EP. 1 – Leading the Way to a Successful Community

May 1, 2023 | Podcast

Join Greg Puklicz, host of The Roots Podcast by 12 Oaks Senior Living, along with Aaron Catoe, Senior Vice President of Operations, as we hear about the importance of leadership in senior living operations. Aaron’s passion for his team members and residents is evident in his commitment to the industry and profession. As the Senior Vice President of Operations, he’s perfectly positioned to share some very informative thoughts on leadership in senior living community operations, especially what makes strong leaders and how to develop strong leaders.

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You’re listening to The Roots Podcast by 12 Oaks with host Greg Puklicz, where we’ll be joined by industry leaders to discuss and highlight the character, competency, and care that is required to successfully manage senior living portfolios.

Greg 00:16
Today I’m particularly excited to welcome our first guest, Mr. Aaron Catoe.

Aaron 00:23
It’s great to be here.

Greg 00:24
Aaron is our Senior Vice President of Operations with 12 Oaks Senior Living. Aaron has been a member of the 12 Oaks team for 18 years.

Aaron 00:33
Long time.

Greg 00:34
Indeed. And in his role as Senior Vice President of Operations, he helps support our RVPs and our communities to ensure that they are maximizing performance. And as well, Aaron, has a very important role within 12 Oaks, helping to build the culture and leadership that is so very important to us at 12 Oaks Senior Living. Aaron has a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Huntington University and is well versed in these leadership topics. My first question for you is, why is leadership so important?

Aaron 1:11
It’s important to different people for different reasons. So I can answer from the lens through which I see it. We all grow up with different talents and skills that are poured into us in a healthy relationship as we become older. Some of those skills people become nurses because they know how to heal people. Some become attorneys because they’re good at arguing and debating and other people have a type of pouring into them as they develop into an adult of things, such as the ability to encourage and the ability to see trends in strategy. That’s what I found myself drawn to, and so that was developed within me. And so for me, ironically, the statement is it’s not about me. It’s transcending beyond me in giving that to other people in which I currently lead. That’s why it’s so important to me.

Greg 2:06
Oh, that’s great. Aaron. I couldn’t agree more. I appreciate your passion in leadership. The leadership you show to the team, it’s that passion and leadership that transcends all of 12 Oak Senior Living’s culture. What is the best way to lead in senior housing then?

Aaron 2:23
Oh, Greg, that’s good. They set a framework and then back into it like a funnel and then funnel down. There’s two really big umbrellas in leadership that all leadership falls under these two styles. One is compliance based and the other is connection based. Under compliance, we have things like command and control, pace setting, sometimes associated with like bureaucratic or autocratic leadership. Those are compliance based styles. Then we have connection based styles, connection based like visionary, coaching, affiliate, democratic, transformational leadership, servant leadership, leader-member exchange, all these sorts of types of leadership styles under connection. So we’ve got these two things and there’s some keywords with each of these, like compliance keywords are reports, efficiency, structure. On connection based we’ve got some keywords that are seemingly, and I use that word intentionally, seemingly opposed to it. Instead of reports, it’s relationship over reports instead of efficiency, it’s effectiveness in the long term over just efficiency with the mantra of corporate speed of fast, faster, and fastest or like the three speeds and it slows it down.

Aaron 3:45
And a connection base is that diversity isn’t something to be squashed. So often these things or these people that hold to different camps are in opposition and I would propose that they aren’t in opposition. One’s not good or bad. That’s a moral assignment to something. It’s what tool is best used and most effective for the application in which it’s intended. Generally speaking, the best way for compliance is in manner such as structures or mechanical, menus, recipes, cycles, med passes, very structured things that need that compliance base. So compliance can be good and compliance can be morally bad if misapplied. Connections the same way, it can be great if applied appropriately in leasing, in activities, in relational connection, in standups. And so it’s an application that makes it effective or not effective more than good or bad. So the answer is both are the way to lead in senior living and it’s the discernment of the leader to know which one is utilized and most effective.

