Ever since primordial mankind began living in caves, we’ve had good and bad leaders helping us to win wars, grow food and organize communities. But effective leadership ain’t easy, so countless authors, consultants, and academicians have explored and theorized about what it takes to transform ordinary people into extraordinary leaders. At this point, you can learn about leadership from hundreds of books or classes which generally have different spins on the same elements of truth.
In this article, I’ll distill 20+ years of observing dentists to describe 5 poor leadership behaviors that negatively impact their team. Then I’ll describe the 5 antidotes to these behaviors. They’re not in order of importance or frequency, but if you recognize yourself… well… you’re in good company.
Five Leadership Mistakes That Impede the Team
- Dodge conflicts by hoping they will resolve themselves if you ignore them long enough.
- Make inconsistent, compensation decisions based more on guilt, pressure and fear than on objective data.
- Micro-manage employees until they are afraid to make decisions or initiate anything.
- Resist giving effective feedback because you believe that either employees don’t need praise for doing what they’re paid to do, or they should already know what to do.
- Demand a system change each time there is a customer service issue and then fail to follow-through on your proposed change because another fire emerges which captures your attention.
The Five Antidotes to the Leadership Mistakes
- Recognize that conflict is not only inevitable, but that when handled well, can create better teamwork and improved performance. Teams know if their dentist avoids conflict and this affects their level of respect and trust in him/her. Sadly, I’ve seen some team members manipulate this to their benefit. If you want to be a strong leader and have a cohesive team, you need to model the communication and attitudes you want the team to emulate. Teams will respect you learning to handle conflict; they don’t respect you hiding in your office until it blows over.
- Get comfortable talking about money with both employees and patients because money is just another operating system. Many dentists approach conversations about money with a level of queasiness that implies money is some dark, mysterious element that could blow up at any time. Ironically, avoiding honest conversations about money does lead to frustration and resentment. There is nothing more dispiriting to an employee than having to beg for a performance review in the hope that it will lead to a raise. If you want to retain your employees and ensure they feel valued, then you need a fair, transparent compensation system that’s linked to the practice’s profitability and individual performance. Fortunately, I can help you develop and implement this system.
- Instead of micro-managing, coach employees so they can become self-directed. You can’t be the primary clinician and the business owner while simultaneously directing your employees every move. If you believe your staff can’t implement a system without you then either there is a training or a job fit issue. I know a dentist who doesn’t allow his front desk team to make scheduling or billing decisions without his input. This creates a cycle of dependency and a complete log jam in the practice. Every study asking employees why they leave their jobs identifies a lack of control over their work as a primary factor.
- Provide frequent feedback so that employees understand your standards and can adapt their behavior. There are two equally important types of feedback: reinforcing and change-oriented. Reinforcing feedback tells employees that their behavior is on target because it has led to a desired result. Change-oriented feedback informs employees that they need to do something different because it didn’t meet your standards or get the desired result. It’s more complex than just saying “Good job” or “Stop doing that.” Both types of feedback are necessary if you want to develop competent employees. If we could ask your employees today whether they get enough feedback from you, how would they respond?
- Consider the big picture before you initiate a system or personnel change. You may feel inspired to make changes due to new technology or a customer service failure. But if you keep changing direction, the staff will eventually become cynical and you will lose sight of your goals. Before you institute a change, do a thorough self-diagnosis, and make sure you have objective data that supports the need for change. Recognize that if the impetus for this change stems from opinions, anecdotes and emotion, then the change may not make sense in 6 months.
Finally, a few words about the bonus leadership mistake which involves focusing only on your team’s deficiencies. I’ve worked with dentists who resist changing their leadership styles because they’re invested in blaming and changing their employees.
Hey, it’s comforting to think OTHER people are the problem and we’re just victims of circumstance. But if you have chronic issues with your team, year after year, then the only way to move forward is to take an honest look inward and understand your contribution. This can be painful, but if there is one leadership quality that rises above all others, it is that strong leaders are self-aware and insightful and they do the hard things because it is in the best interests of their employees and practice.