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“Eradicate the world of sugar.” With Dwayne J. Clark

Suicide, addiction, and depression have skyrocketed during this time. As CEOs and leaders, we must acknowledge and normalize these issues (and other mental health challenges) among our teams and do all that we can to provide them with the right resources. At Aegis Living, we brought in a trained psychiatrist to host sessions, allowing people […]

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Suicide, addiction, and depression have skyrocketed during this time. As CEOs and leaders, we must acknowledge and normalize these issues (and other mental health challenges) among our teams and do all that we can to provide them with the right resources. At Aegis Living, we brought in a trained psychiatrist to host sessions, allowing people to talk about key issues and giving them the tools to self-audit. Things like the hosted meditation sessions and yoga also play a key role in support.

As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dwayne J. Clark.

Dwayne J. Clark founded Aegis Living to offer breakthrough design, disruptive operational concepts, and joyful, transformative living experiences that bring happiness, comfort, and meaning to the lives of seniors. With more than 30 years in the senior housing arena, he is an established leader nationally known for his creativity, innovation, and independent thinking in the development and management of standard-setting senior living communities. Importantly, with a reputation for caring deeply for senior residents as well as the staff in Aegis Living communities by creating a culture of respect as a path to productivity, success, and satisfaction.

Clark has been involved in many philanthropic ventures, including his own not-for-profit organizations, the Clark Family Foundation, D1 Foundation, and the Potato Soup Foundation, which serves the needs of Aegis Living line staff and their families during times of crisis. He has also served on the boards of Seattle based-Rainier Scholars and the 5th Avenue Theatre, as well as the Young President’s Organization, where he served as Chairman of the Northwest Chapter. Clark’s personal pursuits emphasizing civility, curiosity, and creativity extend to filmmaking, authoring books and plays which are detailed on his personal website, www.dwaynejclark.com

Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Iam theyoungest of four children and was raised by a strong, single mother who was my inspiration and encouragement to follow my dreams. She is why I am where I am today.

Well before founding Aegis Living, a leading provider of assisted living and memory care, I dreamed of making big changes in senior care. When I was a young boy, I would visit my grandmother at her nursing home and recognized that elderly men and women were not treated the way they deserved. With my sister’s urging, I began working in assisted living. I was only 26 but knew we had to create change and reimagine the industry and what it could be. I would write down my plans for providing comfort, hope and satisfaction to the lives of seniors. I paired this personal experience with best practices from world-class companies such as Costco, Nordstrom, and Starbucks to create a new model for senior assisted living centered on helping residents live life to the fullest.

Today, Aegis Living has 32 communities, 2,500 staff. We have eight additional properties in development, with ambitious plans to double in size over the next 10 years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early in my career, I was walking a building. I was a straggler, taking in the architecture and design. There was a memory box outside of one of the rooms that caught my eye. It held a big black glove. Curious, I went in and started talking to the guy. I learned he had played for the New York Yankees alongside Babe Ruth.

Another time, I was walking in one of our Aegis communities and saw a nuclear power sign outside one of our resident doors. I stopped to talk to the resident and learned he was on the Manhattan project, helping to invent the atomic bomb.

A lively resident caught my attention one day, so I went over to talk to her and hear her story. She quickly said “Do you recognize me? Did you ever watch Tarzan?” Sure, enough she was Jane in Tarzan. A few years back a resident asked me if I liked cereal. I politely said yes, and she was quick to tell me she had invented Cheerios.

I can’t describe one moment or event that is most interesting because every day I find myself struck and in awe by the history, wisdom and accomplishment that surrounds us. Our residents’ and other seniors’ contribution to society is so significant. We are so quick to dismiss our own history and not take the time to learn and appreciate it.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Mental health is a huge issue in our society. We thrive on human interaction. The science shows people need to be around other people and productivity is best when you are with other people, connecting. We need to embrace this science and create more opportunities for people to be safely together.

We also must put the time into caring for ourselves and our employees — fully embrace and provide wellness resources — from physical fitness and meditation, mental health, and nutrition. Encourage breaks and vacations to step away. As an example, I host regular meditation sessions with staff — now online. We also host weekly yoga classes at our Aegis Living home office.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

A strong work culture must be the priority of the CEO; it must be at the heart of the organization and come from the top down. A leader must realize how valuable it is from a productivity and profitability standpoint, so they truly invest.

A great example is Microsoft. Under the leadership of Satya Nadella, the company focuses on neuroscience to better understand the different ways people learn and thrive to help support employees and foster inclusion across the organization.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Love all, trust few, always paddle your own canoe. This is something I learned from my mother. It’s about being kind to everyone. Don’t be naive. And if you are confident about yourself, you can take your own path and be successful.

What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Suicide, addiction, and depression have skyrocketed during this time. As CEOs and leaders, we must acknowledge and normalize these issues (and other mental health challenges) among our teams and do all that we can to provide them with the right resources. At Aegis Living, we brought in a trained psychiatrist to host sessions, allowing people to talk about key issues and giving them the tools to self-audit. Things like the hosted meditation sessions and yoga also play a key role in support.

Leaders must also be vulnerable and share our own experiences with mental health. We have all struggled or been impacted at some level.

Lastly, we must continue to put ourselves in our employees’ shoes and work to understand their daily lives and struggles. Helping support some of their day-to-day challenges can help alleviate stress or give them more time to take care of themselves. For many of our employees, finding time to cook meals or grocery shop can be a challenge so we offered family meals to employees during the pandemic. We know childcare can be a challenge, so we encouraged co-ops and other creative solutions. Every employee was given access to telemedicine services to reduce in-person doctor visits which take time and can be especially risky with the coronavirus.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

The first step is acknowledgement and acceptance. Then, provide the right resources and tools like meditation and massage. Big or small, each step makes an impact. Lastly, we must bring experts in to help and offer alternatives to things like drugs and alcohol that don’t serve us but are easier to turn to.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

In my book “30 Summers More,” there are more than 36 habits outlined that can make a big impact on our health. The top habits I have found to make the biggest impact include:

  • Prioritize time for good sleep
  • Cultivate important relationships
  • Make time daily to move your body, and don’t think about it as exercise
  • Become wellness conscious, owning your health, and documenting it
  • Choosing the right team of medical providers and partner with them
  • Commit to your nutrition plan knowing what makes you feel good and adopting healthy habits like eliminating sugar and drinking 60–80 ounces of water
  • Feed your mind and soul with daily meditation and gratitude practices
  • Find your purpose, giving you meaning every day

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

I meditate daily and am fanatical about numbers — blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep statistics, etc. When I meditate, they impact my numbers. For example, I can take my blood pressure down 15–20 points with a good mediation. I also always aim to walk between 7,500–15,000 steps a day.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

There are so many, but I would say Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. He is a rebel and an ultimate creator. A person passed the book on to me when I was traveling in Italy and I didn’t put it down. Funny enough, I will never see that person again, but they touched my life in a unique way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would choose two:

  1. Eradicate the world of sugar. It is more powerful than heroin.
  2. Create the Human Kindness Movement, centered on human understanding, empathy, and kindness.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

www.dwaynejclark.com

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