One December morning in the nursing home, I was walking down the hall and noticed Mrs. Smith in her wheelchair, in the middle of the hallway looking up at a red ball on the ceiling (a Christmas decoration). I spoke to Mrs. Smith and she did not respond. The nursing staff had been trying to redirect her out of the hallway all morning; she was in the way of the med carts and had already missed her breakfast. Mrs. Smith would not budge. When I asked Mrs. Smith what she was doing, she simply replied “trying to get home.” I offered to take her but she said no thanks.
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We had a problem and no one seemed to have a solution. Our staff met and talked about what we needed to do. We could easily force her to move out of the hallway by simply unlocking her wheelchair wheels and pushing her, but that would not satisfy Mrs. Smith. We were meeting to solve a problem but we were not involving the one person who had the answer: Mrs. Smith. I got up and went back out to the hallways and spoke to Mrs. Smith who was still staring up at the red decorative ball, “Mrs. Smith, I know you are trying to get home, we all can’t wait to go home for the holidays but don’t you realize you aren’t going anywhere?” Mrs. Smith replied, “of course I am not going anywhere; I am waiting on the light to change.” Needless to say we immediately changed out the red ball for a green one and she went back to her room and ordered a late breakfast.

Several years later as a Regional Vice President, I was visiting a community and noticed a flier that read: Don’t leave your dirty mop water in the hallway. It was signed by the Executive Director of the community. I asked the executive what prompted the note. He indicated that they were having a problem with employees leaving the housekeeping supplies in the hallway when they went on break. This was a large retirement community so it was a hike to get from whatever floor you were cleaning to the break room and back. I asked the Executive Director why the employees were doing that and he looked at me like I was crazy. He had not bothered to ask the employees why they were leaving the supplies in the hallway. He had told them many times not to do it and yet it continued to be a problem. He attributed that to not checking behind them enough. He talked about holding them “accountable,” a big buzz word in business today. I am a firm believer that most people do not go to work looking for ways to upset their boss so there was something else going on here. I asked him to dig deeper and find out the why behind this problem. As it turns out they, were leaving the supplies in the hallway because they had only one supply closet and it was on the other side of the building. So by the time they took it over there, then went to the break room, then went back and got the supplies and took them back to where they were working, they had wasted a lot of time and couldn’t complete the assigned rooms for the day in time. With a little maneuvering, they were able to find another place to store supplies on that side of the building and the problem was solved.

Both of these stories have a common theme. First, the best solution to most problems comes from those closest to them, involve them in the process. The other theme to remember is that as the manager or the leader, we don’t have to have all the answers. Most managers get into management positions because they have experience in the field, but once they get into these positions they often feel like they have to have all the answers. When faced with a tough problem, they often rush to come up with an answer on their own and often it is the wrong answer since they are no longer the ones closest to the problem. The old adage is true: two heads are better than one. As a leader and manager, our job is to facilitate problem solving and to guide the discussions and help the team collectively come up with the best solution to tough problems.

One of my mentors always used to say that to lead the orchestra, you must first turn your back to the crowd. Success comes from focusing on the team and its goals and not worrying about the outsiders looking on.EX0-113