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Leading with Creativity and Excellence During Times of Crisis

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Leading during any time of crisis can challenge and stretch your abilities as a leader to effectively keep the ship on course and to keep the crew fully behind you. Leading during this pandemic has been especially trying for those in healthcare and senior care industries.

Recently, I sat down for an informative Q & A session about how to lead during a crisis. I know that question is being addressed a lot out there, and I wanted to share a few snippets of our discussion with you here.


I see you’re in your home office, which is where we all seem to find ourselves these days. You know, I’m really excited today to talk about leadership and leading through crisis. I know that that word crisis is thrown around a lot right now. But even months into the crisis, people are still looking for ways to manage, get through, get better, and prosper. And I think you’ve got some really fantastic ideas around this and certainly the proof of what you guys are doing there at Aegis Living. So for people who don’t know Aegis and haven’t yet heard you, can you tell me a little bit about Aegis? Who are they? What do they do? What do you guys focus on?

Dwayne J. Clark

Yeah, so Aegis Living has been around for 23 years, and we have around 42 luxury senior housing facilities, primarily taking people with dementia and assisted living needs. We’re approaching 3000 staff members, and we have probably about $3 billion in real estate assets. It’s a privately-owned family owned company, and I am the founder. And it’s a company that’s often referred to as the number one in our category. We’re very focused on culture, and so we get a lot of interviews and a lot of brand awareness around how we treat people and the uniqueness of our culture. We’ve been voted best company to work for multiple times—I think it’s 12 or 13 times—by a variety of different periodicals. We were, at one point, one of the top five fastest growing companies in the nation, and we’re always one of the one of the biggest family-owned businesses in Washington state.

But I think I’m most proud of the fact that our culture is so unique. We were the first healthcare company in the history of Glassdoor to be ranked as a Glassdoor Top 50 company. And that’s out of 650,000 companies that were nominated. So, I’m most proud of the fact that we have a very employee-first and progressive culture. And I think that bleeds into our service, how we care for staff, how we care for our residents, how we treat our families. It’s also the stance we take on political issues, the stance we take on things like Black Lives Matter or immigration or whatever, because we really care about people. That’s our business. We don’t make widgets. We’re not selling products on Amazon. We’re taking care of human lives and that’s the most prestigious and worthy job anyone on this planet could ever have. So I’m very proud of our company.


Indeed! As you should be!

So, you’ve got thousands of staff members. You’ve got more new things in development. When have you, as a leader, gone through something like this pandemic where you had to be so creative?

Well, there was a lot of fear during the 9/11 situation where people didn’t know if you were going to be bombed or you know what was going to happen.

And then we had the Great Recession. And, most people, especially the baby boomers, had never been through a huge economic crisis. They’d been through some minor downturns where the stock market corrected, or interest rates went into inflation, or gas prices soared, but never had been through a six-year recession. And, you know, that was one of those things where you just have to say, Hey, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. My mom used to say, “Keep walking through the darkness and you will eventually find light.” And so you have to keep walking through the darkness because eventually you’ll find light. And I think that’s where we are today.

When you get in a crisis like this, I think profit goes out the window. Your first concern always has to be the safety of your staff and your residents. And so we assigned process owners for all the vital issues, like technology, PPE (personal protective equipment) acquisition, communication strategy, people who looked into disinfecting protocols, people who work with the CDC, people who work with all our local research agencies. And, in fact, Seattle has some of the most phenomenal research agencies in the world, including the Fred Hutchinson Society, University of Washington, and the Institute of Disease Modeling (IDM), some of which provide institutional modeling for the White House. So, we started contacting these people, and said, “We want to be the smartest company and the safest company United States around COVID. How do we do that?”

And so, one of the things we did was form a virus council (the Aegis Living Coronavirus Advisory Council). We went out and got some of the smartest, most intellectual professionals around on this subject and we formed this council of seven people, including virologists, people who are working on vaccines, psychologists, geriatric specialists, and even a traditional Chinese medicine physician (because herbs have been a big treatment in China with helping people survive COVID). So we formed this very eclectic virus council. And it’s been brilliant.

And so, as a leader, you have to pivot in times like this. If you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m going to go back to the way I was managing 100 days ago,” you’re going to be left in the dust. You really have to be smart and think about how to take advantage of the situation—not to make more profit—but in the sense that, I’m going to be the smartest I can possibly be about this issue. And, that takes creativity. I mean, we had to design outdoor visitation living room spaces using Plexiglas so people could come and visit their loved ones. We pivoted and designed Zoom rooms, for people to visit via video calls. Now we’re working on a hugging platform where you can reach through this plexiglass and, through the sleeves like you’d see in a neonatal unit, hug your family member because human contact and touch is so important, right?

So I think in these days and times, Aegis is no different than a lot of companies. The only thing I think is different is how we approach this, and we approach it in a very, very creative way, and we do it very aggressively.

Next Time

Our Q & A session ran for nearly an hour, so there’s no way to include all that we discussed in one blog. Join me next time when I’ll share my thoughts on additional essential points to leading in and out of crises. But, if you can’t wait until then, here’s the link to the full webinar recording.

Until next time, live well, live long, and lead like you mean it !!



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