One in five Americans in the U.S. (or around 53 million people) are caregivers, according to AARP. Caregiving for a family member or loved one requires a tremendous amount of organization, flexibility, communication, problem solving and resilience—all skills that are sought out and valued in hiring processes. However, most caregiving happens at home, in private, without peers or an audience, and these strengths too often go unrecognized, usually never making it to a person’s resume or LinkedIn profile even though over 60% of caregivers also work.
My journey to health and technology entrepreneurship began in part as a caregiving journey. Living with and caring for my grandmother, while building my career, radicalized my perspective on aging and prompted me to build Bold, a technology platform that embraces and enables healthy aging through at-home exercise.
Over these eight years, I weathered progressively difficult situations, from my grandmother losing balance and her vision, to her dementia and stage-four cancer. It was tough, and looking back, also an incredible investment of time and a catalyst for much personal growth.
As a startup founder and CEO, I have worked with and been mentored by top leaders in every C-suite position, who also are caregivers to loved ones at home. While no two caregiving experiences are alike, I can’t help but feel a kindred connection and respect when someone shares even a glimpse of their caregiving journey.
Here are a few ways that I have seen business leadership styles reflect leaders’ personal experiences as caregivers.
How a caregiver demonstrates a skill for operations
An individual can only do so much alone. Increasing and interdependent layers of responsibility can overwhelm you.
In their personal life, the “COO caregiver” manages critical projects: they’re the person who organizes doctors’ notes and medication changes, and establishes the care schedule. Not only do they build a system from scratch to ensure that their loved one is receiving the best care and quality of life at all times, they invest in their caregiving network of individuals who provide that care and support.
One COO I particularly admire moved his entire family to a different state in order to seek better care for a parent during the pandemic. Managing all the dynamics, logistics, and complexities of that uprooting is challenging at any time, but executing that decision during the pandemic, at a time of uncertainty is exemplary of what a great COO would also do for their company.
How a caregiver demonstrates a top leader’s decision-making
Caregivers frequently face scenarios that require hard judgment calls. If new acute symptoms emerge, do you wait for it to pass, drive to urgent care, or call 911? As the medical power of attorney, you accept the responsibility to make complex decisions, even when under extreme time pressure, about life and death for a loved one. This high-pressure decision making also mirrors how a CEO might think about the survival of their company, and how they might approach critical decisions with investors, employees, board members or customers.
The “CEO Caregiver” works to align all the other decision makers around the shared vision and care goals. They are a person others look to for clarity and direction when situations become challenging and uncertainty is high. Even if they don’t know the best course of action themselves, they learn how to gather information and move their team forward.
How a caregiver demonstrates attributes for product innovation
As the popular saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
I have met many entrepreneurs who have developed innovative products and services that stemmed from their personal caregiving experience. Almost always, these innovators say that they wished that their product had existed, but instead, they had to hack together their own solution and wondered how many others might be doing the same.
The CPO caregiver is a natural at human centered design. They are most likely to tinker with new solutions to enable functional activities of daily living or improve care, such as modifying the microwave to be easier to use, or designing an adaptive spoon that is better for tremors. Through observation and experimentation, they can identify surprising motivations and unmet needs as a result of developing deep empathy for their care recipient.
And at its core—caregiving builds resilience. There are many ways that caregiving strengths translate into the workplace, but no matter the details of the journey or the individual’s traits, a caregiving experience reveals a person’s resilience.
While many statistics about caregivers are alarming, such as a 2020 study showing 23% of caregivers report a negative impact on their health, while 43% have experienced at least one financial impact, there are also innumerable pearls of wisdom, and strength, and leadership that have come from the caregiving experience.
At a time when health and caregiving have become top of mind for many, just remember to value all the caregivers on your team. They make the world a better place and see how even the smallest of impacts make a huge difference in people’s lives.
Amanda Rees is the CEO and cofounder of Bold, a digital health company.