Derek Dunham

The first session of LeadingAge PA’s 2019 Fellows in Leadership program was a huge success. I caught up with coach Diane Burfeindt, vice president of population health and housing at Presbyterian Senior Living, and participant Brian Mailliard, chief financial officer of St. Paul’s, to talk about the kickoff of the year-long program, hosted at SpiriTrust Lutheran’s The Village at Sprenkle Drive in York, Pennsylvania. “The other coaches and I were just amazed at how quickly the group came together — there was a really good energy,” said Diane. Brian agreed. The program was “even better than I anticipated it would be,” he said. Diane and Brian provided some top-level takeaways about what they’ve learned so far:

1. Leaders aren’t born; they’re taught. One surprising course insight debunked the myth of a natural leader. “We learned that anyone has the ability to be a leader, but not everybody is taught to be a leader,” Brian said.

2. The right decision may not always be the popular one. One of the challenges Brian has shared with the group is the realization that making necessary decisions for the health of the organization, may not be viewed as positive by everyone. “I want to be the likable person, and sometimes decisions need to be made that aren’t popular,” he said. Advice from the group: It’s okay if people disagree with you. And you’re not alone — most leaders deal with this issue.

3. It’s essential to see trends in action. The group toured the new assisted living neighborhood at The Village at Sprenkle Drive and heard about trends from Steven Jeffrey, chief strategy and innovation officer at Garden Spot Village, home of a five-apartment co-housing residence, just one of their innovations in senior living.

4. Titles don’t matter. The people in Diane’s small learning group work in a variety of areas, from finance to personal care to operations and strategic initiatives. “I think you can tell we didn’t talk about titles,” Diane said. “Regardless of experience or level or age, we learned a lot from each individual. It’s the diversity of thought and perspective in the learning circle that makes it so valuable.”

5. Other leaders face the same challenges you do. “It was reassuring to learn that the issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis aren’t limited to myself or my community,” said Brian. “Other people are going through the same things I am.”

6. Leading takes even more work than you’d imagine. Of course, leaders put a lot of effort into their jobs, but it’s essential to carve out time to focus on leadership development. “When I left the first session, what I was thinking to myself is how much study, time and thought people put into being a leader,” Brian said. “It’s something that you work at.”

Both Diane and Brian are looking forward to reuniting with their small group. “I’ve always found Fellows in Leadership to be a very personal journey,” said Diane. Brian seconded this sentiment. “I never slowed down before to think this way or contemplate leading in this way,” he said, “but I’m very glad to get the opportunity.”

Between sessions, the participants will be meeting virtually, getting advice on issues that arise at their communities and working on individual learning projects. “It’s always interesting to see how the group evolves through the year,” said Diane. Stay tuned for the highlights of the next session of 2019 Fellows in Leadership, taking place in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, May 15–18.