life as a resident look like? What rules would she not like? And, what about friends and finding “her people”? 


Enough free lunches… the decision was made. Hallelujah!

The move-in process was less than stellar. No one coordinated things for my mother from the inside or did more than a quick hello. There was no designed or organized welcoming team, just a bouquet of flowers with a note that said “welcome.” If leaving her home of 40 plus years wasn’t enough to overwhelm her. she had to navigate the dining room, which looked so promising before she moved in and so frightening as she sat wearily by herself. Would she ever find her people? The discomfort made her immediately question her decision to leave “her home.” 

It was a difficult struggle. The fear of loneliness and its reality sucks the life out of most new residents and can cause departures and much worse. My mom questioned her community choice and shared her disappointment, which somehow went from her decision to move to mine. She didn’t just miss her home. She felt alone, judged, and unheard. 

The Shake-up

One day she called and shared that there had been a shake-up. She was concerned. Within a few months, things started changing. Ineffective people were let go, more communication started occurring, and even though she felt terrible that they let go of that “nice salesperson” who got her to come to “this place,” this new Executive Director changing so much. Why? 

Aspire has worked with Senior Living Communities for many years, and we have seen this transition happen often. Old ways of thinking and operating need to change, and the future success of a Community and its resident experience comes down to two words: Executive Director. 

The ED is the captain, the leader, of this ship that sets its course. The ED has to ensure their vision is the one held by those up above and, most importantly, those who will execute it. Ensuring the senior leadership team’s alignment is step one

As the months past this new “young” Executive Director (remember this is my 82-year old mother’s perspective), Hank, started to really make changes. His leadership skills shined, though while he was disrupting the status quo, he was also in frequent dialogue with everyone. Spreading his message and engaging in dialogue. He was an extraordinary communicator and listener. He made sure residents felt heard and balanced their requests with the realities of operating a profitable Community. 


The food quality improved. The internet connection improved. Even the catty, dreaded dining room improved. Hank improved the emotional environment through his clarity of direction, courage to make change, compassion for all, and his agility to take on what he needed. 

Enter COVID.

Lockdown. Changes and new rules were abundant. Fear increased. Questions and concerns became front and center. How will we eat lunch? Dinner? What does it mean to have workers with COVID? No pool time. No activity time. No leaving the premises and through it all, Hank became loved even more. He started weekly updates. Increased his communication even further and shared what he and his team were doing and why. The transparency and dialogue continued to increase his popularity even as he created more inconveniences and made more changes. 

He was a great connector and had proactively made foundational changes that allowed his senior leadership team to stay aligned, focused, and effective as the crisis unfolded. Trust with residents and team members continued to grow. He had compassion and still balanced it with strict rules. He protected his people and strengthened the culture while in a pandemic. Team members continued to show up and worked harder than ever. Occupancy continued to grow as he had done the hard work of revamping their messaging and training their new salespeople so they could effectively sell and support the Community they had brought together. He also ensured as new residents arrived, they did not feel alone as my mother had felt. 


As I write this, COVID is still in the throes of taking and threatening the lives of far too many, yet some things have changed. My mother proudly volunteers as she always had and yet now with a different spirit. She has more fun and is more fun. She wishes she could swim four times a week and appreciates the two times she can. She still feels that there is “just not enough garlic” in the food, and she values every meal delivered to her door. She “loves” and is proud that Hank is her Executive Director

I cannot think of a greater compliment. Now she has a new worry… “What if Hank leaves?” 

It was through Hank’s extraordinary leadership, his gift of connection for both the residents and employees, the care he took in making the right courageous changes at every turn, and mostly his love for his work that speaks about the power of an extraordinary human who also happens to be an exceptional Executive Director. 

What does it take to be a truly extraordinary leader during extraordinary times? 

Here are the top seven: 

   1. Mindset. Aspire’s research and leadership modeling identified that hands down, the leader’s mindset (how they think) and voice (how they speak) is what sets the tempo of success as it speaks to:

  • How their people will feel about the team and its effectiveness
  • What people will think about their work and their commitment to the team
  • And mostly, how productive, or unproductive, their people will be. 
  • Your team must have high positivity and high productivity to succeed as a leader, and there is no doubt, if your head isn’t in the game, your team has little chance of success. 

All outstanding leaders have a system of managing their head trash, the negative voices in their mind that keep them up at night, slow down their creativity, and decrease their productivity. Worse yet, head trash tends to spread and can unfortunately spew fear and more head trash on others. 

Having a system of dumping your HeadTrash and energy-sucking thoughts is foundational to awakening everyone’s potential, especially your own. Learn more on how to dump your HeadTrash here.

   2. Clarity of Direction.  To ensure productive activity and improve individual results. Clarity aligns a leader with their people strategy: ensuring they have the right people, with the right focus and the synergy needed to navigate together.

   3. Dialogue.  Effective communication, listening, and emotionally connecting with people decrease chaos and fear while increasing the identification of new business opportunities and improving creative problem-solving. Dialogue (clean communication) decreases emotional stress, which increases productive action. 

   4. Courage.  To make tough decisions quickly, regardless of their popularity. Courage demonstrates to others that they can count on you to do what needs to be done, especially when difficult. 

   5. Compassion.  To know that change is hard, and fear is ever-present for most people at this time. Leading with compassion decreases the fear of failure and increases connection, trust, and commitment. 

   6. Agility.  To see what else might be possible through the inevitable storms. Agility takes uncertainty and opens the mind to find opportunity.  

   7. Grit. Here is how Aspire defines grit.  

  • The tenacity to carry on through the inevitable storms. 
  • The scrappiness to find a way to utilize the resources and talent, both inside and outside the organization, keeps the team moving forward.
  • The inspiration that shines the light so people can see a brighter future.

Great leaders build great teams as they know getting anywhere requires the turbo power provided by an aligned and determined team to achieve something extraordinary. 

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ABOUT RENIE: Renie Cavallari is a mother, sister, daughter, partner, friend, and explorer. She is the CEO and Founder The RCI Institute and Aspire, a global leaders in transformational leadership and organizational development. Aspire and RCI specialize in inspired learning that shifts human behavior and awakens individual and team potential. Renie is an award-winning corporate strategist and leadership expert and is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on transforming human behavior to improve performance and enhance an individual’s quality of life.

About Aspire: Aspire is the execution and consulting arm of RCI Institute, delivering customized training, leadership development services and strategic cultural alignment to optimize individual and team performance. Known as a transformational-training company that delivers measurable performance improvements, Aspire develops people at all levels of an organization and has worked with thousands of companies around the globe. Aspire’s work is the incubator to RCI Institute’s research and modeling.

About RCI Institute: RCI is a research and development institute, , focused on awakening human potential and igniting the human spirit to play all in. It creates research-based proprietary systems and tools around active thinking, and People Technology™, and provides executive leadership coaching certifications that maximize organizational potential.  

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