Caring Leadership for Real People

Dwayne J. Clark is the CEO of a company, Aegis Living, that manages assisted living and other facilities for senior citizens, with annual revenues of around $180 million. He has a fascinating approach to dealing with the relationships between management and front line employees – most of whom earn $11 hour caring for the elderly.

It started with an intention. According to this article about him in the November Inc. magazine, when he started the company with a partner in 1997, he pledged to improve employees’ lives. Wow, caring about the people who work for you, that’s an idea!

Clark credits inspiration from Oprah’s ability connect emotionally to her viewers and bring them help via access to leading experts in different fields. Here are the things his company does to build really a sense of community at his company:

1. He brings speakers like Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Wayne Dyer, Christopher Gardner and Linda Biehl to management’s annual meetings. These meetings are focused on “the human spirit and personal improvement” (49), rather than sales, profitability, and the state of national healthcare. The theme of the 2007 meeting was “Overcoming Extreme Adversity.”

Before heading home, managers submit plans to Clark that spell out their strategies to share what they have learned with their staffs.

2. The company negotiates with the suppliers to get them to provide employee benefits. Examples of these benefits include free checking accounts and discounts on groceries. Suppliers also help fund these top speakers at the annual meetings, and in exchange send their own people to attend parts of the meetings.

These practices, stemming from Clark’s intention to serve his employees, have lead to a more positive and caring corporate culture that benefits monetarily from a much-lower-than-average turnover rate: 25 to 43 percent, rather than the industry average of 70 percent.

One last point: with all the emotional support and personal development the company offers, sometimes employees get inspired to start their own companies. And they do so with Clark’s blessing. In his words, “Then, I have accomplished what I set out to do, getting people to pursue their dreams” (50).

The lesson is profitability is not the opposite of caring for the human spirit of your employees. Happier employees mean happier customers, and if you get enough other things right, higher profits.

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