Greg 5:01
Now, that makes sense. I mean, we know that senior living can be very complicated. It can be very taxing.

Aaron 5:07
Very much.

Greg 5:08
There’s so many compliance issues, so many financial pressures. So having strong character and strong leaders at the communities is really important.

Aaron 5:22
Agreed. More than a hundred percent, if that’s possible.

Greg 5:25
So Aaron, given the importance of leadership at the communities, how do people become strong leaders? What does it take?

Aaron 5:33
Oh man, the initial word that comes to mind is transformational experiences. Transformational experiences. And that sounds bizarre. So let me give you an example. I have a seven and a half year old little guy, amazing guy, “Daddy, let’s ride bikes. Daddy, I love you infinity.” That gets me every time, actually. “Let’s go do stuff. Let’s play on the swing.” It’s amazing until it’s not. And when he is not is strongly correlated to when he is hungry because he gets hangry and it’s bad and he is not adorable, whatever opposite of that is. As soon as he gets food within minutes he transforms from not adorable to adorable again. Or like if I’m feeling sick and I go to the doctor and I get a shot or medicine, I transform from sick to well. And here’s the important part of it – is transformation is coming from the outside. For the little boy, namely mine, it was food that was internalized. If it’s a patient, it’s medicine that’s internalized. So transformation is outside and occurs when we internalize it. Like a building being built, it has an external structure and then it’s built in internal structure until it can stand on its own. Then the external falls away. And those are the same things that are poured into a leader with their character structure, meaning their internal makeup, like there’s an external scaffolding that pours into them of their ability to connect, their ability to set boundaries and say “no,” how to become an authority, how to see good and bad together versus separate. And those are things that are poured into leaders. So how do they become better leaders? They take something in from the outside, a form of nutrients, whether that be from a mentor or coach or boss or friend or book or movie or clip or this podcast, and they take it inside and internalize it and the transformation begins.

Greg 7:36
And how do you specifically do that with our staff at 12 Oaks Senior Living? What programs, what events, what kind of teachings do you provide to staff to help them become strong leaders?

Aaron 7:54
At 12 Oaks we have a unique setup, and I want to look at this from three components. And you always look at these components together. The goal, the strategy, and the tactics, those things shouldn’t be separated. So the goal is obviously, how do we make stronger leaders? And the strategy is what we’re talking about. And we do that through a number of strategies, through intentional training with executive coaches and which which people are able to discover and talk about their weaknesses in a protected setting without the boss there with a coach that can make something change inside of somebody or at least provide the tools to. And the tactics, meaning the way we do it is we put it on a calendar, man. Like we have structured people in all predominantly, most universities move through as a cohort because there’s structures, class 101, 102, so on and so forth. So we have a structure of classes in which this occurs. That’s the character side. Then we have have a competent side track that we go on as well, which is done through our RVPs, through weekly calls who are hitting competencies of how to read reports, how to look at strategy, seeing where favorable variances and unfavorable variances are, and talking about the competency of how to write those variances or how to keep pointing into the favorable variances.

Greg 9:19
Aaron, what makes a great executive director? How do the things you do at 12 Oak Senior Living help executive directors become great leaders, and how do you help them sustain themselves to be a great leader?

Aaron 9:39
That’s excellent. Just for the audience, I want to be sure and try to make this as objective as possible. So I want to define what I’m thinking of when I hear “great.” So let me do that first when I hear “great.” I think an Executive Director who can maximize the performance of the property relative to the market area in which it’s located. So I want to go great with that as a foundation and in analysis and looking and training, there are these two components that make great Executive Directors. One is the character structure, which I mentioned earlier and competence. Competence, we’re all familiar with strategy, tactics, goals, reading reports, so on and so forth, how to do your job, what to do. Then we have the character structure and there’s four components in that. And I just want to focus on two right now and perhaps we can hit the rest later.

