With 230 employees and more than 400 older adults under her care at Friendship Village of South Hills, Bobbi Jo Haden has a lot of responsibilities to juggle.
“You have to be a very patient person to work in this environment,” she says of the life-care retirement community.
To practice patience, Haden slows down her busy schedule to devote personal attention to employees and residents alike. From handwritten notes to working alongside her staff, the personable Haden demonstrates how much she cares for individuals at the nonprofit, which reported 2008 revenue of nearly $19 million.
Smart Business spoke with Haden about how to make the time to get to know your employees and become a patient leader.
Q. What’s the first step to becoming a patient leader?
Leaders are being asked to do more with less. And they put themselves under time constraints: ‘This meeting can only last 20 minutes, and then I have X, Y and Z to do.’
Well, being patient doesn’t put yourself on a time frame. Granted, that meeting may take longer than you anticipated, but in the long run, it’s going to save you a whole lot of time.
So you can’t shortcut through your messages, and you can’t put yourself on such a tight time constraint that you actually are limiting your potential as well as the message that you’re delivering.
Q. How do you make time for your employees?
We’ve gotten so caught up in the technology age — e-mail, phones, cell phones, pagers — that we don’t communicate like we used to. How hard is it to drop a note? I would venture to say that most leaders don’t take the time to write a thank-you note to a staff member that performed very well. They may send an e-mail, or they may say thank you. But drop a card.
(The residents), they write notes all the time, and they send notes to me saying, ‘I just want you to know that this person … ’ and so on. (I tell the employee), ‘I received this note from such-and-such resident. You went above and beyond. We want to thank you.’ I post it on the bulletin board so all the residents see it, all of the employees see it.
It’s important to do that, and that’s something that we got away from. I find myself sending an e-mail to someone who’s right next door to my office, or we’re calling or sending a text. We have all these methods of communication but what do most businesses still complain about? Communication.
There’s more ways to communicate today than ever before, but it’s still a problem in any organization. So taking the time to be personable, it goes a long way.
I send birthday cards annually to each employee and write a personal note. The card not only wishes them a happy birthday but also expresses appreciation for their work, dedication and services they provide.
Q. How do you get to know your employees on a more personal level?
It’s not something that you wake up and automatically can do. It’s something that people have to dedicate their time to do.
Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of what you need to do. Take that time to know your client, to know your employee. Know the people who are going to work for you every single day to do what you need to have done.
And don’t be afraid to say thank you. It’s time-consuming, I know, but it’s time well spent.
Schedule time to be with your employees. Schedule it and adhere to it. If you don’t get something accomplished that was on the to-do list, then spend more time. Too often, this is the first thing removed from a to-do list.
Q. What’s your advice for being a personable leader?
The way I conduct myself in my personal life ultimately will impact my professional life because I live near here. I see residents shopping. I see employees shopping.
As a CEO, you’ve made the assumption that you’re always working. You’re always in that role. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at home on your time. The way that you conduct yourself and your character is who you are. You can’t change that.
Make sure that you’re not hiding behind that title and that you’re not afraid to get out there and work. Some leaders don’t take the time to be personable and only walk the CEO walk. I jump in and help staff members whenever I can. I have assisted in every area of the building. I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves.
Some CEOs would walk past something on the floor and ask a staff member to pick it up. Respect is key. I’ve waited tables if we have a snowstorm. I’ve been here for a 48-hour stretch if we have an emergency.
Just make sure that the employees know that you’re there.
How to reach: Friendship Village of South Hills, (724) 941-3100 or www.friendshipvillagepa.com