Permission to lead…

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Permission to lead…

“Did she just pull apart that linen cart and then leave,” I said. The laundry worker looked over and nodded.

“They always do,” she said.

“You let them do that?”

“No. I don’t let them.” She looked exasperated. “They just do it.”

“I would have blocked the door if I were you,” I said. She laughed. “I’m serious. I wouldn’t have let her leave without cleaning up that mess.”

“No one listens to me,” she said throwing up her hands. “I’m not in charge of anyone.”

“No?” I said.


“Hmmm,” I said and looked around the rest of the laundry room. Despite being in the basement of a nursing home, the room had large windows and lots of sun. Most of the room was very neat and organized. Except for the place by the door where the resident’s personal laundry, Hoyer slings (used by nurses to lift residents) and pillows were kept.

“She’s right; they don’t listen to us.” It was another laundry worker. She was in the back room, but had apparently heard our entire conversation and came out.

“Do they not have enough linen up on the floors,” I said.

“They’re not after linen. They’re after slings,” she said. I nodded. “Or personal laundry.”

“Do you deliver slings?”

“No, because then they would just make a mess of them up on the units.”

“Plus, we only wash them. We don’t dry them,” the first laundry worker chimed in. “We hang them all to dry.” I watched them talk in tandem. As if they have told and retold this same story a million times.

“It is what it is,” one of them said and they both resumed folding linen. I watched them, and then looked back at the mess of personal laundry and slings and pillows in the corner.

I’m sure they have spoken up. Have tried to get people to pick up after themselves when they come into the laundry room. They’ve probably complained a thousand times. But when you speak up and no one listens… I can see why you start to let it go. You stop complaining and instead adopt an attitude.

“It is what it is,” they say. Which roughly translates to, “if they don’t care, then why should I?” -Soon, no one cares, no one picks up after themselves and instead of having a neat and tidy laundry room where you can actually find something when you need it, the room is a mess.

“Okay,” I said, interrupting them. “Let’s try this. I’m going to give you ladies two options.” They both looked at me. “Are you ready?” They nodded slowly; unsure. “One, I am going to give you permission to speak up; you can yell, block the door, and refuse to let anyone in, who isn’t going to pick up after themselves…” I think they both rolled their eyes at me at the same time, which made me laugh.

“Or,” I said dragging the word out. “You can pick up after everyone who walks in here and pulls things apart.” They both start shaking their heads instantly.

“Those are your choices” I said. I looked at one and then the other, a little devilish grin on my face. They wanted to protest. To argue. I raised my hand to stop them. “The one option that I did not give you, the one option you do not have, is to leave the room a mess like this.” I gestured toward the pile of clothes. “You don’t have that option.” They both wanted to respond, but neither of them knew exactly what to say at that moment. They looked at each other and then back at me. I walked over and pointed at where the personal laundry and slings and pillows were kept in a huge pile, spilling onto the floor in the corner.

“This is not acceptable,” I said pointing. There’s resident personal laundry on the floor. Clothes are wrinkled. There are slings, and positioning pillows and wedges, and blankets… I mean; look at all of this stuff.”

“This is not acceptable,” I said pointing. There’s resident personal laundry on the floor. Clothes are wrinkled. There are slings, and positioning pillows and wedges, and blankets… I mean; look at all of this stuff.”

“Yeah but we just told you. We can’t stop the nurses from coming in here and tearing that apart. They don’t care what we say. We’ve complained a million times.” I nodded.

“I understand. I really do. But let me say this. This is your laundry room. You two are in charge here.” They weren’t buying it but I continued anyway.

“And being “your” laundry room, means, you are responsible for it. The first thing you have to do is to clean up this mess. Some of that personal laundry needs to be rewashed. Then it all needs to be hung on a rack. The positioning pillows and wedges, should be put somewhere by themselves and the slings… why don’t you them up by their size? Make it is easier for nursing to find the size they are after.” They hadn’t thought of that and nodded.

“We need to have this cleaned up today,” I said. “After that, remember, you have two choices. You can make people pick up after themselves; which I give you permission to do, or you can clean up after everyone who walks in here. It’s your choice.” I nod at each one, trying to get a nod in return. “Leaving the laundry room a mess,” I said shaking my head from side to side. “No longer an option. Got it?”

“Got it,” they said and I could tell the wanted to roll their eyes again. I didn’t wait for it.

-Ralph Peterson is Professional Speaker, Internationally Syndicated Columnist and Author of the books, Adventures in Dietland: How to Win at the Game of Dieting from Former Fat Guy & Managing When No One Wants to Work, (Four-Nineteen Press, 2017-2014).

Additionally, Ralph is a management training and development consultant that specializes in building Five-Star Leadership Teams in Health Care.  Contact him at (Twitter: @ralphpeterson08)

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