It’s hard to find a connection between a Marine Corps uniform and a Cupid costume complete with wings and a sash. But, for Joe Conver, both outfits represent what it means to be a leader.
Joe, who now is the executive director at Atria at Cranberry Woods, a high-end senior living community near Pittsburgh, has been evolving as a leader since his first days in the Marines, right out of high school. Every stage of his life since then, in four additional years of army service, college and throughout his career in senior care, has taught him new lessons in leadership.
In hindsight, Joe says, “The idea of where you start in life and where you end up can be a fantastic journey.”
From the military to senior care administrator
Joe entered the Marine Corps as his best option after nearly failing high school. “The culture of college was not even in my vocabulary, so the military seemed like a good option,” says Joe.
Still, though, Joe says, “I knew I had a lot of leadership ability inside me. I just needed somebody to bring it out.”
The military did just that, teaching Joe discipline along with an authoritative style of leadership.
In college, Joe learned to lead collaboratively after stumbling with his authoritative leadership style. In a group project, one student wasn’t doing his part. Joe got in his face and broke him down until he made him cry. That’s when he realized, “This is not the leadership style that’s going to take me to that next level.”
In his work since college, Joe has focused on being self-reflective and collaborative. Still, though, he says, “I have a very strong opinion about things, but I was trying to let the right people in.”
That approach worked for years, but recently Joe has focused on rethinking his leadership style again. “I started reading books on servant leadership and reflecting again on who I wanted to be,” he says.
Evolving to servant leadership to support his senior care employees
Every new role and transition can feel a bit like jumping out of a plane, but that’s a sensation Joe knows well. In his 167 jumps over the years, he says, “Every single time I said to myself, ‘Why am I jumping out of a perfectly good airplane?’ But the parachute opens, and then you see the skyline and you start floating to the ground. You’re like, okay, I get it.”
Joe’s enjoying that sensation of clarity and security now in his role as leader of Atria. He’s shifted his leadership style again over the last year-and-a-half to emphasize servant leadership. Joe says, “I’ve reached that point of self-actualization where I’m at the top, so my job is to understand what the needs of people are, and then be the biggest cheerleader.”
Joe’s built a team of experts at Atria who, he admits, all know more about their positions than he does. He considers it his job as their leader to serve and support them so that they can complete their work to the best of their ability.
That’s how Joe ended up in a Cupid costume at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in honor of the facility’s Month of Love. His staff knows that a core leadership value is yes first. “I’m a yes man, so when the department heads come to me and say, ‘Hey, Joe, can we do this?’ The answer out of my mouth is always yes.”
His staff knows they have autonomy over their department and Joe intentionally leads as a servant leader with the goal of having his team do the same.
Another leadership tenet for Joe is family first. “There’s got to be balance,” says Joe.
Prioritizing family as a company means giving employees time to be at their kids’ ball games and dance recitals. Then, says Joe, “Once they’re here, they’re going to put their heart and soul into what they do.”
Seeing Joe put his heart and soul into his work and team is likely the most effective way to ensure his employees do the same.