REALM: At what point in your career did you first become someone's boss?
BF: At the age of 24, I accepted my first position as an administrator of a nursing home which was part of a three-facility campus. Within three months time, I was promoted and became the director for all three buildings.
REALM: As a young leader, were many of those you were supervising much older than you?
BF: Yes, and fortunately, there were many experienced people who had more years than I, so it made my job easier. That really was a big part of the reason why my advancement came quickly and why I was successful.
REALM: What area of study was your undergraduate degree in?
BF: I received my degree in Biology/pre-med and turned my sights toward healthcare management. I had been working as a nursing assistant in a skilled nursing facility to gain clinical experience and it was there that I was exposed to healthcare management, but more importantly senior care and working with older people. I went on to conduct my nursing home administrator internship at this same facility - Saint Mary Home - which is part of the continuing care community where, many years later, I returned to serve as President and CEO. I really have "come home" and I truly believe it to be a calling that this opportunity came to be.
REALM: What was it initially about working with older adults that resonated with you?
BF: There were so many people, experiences and stories, but for the most part it was about spending time with older people who were near the end of their journeys. The fact that I ended up in the senior healthcare world is quite remarkable because, as a college student, I had considered going to medical school to study obstetrics. I couldn't imagine a more rewarding career than bringing new life into the world. However, a few years later, I found the obvious richness of a full life's experience and being with someone at the end of their journey to be so much more rewarding. It's like comparing a sunrise to a sunset.
REALM: When you took your first position in management at such a young age, did you feel prepared?
BF: I probably felt I did well in my course preparation and internship, and that I was ready to go. But, taking that position began a process of learning what I didn't know. For example, school doesn't prepare you in how to develop trusting relationships in trying situations and how to sustain them. That only comes with real-life experience. It is only through living that you really internalize it.
REALM: Was it hard to transition when you tripled the number of people you were overseeing?
BF: From my perspective, it probably felt like a bigger leap. I was a little nervous, but I was grateful for the trust my supervisors and senior staff had in me. It was then that I learned the value of delegation and the importance of accountability - both lessons went a long way in easing that transition.
REALM: As you think back over your professional career, who were some of your mentors?
BF: My first mentor was my preceptor during my internship at Saint Mary Home. He was the administrator at the time and he championed the modern addition to this facility. He provided me the foundation of my understanding of not only mechanics/operating standards, but also the real spirit of care from an executive and leadership standpoint. He became a lifelong friend, too. Another mentor I can think of walked the walk when it came to teamwork. I watched him effectively build teams and saw how valuable it was to results. He saw that I understood and internalized the concept and he gave me some weighty responsibilities in that area, including planning a very successful company-wide conference and employee rally.
REALM: What were some of the things you learned from your less than stellar bosses?
BF: I've had some bosses who really didn't get the big picture or who were maybe less than honest or not genuine. That type of behavior always leads to an undermining of the goal or intent of an organization and it can also lead to the undermining of individuals themselves. I have also learned that there is no shortage of leaders who are arrogant or full of themselves. I try never to forget that people are looking at me, forming opinions and influenced by what they see.
REALM: As a leader today, how would you characterize your leadership style?
BF: My style would be characterized as servant leadership, and it is something I incorporated a long time ago into my leadership formation. Service before leadership is really what it is all about. You serve when you lead. Beyond that, I break it down further to point out how important it is to listen. I make a practice, when appropriate, to try and repeat back what people have said in different words, not only to let them know I heard the message, but that I understand it. Patience is also important, especially in our rapidly changing environment.
REALM: When you hire someone, what do you look for?
BF: First and foremost, I look for skills, experience and qualifications for the role. But I think it goes beyond that. I look for some quality or characteristic I don't currently have or didn't have that will be new to the organization or the team. It may be something unusual or something I have never seen before. That, to me, stimulates growth more dramatically than just excellence in the expected.
REALM: If you could ask one question of a candidate, what would it be?
BF: I would ask, "How are you already connected to this organization?" It gives the applicant the opportunity to demonstrate the initiative they might have already taken to understand our organization and its needs. It further demonstrates to me the candidate's level of commitment, desire and energy in seeking to become part of the organization.
REALM: As a leader, how do you create culture within your organization?
BF: I think it starts by understanding the culture you're in. Every culture has value and strength, so highlighting and celebrating those traits is an effective way to bring unity to a diverse group. We also imbed in everything that we do a "reflective" behavior in which we ask everyone to take the time to step back and relate our mission to themselves as individuals, as members of the team and to the larger organization. To try to manifest our core values in the behavior and in the living examples that people demonstrate in their role within the organization, we have a branded approach that we call "Spirituality at Work." The program requires leaders to meet with and get involved with employees in their work setting and responsibilities -- helping them recognize meaning behind what they are doing. When we talk about spirituality, we're not talking about religion, but about meaning and about our relationship to each other, to our work and to our world.
REALM: How do you weave "Mercy Charism" into your organization culture?
BF: We do it purposefully, systematically and regularly by using tools such as reflections, and acknowledging and celebrating days on the calendar that are meaningful to the story of the Sisters of Mercy. Each September we have a week-long celebration of all things Mercy including events reminiscent of Dublin, Ireland in the early 19th century. A highlight of the celebration is the portrayal of Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, when one of our colleagues dons an authentic early Sisters of Mercy habit and then walks around greeting residents and staff. We are blessed to have some of the very active Sisters in our sponsorship, on our Board of Trustees and on staff, as well as many in residence who are still capable and active in their own continued ministry.
REALM: What are some of the benefits you have received from involvement in professional associations?
BF: When you get involved, you meet a lot of people who are pretty close to your career path. That expanded circle or network of like-minded individuals, with different experiences, can be a great source of help, new information and support. The real value is in the lifelong connections and relationships you develop, not necessarily the next stop on your resume.
REALM: Why should a young adult consider long-term care for a career?
BF: Long-term care, senior services and the whole continuing care world has almost limitless need for good people to be part of the ongoing mission of adding quality to people's lives - particularly at the end of their journeys. It makes a difference not only to the individuals we directly serve, but that difference is multiplied immeasurably because of the value it actually provides to the individual's family, friends and community.
REALM: What would your advice be for someone just graduating from college?
BF: There are going to be times when we're met with failure, so we can't be afraid to fail. It's often a source of some of life's greatest lessons and it is often a critical step to a growth spurt that you otherwise would not enjoy. We see too often a mindless focus of having to get the best job or having to be the best in everything. We learn quickly that life isn't always like that.