Support is a Wimpy Word…

February 11, 2016
Denise Hyde

support (the dictionary project, macro shots, shallow D.O.F.)

… Especially when it comes to changing the culture of care in an organization. My boss was the first to use it in the journey we were on. He would say, “I’m here for you; I support what you are doing,” and I thought, “How great is this!” We made amazing

changes, and it was great adventure. Then, he started doing things that ended up undoing all of our efforts. His idea of support did not meet the ongoing needs of changing the culture of care. He taught me a very important lesson. Without the authority and access to resources needed to effect change, support from leaders without their active, visible, daily engagement is the same as no support. Eventually, I threw up my hands and walked away. Ultimately, the Elders paid the price for the lack of well-defined support.

In 15 years of learning from organizations implementing person-directed care, I’ve come to realize that when a culture change leader tells me they have the support of a boss, a governing body, a corporate team, etc., the hair on the back of my neck prickles. What does support mean to those involved? Have they clearly spelled it out? Has everyone gotten all of the information, knowledge, skills/training and resources they need to actually provide support that will make a difference?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, support means:

  • To carry or bear the weight of; keep from falling, slipping or sinking; hold up
  • To give courage, faith, or confidence; to help or comfort
  • To give approval to or be in favor of; subscribe to; uphold
  • To maintain or provide with money or subsistence
  • To show or tend to show to be true; help prove, vindicate, or corroborate

Support does not mean:

  • “I’m behind you until …”: we hit a speed bump like the finances falter; we have a bad survey; I’m asked to take a risk I don’t want to take; someone makes a mistake that I’m uncomfortable with; another more pressing priority overrides this person-directed care thing; etc.
  • “I’m too busy/important to …”: roll up my sleeves and get involved and actively show my support; sit down and observe the flow of daily life and help you make it better by removing barriers and providing needed resources; take a break with the employees or Elders and get to know them better; attend person-directed care training; share my passion for changing the culture of care with others; invest in the growth of others so they can be effective, empowered leaders; etc.
  • “This person-directed stuff is something best done by …”: the activity professionals; the chaplain; social worker; those who most intimately support the Elder daily; anybody but me …

Support is actually a really important word in the culture change journey. It carries huge responsibility. It doesn’t matter where you are planted in the organization, or what authority your role possesses. Use the word support wisely. Only say you support the change effort, if you are willing to put your heart, soul, talents, wisdom, hands and mind into the journey. Don’t accept that someone else is supporting you unless they are willing to commit to the same. The stakes are too high for the Elders and for you. Set your support expectations equally high.

We just completed a grant project in California and Colorado called Leveraging Leadership to Drive Sustainable Change that really challenged leaders to take a long, hard look at exactly this issue. We’ve just launched the same grant project in Texas where our goal is to get 100 nursing homes to develop leadership driven, person-directed strategies. If you work in a Texas nursing home, this is your moment….

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8 Comments. Leave new

At the Eden Alternative we often talk about how words make worlds. This is yet another example. Denise challenges us to think long and hard about the word “support” which we use a lot in culture change. How do you use it? How does your leadership use it? Is everyone who uses it really prepared to back it up? If you work at a nursing home in Texas, put it to the test and join our grant project. As Denise said, this is your moment!


Great post, Denise. Not only for those in Texas who might want to participate in this project, but for every state to be inspired and do a similar grant project!


Denise you have given a voice to so many leaders who silently face these barriers and frustrations on a daily basis.
Getting real is not easy.
Thank you. MK


Texas has an amazing opportunity to lead others. They are in a position to demonstrate to the rest of the country what REAL culture change looks like.
Thank you Denise for being a strong voice for those who live this story on a daily basis. MK

Linda K. Crawford, Eden Educator and Eden Mentor - Oklahoma
February 11, 2016 5:16 pm

Denise: You described my recent experience as if you were there walking beside me. I won’t say that I am over grieving for the dream I had for a once growing community. However, your article helped me put things into perspective and realize that I am not alone. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have experienced this phenomenon and it may not be the last. However, I don’t regret any part of the journey. I have a better understanding of what happens when fear wins over love and courage is put aside for security. My tears are for all of us who lost that battle, most of all the Elders who lost the most. But, I now understand that all of us can succumb to fear and it is something we all need to work on the courage to overcome. I don’t know where the journey will take me next, but I am looking forward to the opportunity to once again feel the excitement, relationships, and love that come from working together to create an environment where everyone can grow and thrive.

Thank you for all your love and encouragement,


Great point Denise! Owners and executive leaders can’t just talk of support but must actually be engaged and committed to the purpose. Keep fighting the good fight!


Denise. As always, wise words ! It is amazing how even the simplest of words can be used in the wrong context to “support” a particular position or way of doing things.

Mary Kim Smith
March 8, 2016 10:20 pm

Denise’s wisdom and sincere words apply to so many who currently or previously lived in the world that she describes. Now is the time to move past those who don’t really want to change the world for our elders. Whether you are in South Carolina, Florida, New York, Mississippi, Texas, Nebraska, Washington, Colorado, California or anywhere in the world this is the time to move forward.


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