by Alli Kauffman Rogers | Last Updated on 04.29.2021
Listen to our conversation about leadership and innovation with Steve Lindsey, now available on the Small Business Big Growth Podcast
One person can only do so much. But if one person can create a culture where everyone is working together toward the same mission, the opportunities are endless. In our Small Business, Big Growth podcast series, business leader and innovator Steve Lindsey shares five crucial tips for leaders who want to create this culture of motivated employees and endless opportunities.
Lindsey currently works as CEO of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community in Lancaster, PA, with 540 employees and 1000 residents. He graduated from Messiah College in 1983 and jumped right into working with adolescents at a residential treatment center while also completing his master’s in social work at Temple University. Lindsey now has more than twenty years of leadership and administrative experience in retirement communities and rehabilitation hospitals.
Five Crucial Tips for Business Leaders and Innovators
Tip #1: Stay Focused on Company Culture
In far too many organizations, culture just happens. Leaders fail to address the organization’s vision, values, and other key elements. As a result, employees leave, customers aren’t treated well, and the organization can easily spin off the rails.
“Leaders tending to the culture is job number one,” Lindsey says. “That’s the most important thing you will do in your organization.”
But where do we even start when it comes to addressing company culture? Lindsey offers three focus points: cast a vision of what it looks like for your organization to be healthy, identify and celebrate the areas where your vision is put into action, and pay attention to the reality of where your vision is simply not working.
“The longer a leader has been in an organization, the less tuned in to the culture they become,” Lindsey says. It’s essential for leaders to be tuned in to the reality of what’s going wrong in their culture.
Tip #2: Be Curious
“We have to resurrect our childlike sense of curiosity,” Lindsey says. “Sometimes we fill our life so full that we don’t have time to be curious.” When it comes to organizational culture, we need to remember that everyone still has something to learn.
For him, Lindsey says curiosity comes in the form of intentionally setting aside time for silence and solitude. “Silence and solitude is a faith-based practice for me, but it creates that time and that space for you to listen and to hear the voice of God,” Lindsey says. “It just gives space for curiosity.”
Additionally, Lindsey talks about the importance of being curious about your own performance. Don’t hold back from asking yourself if you’re living the values and acting within the mission. And equally, how’s the organization doing with all of that?
Be curious. The best leaders are curious leaders.
Tip #3: Lead Like an Elder
Early in the podcast, Lindsey dives into the story of a life-changing conversation with an indigenous American leader at a conference in Canada. “Every break, every mealtime, I pestered him on questions of culture,” Lindsey said. “We were talking about this idea of becoming an elder. What does that look like?”
Lindsey explains how the man stopped the conversation to clarify one main point: In indigenous cultures, not everyone becomes an elder. Some people just get old and cranky, but elders are the ones who do the work to harvest wisdom into the lives of younger generations.
“That instantly became one of my life goals,” Lindsey said. “If I do nothing else, I want to become an elder.”
After that conversation, Lindsey started looking for opportunities to model his organizational culture after the practices of indigenous elders. He implemented staff retreats and other opportunities where employees learn together, share leadership, and encourage each other.
Tip #4: Learn How to Take a Punch
“I always tell young leaders that if you want to be a leader, you have to learn how to take a punch,” Lindsey says. A leader who’s honestly focused on culture and curious about how they can do better will need to absorb some criticism. And once you’re in a leadership position, Lindsey notes that taking a punch can become even harder.
“As much as we try to get away from a power relationship, when you’re the CEO of an organization, it’s just by nature there,” Lindsey explains. “So when somebody’s going to confront you on something that’s not working well, it’s anxiety producing. And when people have anxiety, they don’t always articulate their message as gently and clearly as what they would want to.”
But that’s when the skill of taking a punch comes in. Ask yourself these questions: What are they really saying? What’s the message behind that? It takes courage to confront a leader, and that courage deserves respect.
Tip #5: Learn to Change & Innovate
“The rate of change will never again be as slow as it is today.” Lindsey says. “We’re going to look back and say, remember 2020 when things were chill?”
Lindsey explains how basic human nature hasn’t changed in thousands of years. The things that angered us centuries ago still anger us. Our core needs for love, acceptance, community, and status are here to stay, but Lindsey believes the way we express our needs will always change.
“We have to be constantly looking over the horizon, anticipating those future needs, wants, and expectations that other people are going to have.” Revisiting Tip #2, we need to be curious about the trends that affect our organization.
Toward the end of the episode, Lindsey explains three brand new innovations he’s put into action to prepare Garden Spot Village for the inevitable change of the future. The first innovation, an aeroponic greenhouse, is already yielding massive rewards. The greenhouse allows Garden Spot Village to provide fresh, healthy produce for their residents year-round without trucking it across the country.
Another innovation simply restructured the community’s skilled nursing area to replace the hospital-like space with a household atmosphere. “When you walk in, instead of seeing a nurses station, the first thing you see is a kitchen,” Lindsey says. “People are gathered around the kitchen, and the kitchen is the center of life, just like at home.”
Lastly, Linsey talks about his most recent innovation. Garden Spot Village has learned that the part of the brain that processes music is the one part that’s unaffected by Alzheimer’s. Along with a few supporting companies, Garden Spot Village is working toward creating music and sounds that help reduce anxiety and enrich their residents’ lives, even with dementia.
Throughout the episode, Lindsey tells multiple stories about people and experiences that changed his life and strengthened his leadership ability. “Leadership is not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s so incredibly rewarding,” Lindsey says. “If you can create a culture that empowers people, that excites people and engages people, that aligns people in a common direction towards a common mission, then the opportunities for your organization are just unlimited.”
Listen to the full podcast episode HERE
Steve Lindsey is an accomplished business leader and innovator currently working as CEO of Garden Spot Village, a retirement home community in Lancaster, PA. Find out more about Garden Spot Village at GardenSpotVillage.org or find Steve Lindsey on LinkedIn.