Lessons Learned from Seniors on September 11

“I’m surprised you aren’t watching television right now,” the maintenance technician said as he walked into my office.

“Why would I be watching television?” I replied.

“Because a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

I ran to the TV lounge at the large assisted living facility I had been with as Administrator for the last four months.  When I turned on the television, there was a picture of a plane stuck in the side of a high rise.  As I watched in horror, the second plane hit another building.  We now know the rest of how that story unfolded that day.

The tragedy was incomprehensible to me.  I stood in stunned silence watching events unfurl on TV.  After a few minutes, I began to wonder what my residents’ response to these events would be.  I was anxious about how I would handle their terror and what I would be able to do to comfort them.  I expected them to coming pouring out of their apartments at any moment.  I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited.  But, no residents came out.  No one came to my office and needed comfort.

At lunch time, residents began to head to the dining room.  They were talking about what had happened, but they didn’t really seem that shaken up.  Didn’t they understand that the world as we knew it had just changed forever?

Then it hit me:  this was truly the first disaster of this magnitude for my generation, but their generation had seen this sort of tragedy many times.  They had lived through wars, assassinations, and the depression.  Their world did not really change that day, at least not in the way mine did.

Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I would begin to assimilate the catastrophe into my experience of life.  What happened was horrifying.  But, my residents helped me realize, our generation didn’t invent being witness to tragedy.  Tragedy has been around for much longer than my short time on this earth.

My other lesson from this experience was a better understanding of the patriotism that seniors have.  We saw an outpouring of patriotism in our society after the tragedy of September 11.  It must have been similar to the patriotism that our seniors felt as young people when world wars were won or our country pulled together after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I had always considered myself patriotic, having grown up as the daughter of a Korean War Veteran, but I experienced an even bigger sense of pride in my country as I watched men and women respond to the September 11 events.

I never cease to be amazed at what I learn from my senior adult residents.  I am glad they were there for me, even though they didn’t know it, when September 11 occurred.  Their response humbled me into a better understanding of what a small fish I am in the big pond of the history of the world.

How to be Successful 100% of the Time

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As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to know our business and to make decisions that, based on our experience, will make our companies more successful.  Whether it is hiring our next manager or developing a new business line, we are supposed to know what we are doing and be successful.  But sometimes, despite our very best analysis, we are not successful in our endeavor.

I have found one area in which every leader can always be 100% successful.  If you look for people to make mistakes, do the wrong thing and generally not live up to your expectations, guess what?  You will always be successful in that area.

As a child, I remember my mother saying something like “she’s a square peg in a round hole.”  Even then, I remember thinking, “Why do all the holes have to be round?”  Ironically, that has become a basis for my leadership mentality over the years.  I think we benefit most by having square pegs, round pegs, triangular pegs, and quadrangular pegs!  Having different kinds of “pegs” in our work environment leads to a diverse set of ideas or as some like to say “thinking outside the box.”

 

I think particularly of one example of a very successful manager with whom I had worked.  She was one of the best I had ever encountered:  efficient, detail-oriented, creative, and intuitive.  I appreciated and cherished these attributes in her and so much more.  After I left, a new Executive Director came along and evidently had the “square peg in a round hole” mentality because, suddenly, this poor business office manager couldn’t do anything right!  She was criticized on a daily basis by her Executive Director.  But the criticism wasn’t based on the actual performance of her job;  it was based more on personality and rumors.  What a shame to lose such a valuable, talented employee because the Executive Director couldn’t let anyone color outside the lines in her coloring book!

Tomorrow is Monday.  I challenge you to go to work, look around, find some square pegs who are in some round holes.  Then, figure out how you can capitalize on their squareness, instead of trying to sand off their edges and make them round.