“Calm seas never made a good sailor” Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted as saying, and if that’s true, I expect the storms weathered by nursing home leaders over the past two years have seasoned many into veteran skippers. While we certainly would not have chosen this experience, history has shown that some of the greatest leaders were born of adversity. Here are a few things we could learn from great leaders past as we continue to confront the challenges of 2021:

When you consider extraordinary leaders of history few names almost certainly make the list. But have you considered how these great leaders lead, what made them exceptional and how their leadership strategies might be put to use in our facilities?

Abraham Lincoln was known for…


Honest Abe was known for a leadership style that focused on spending time with the people he was leading.  In fact, it is estimated that he personally met each and every Union soldier enlisted early on in the Civil War. 75% of Lincoln’s time was spent meeting with people and he spent more time out of the White House than in it. When in the office, he had an open-door policy to all who called on him—widows, former slaves, constituents and congressmen.


When not meeting with the people he represented, Lincoln spent many hours at the telegraph office of the War Department, reading through details of front-line activity, corresponding with those on the ground, and seeking factual information in real time with the hope that it would help him make the best decisions possible.  Lincoln actively sought out information through reading and listening, asking for honest feedback and pursuing new facts that could provide a fresh perspective to guide the way forward. He was a continual student and made decisions based on evidence.


Lincoln once said: “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” He was quick to recognize a job well-done and to admit when he was wrong. He trusted and honored those working on the front lines, fostered innovation, and showed compassion. Lincoln was described as cheerful, magnanimous, and courteous –and these attributes were extended equally to political rivals, citizens, friends and acquaintances.

Winston Churchill was known for….


A clear goal, action plan and the ability to bolster others to rally around a shared vision of total victory were some of the most prominent characteristics of Churchill’s leadership style. In the middle of the chaos and destruction of WWII, he held the banner of a collective cause high for all to see, uniting efforts behind a definitive common mission.


While often portrayed as stubborn and, at times, difficult, Churchill exuded warmth in his personal interactions with the people he served. While known for memorable lines like– “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” and “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” he was not a natural born communicator. Instead, he was intentional about honing the ability to choose words that would stir loyalty and perseverance toward a common cause in the face of terrible adversity. Words move people—Churchill recognized this fact, and developed his communication skills to harness the power of effective messaging.

Martin Luther King Jr. was known for…


Moving out of present circumstances and systems (no matter how imperfect they are) to realize change is difficult.  Stretching the boundaries of the current approach to drive a better way means facing adversity, push back, and rocking the boat.  King challenged the way things were done at a time when inequality was the norm, risking everything to move beyond the current state of affairs to strive for better.  In a 2017 blog, Matt Lundquist noted “…people often make the mistake trying to change too little. Maybe there’s one issue that’s a priority, but recognize that, in order for that change to be successful, you’re going to have to make a mess of things. Similarly, take seriously that changing things is going to mess things up….and finally, recognize that in crisis or tragedy, there is opportunity precisely because it’s disruptive.”

As our leadership is tested through chaotic times, consider how you might influence and lead others to grow for the better, as you apply your version of the qualities that made Lincoln, Churchill and King great.




Amie Martin OTR/L, CHC, RAC-CT, MJ, Proactive Medical Review

Learn more about the rest of the Proactive team.