Rexburg businessman shares leadership tips

December 26, 2018

REXBURG — Sam Stoddard from Homestead Assisted Living spoke at the Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce in December.

“He is currently the vice president of operations at the Homestead Senior Living, where he oversees the operations of independent living, assisted living, memory care home health, and hospice,” said Brett Sampson, university public affairs director for Brigham Young University-Idaho. “We are honored to have Sam with us today.”

Stoddard began his discussion with dimmed lights and a quick shimmy shake. He had everyone in attendance get up and dance like an elderly man named Winfrey did. Stoddard said the 80-year-old would do a quick jig every day. After the dance was over, he asked the audience why he would show them that dance. Some said “an icebreaker”; some said “to show your love of the elder.”

“Winfrey and I were tight. I had a pirate costume on, he had a pirate costume on,” Stoddard Said. “We were fighting with swords right down in the middle of a 200-person dining room. I flipped my sword up, went to catch it, he took his sword hit my sword — it flew! Caught Sarah Western right in the head. The most prim and proper lady in our whole restaurant dining area. She owned a restaurant; she hated our food. Another time I had one of those kid bow and arrows with the red tip. I pulled it back and I let it fly. It barely missed Winfrey and it caught Sarah Western right in the side. She died a month later — not from the arrow.”

He told the audience that a good leader is someone who knows their people.

“The people you know the best, you’ll care for the most,” Stoddard said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a family, doesn’t matter if it’s a customer, a business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a child, doesn’t matter if it’s in a church setting. People you know the best, you’ll care for the most.”

He said a year into working at Homestead Assisted Living, he had no idea what he got himself into. He took a test that would qualify him to be an administrator and had to take it twice before passing.

“I thought taking a test would make me an administrator,” Stoddard said. “I learned it was so much more than that. I went on to struggle in so many ways.”

He said he struggled with staffing, relationships, customers and state rules. He was 22 when he was at Homestead Assisted Living, and he was also going to college.

“It felt like I lived with cold sores and stress,” Stoddard said. “Finally a couple years into it, there was no book on assisted living but there were good people.”

He graduated from college and for two years he felt like he needed to leave Homestead, which his father-in-law owned.

“You can learn a lot from yearning and discontent,” Stoddard said. “Don’t make decisions in life by ‘I hate this. It’s hard.’”

He told audience members you don’t have to be in a bad situation to feel yearning and discontent. He said it took him two years to leave. He went to Richmond, Virginia, where he worked at an 82-bed assisted living center.

“It was four times bigger than anything I’ve ever ran,” Stoddard said. “It was pretty overwhelming. There was culture shock for a little Idaho kid in a bigger city. There were lots of problems — 74 percent occupied, $500,000 behind their budget, 900 hours of overtime the first month, abuse cases, 100 incident reports on file. There were people that hadn’t been charged for six months. I had to have those fun conversations. Staff retention was at 47 percent. Brookdale Senior Living called it a ‘meltdown community.’ They had 15 of them in their portfolio and this was one of them.”

He said that after three months, he wanted to quit. His father-in-law wanted him to come back. He said no one liked him. He even told his wife he wanted to leave, but she told him to go back to work.

After 10 months, the facility grew to one of the best in the company at 100 percent occupancy, and the company asked him to take on their largest facility.

“It might be the largest stand-alone assisted living building in the country,” Stoddard said. “A four-story, 250-bed assisted living and memory care. I said OK.”

Stoddard said that on the first day, the state showed up because the building had an expired license. The third day, the building got struck by lightning. Two out of four elevators shut down and the phones didn’t work. The following Monday, the police showed up and gave them papers for a lawsuit for a wrongful death.

“I went back to work and 11 months later the building hit 99 percent. I missed it by 1 percent — still rubs me wrong,” Stoddard said. “Highest occupancy in its history.”

He said the best leadership advice he ever got was “If you will change, everything will change for you.”

Stoddard continued by asking what makes businesses tick. He said the biggest investment a business can make is investing in employees, turning them into leaders.

“The development of people,” he said.

Stoddard attributed his success to the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one person who gave him the opportunity and some good books.

“You don’t have to be that smart,” Stoddard said. “You just have to know five or six really good quotes and you share them every once in a while and people think you’re intelligent. OK? Then you have influence and they’ll follow you.”

Stoddard said leaders set high standards and help people reach those standards and then follow up with people.

He said he once saw a woman sitting in a hallway not passing meds to those at the facility like she was supposed to. He said he was ready to give her a talking to. She had sat there for at least 30 minutes. He finally went up to her, and instead of giving his speech about how she needed to get up and do her job, he asked how she was. The woman told Stoddard that she was in terrible pain and that the medication she took just wasn’t working that day and it was hard to move. He sat with her and talked to her, listened and asked questions. He said she then got up and started working. Stoddard said she didn’t need someone to tell her to work — she already knew she had to. She just needed someone to listen.

“Two words solve most relationship problems if used early on: ask and listen,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard said happiness is a choice and perspective changes behavior. He said that if you are a leader, you have to make that choice.

His final remarks included a video clip and story. The video was from the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” in which in a father, played by Will Smith, tells his son to never let anyone tell him what he can’t do. Stoddard said he showed that clip during a training once and a man named Reuben burst into tears.

Stoddard relayed what Reuben said: “I was so excited, and I had this dream. I wanted to be a registered nurse. I went to the college. I went to the counselor, and I said, ‘Hey, I want to be a registered nurse.’ She said, ‘Reuben, with your background, with where you’re from, you’re never gonna get into a really good nurse school.’”

Reuben told Stoddard that the counselor told him to be a regular nurse and to go to a school close by that would be easier to get into.

With tear-filled eyes, Reuben choked and said, “I listened to her. I listened to her.”

Stoddard said that’s where the conversation ended and the other LPNs left the room except for Reuben and Stoddard.

Stoddard spoke with Reuben as any leader should have done and asked him how he could help and what his dream was. Reuben said he wanted to be an administrator now — he wanted to do what Stoddard did. But then he told Stoddard all the reasons why he could never do it.

“I said, ’Reuben, what would you do if you didn’t think it was impossible to become an administrator, an executive? And he said, ‘Well I guess I would apply,’” Stoddard said.

So Reuben did apply for the administrator in training program and he got in.

Stoddard said that he’ll never forget when Reuben called him and told him that he got his dream job. Reuben is now an ordained minister, has run several buildings and has changed lives.

“Leadership is to take someone from where they are to something better — to help someone become something more,” he said.

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