Aaron 10:33
First, in academic terms for the academic folks in the crowd are called attachment and separation. Taking away from academics or a different terminology, its ability to connect, an ability to say no and have boundaries. And those two aren’t only cousins, they’re kind of brother and sister, like they grow up together. And so an example of a connection or an attachment is there’s these styles that psychologists and leadership refer to and want to secure attachment. And let’s use you and I as an example. You’re you and I’m me, but we’re a team and I can disagree with you and have my own thoughts and opinions and beliefs and values, knowing that Greg, because of who he isn’t going to withdraw relationship because I disagree, because we’re securely attached and there’s nothing to worry about in that. Now, if I were enmeshed with you, that’s a little different and it’s a bad place for a leader to be.

Aaron 11:32
Enmeshed is if you have like two hands and you’re enjoined together and it’s like a five year old on the soccer field, this five year old’s running along and he falls and skins his knee. And this is really important to grasp this. He looks up to his mother and what’s he doing? He’s looking up because he’s enmeshed, he’s five, he should be, he doesn’t know how to feel. Am I hurt? Am I scared? Am I happy? I don’t know. And so he’s enmeshed with the mother, which is okay when you’re five years old, but when you’re an authority figure and you’re small in a big person’s world of senior housing, that’s not a good blend, that’s not a good match to be enmeshed. And it has all sorts of issues that lead to the second topic of boundaries and the ability to say no. Sometimes leaders have a fear with saying no. Fear of loss. Fear of this internal judge that’s constantly accusing them or they use no to protect themselves from discomfort, from growth and uncomfortable types of conversations. So there’s character and competence. Now, we haven’t dug in super deep to character. We’ve just hit two components so we can stop at that point.

Greg 12:47
We can go all day.

Aaron 12:48
We could go all day and into the evening actually.

Greg 12:51
There we go. Here we are at spring NIC. The focus at NIC is about transitions, transactions, what’s happening in the marketplace, how are communities performing? What are the operational challenges? We’ve talked about leadership and you’ve brought up a lot of really great points and thoughts about leadership. Why should leadership matter to the investor community, to our clients, owners of the communities we manage who are looking for a return on investment measured by the bottom line, right?

Aaron 13:33

Greg 13:33
It’s what’s my budget variance, what have you done for me today? That’s how we’re measured day in and day out. What’s the census? What’s the variance? How are we doing? What’s my ROI? How do we convince or what do we tell the investor community and the senior housing community, in general, what do we tell them regarding why this topic, this need for leadership is so important?

Aaron 14:03
Understood. It’s so important. I’m going to borrow a leadership analogy. And the analogy is, no plant makes its own sunshine or soil or water. It gets it from the outside. And where does it go? It goes to its roots. The roots absorb the nutrients and make or permit the plant to grow. So let’s apply that to the scenario you proposed. The leadership of the property, of the manager, the operator or the roots that are unseen, whereas the actual plant, the NOI, the revenue, the operating margins, that’s what you’re focusing on. And a real focus is the roots. What’s making that plant? And so the answer is because it’s the roots, the grounding, that permits those things to be favorable, which you mentioned.

Greg 14:57
Yeah, those are the things we are talking about with all our clients, investors here at NIC and that’s really important that they take a holistic approach to senior living. Our communities are run by people, we rely on people we know staffing is so important, so critical. And that’s a little bit of the 12 oak secret sauce, what you explained, right? Investing in our people because it’s our people that make a difference at the communities, and it’s so important. We feed the roots, as you said, with the relational nutrients. They need the guidance, support, boundaries, right? All those things, as you mentioned, to be successful at the communities. With that, I want to thank you, Aaron, for being on The Roots Podcast, brought to you by 12 Oak Senior Living. Look forward to a productive conference here with you at NIC in San Diego.

Aaron 15:56
Excellent. Thank you, Greg.

We hope you enjoyed this episode of The Roots Podcast by 12 Oaks. Get connected with us on social media and at 12oaks.com.