Top 5 Lessons Learned from My First Year as CEO

Posted by Dan Guill on April 26, 2022

As I reflect on my first year as CEO of Enlivant, I am grateful for our team, our accomplishments, and our growth. I could not have anticipated the journey we have been on, and the challenges that came with leading over the past 12 months during a pandemic. I learned a lot about myself, others, and what it means to come together as a team to support our mission. As we continue to evolve, I wanted to share some of what this year has taught me. 

Lesson #1: Culture is the foundation - especially during challenging times.

At Enlivant, our culture is about putting people first and helping people thrive. If I think about what makes our culture tangible it comes down to our mission, vision, and values. So often these can just be words written on a wall – a checkbox that a business must have. But at Enlivant, it is our north star, and it guides every single one of our actions. 

It has never been more apparent how critical culture is than over the past 12 months, when we could not see each other due to the pandemic. At the start, there was no certain future; no one had any idea what was in front of us. But I looked around at all of us at Enlivant, committed to taking care of each other, and I saw our culture come to life right before my eyes.

During the pandemic, I visited Cherryvale Place. On the drive there, I had a fear of what I would find – that everyone there would be struggling after so many months of hard times. But when we arrived, the culture was real, the energy was electric, and the residents were ecstatic. It affirmed that, despite the challenges, we were able to provide a safe place where residents and employees were taken care of physically and emotionally. This was also validated by our nearly 95% vaccination rates among employees and residents and being certified as a Great Place to Work for a third year in a row. 

This past year, I saw how our strategy and culture combined to augment and create something truly special and form a sustainable competitive advantage. I learned our business was much bigger than any one person and together we are stronger because of our culture. 

Lesson #2: The most important thing you can do for your team is trust them.

It is surprising to me now, but I thought being CEO would be the ultimate in having control – seeing all parts of the business and where it was headed in the future. I quickly realized that for the business to succeed, I had to take a step back and let our team step up. 

For our business to work, I had to trust our team – and our team had to trust me.  You have to be able to rely on others and that starts with selecting the right leaders who believe in the mission and values, and who feel comfortable sharing their opinions with me so we can collectively make the right decisions.  

This year reinforced that what really drives Enlivant is having great leaders, effectively communicating our vision, and inspiring them to step in, be confident in order to drive results.

Lesson #3: Investing in people and relationships is always the right decision.

I believe that when a company invests time into developing leaders, building a great team and putting people first, the business will prosper as a result. We see our residents thrive when our teams do, and our focus on building teams and leaders is what makes us special. This focus means we create meaningful relationships that create resilience, flexibility, adaptability, and we invest in individuals and empower them to be their best selves.

We take care of people – and by its very definition, we cannot do that alone. You have to be able to rely on each other, and that really comes down to hiring the right people, building strong relationships, and having accountability on both sides to help each other develop and grow. We made a very significant investment into developing a strong culture and teams that can evolve and adapt.

People are the backbone of any business, especially one like ours, and we have seen how critical taking care of our people is and how it makes an impact on the business. As soon as COVID vaccines were available, we knew it was an important step for our teams. In protecting and taking care of ourselves, we were better to protect and take care of others. And by reinvesting in our employees and their health, safety, and well-being, we showed our teams that we care about them, and they feel empowered to give that same care to their residents – and to each other. 

Lesson #4: Authentic conversations build strong relationships and a stronger organization.

I tend to be a little more open and authentic about what I think, and I did not know how that would translate in my new role. I learned the ability to have success or pull teams together is not always about showing people that everything is perfect and polished, as long as you are thoughtful about how and what you share. Being authentic can be a bond that strengthens an organization. 

We have seen this transparency show up in our conversations about diversity and inclusion. In the last year, we have committed to investigating and understanding our business from different viewpoints – whether it’s about profession, race, gender or experiences. It is important to have these discussions, and it has helped us all learn from each other – and have teams filled with more engaged and confident people.

Throughout my career, I have seen how easy it is to become complacent – to slip into the same old ways of doing and discussing. But diversity is the antidote; it helps us see different ways of working, collaborating, and achieving together. 

Lesson #5: Know what helps you rest and recharge - and make it a priority.

This year, I leaned harder into the ways I can recharge, clear my head, and face each day feeling rested and ready. Whether it is listening to some of my favorite songs or dedicating time to reading a new book, I have learned how important it is to make time for things that help you feel and perform at your best. 

I have seen how important it is for our teams to recharge too, especially being in healthcare. Burnout is real, and we can truly suffer if we don’t give ourselves time to take care of our own mental health. Having a culture where we can talk openly about needing time away to rest and recharge means it’s easier to take a vacation, spend the day with family, or whatever we need to do to put ourselves first.

I take these lessons with me into my second year as CEO of Enlivant and I am eager to learn more. It is an honor to lead our teams and steward our business, and I look forward to continuing to create a culture and community where meaningful relationships thrive.

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