The Supportive Leader
Supporting your office staff is one of the most powerful relationship and culture building tools you have as the Dentist-Leader. A team that has a supportive culture has a very powerful asset it can use to achieve goals that otherwise would be unattainable.
People generally have a need to feel cared about. Even though your practice is a work setting, and you might not readily think your staff still have this need in that context, be assured, they do. Being a supportive leader shows you care about them as people and you care about their careers. When you are able to successfully demonstrate support, you will soon see your staff performing better and getting along better with each other and with the patients. Over time this dynamic becomes the culture of your practice, with people feeling intrinsically motivated to ensure it continues.
Understanding Your Role as a Supportive Leader
1. See yourself as a steward, a “protector” and a coach of your team. Stewards provide wisdom. Protectors provide safety. Coaches help facilitate growth and autonomy.
2. Be committed to supporting the personal and professional growth and well-being of those in your practice. Focus upon supporting their long-term needs; not on gaining their short-term approval.
3. Remember that support could be either giving them a helping hand or giving them room. If your staff become overly dependent on you to “hold their hand,” they will not learn to “walk” on their own.
4. Emphasize that support is a reciprocal process. Your staff cannot expect to only be supported, without offering support in return. Explain and/or show them ways they can be supportive of you, and ultimately to the practice.
Tips for Supporting Your Individual Team Members
1. Understand the individual as best you can. If you fail to explore and appreciate the uniqueness among your staff, you may have a difficult time understanding how best to support them. Have one-on-one meetings in which you ask your staff to share about themselves; their hopes, aspirations and work-related needs.
2. Ask questions. I will often ask a person how I might best support them. Why guess when you can ask? You can then decide if what they want aligns with the practice vision, or exists within your sphere of influence. With this information, you can help manage their expectations, and thereby be more likely perceived as supportive and not disappointing.
3. Be as transparent as possible about your motives and reasoning. Help them to understand “why” you are choosing to support them in the way you are, to help eliminate confusion and reduce frustration.
4. Allow for failure. Failures and their consequences are like rewards - they are excellent teachers. Just be mentally prepared to respond to failures as just those and not something bigger. A potential learning opportunity can quickly turn into an experience of personal failure if the leader overreacts or blows the issue out of proportion. Be mindful of the influence you have over the people who work for you.
5. Clearly articulate your expectations upfront with regard to accountability and be consistent, yet be flexible enough to leave room for innovation and creativity.
6. Allow your staff to express their individual and collective creativity, especially when it comes to problem solving. Support them in finding and using a style that works for them. Do not let yourself get hung up on the idea that your way is the only way. There may very well be a couple different roads to the same result.
7. Coach them toward greater autonomy by asking open-ended questions and follow these up with affirmations and summaries. If you steer clear of telling or directing, you will much more likely foster engagement and growth than a culture of people “just showing up” to do the job.
8. Remember: When working to support another, it is possible to encounter well-intentioned resistance. While some people openly crave support, others have difficulty accepting it. The reasons can range from pride to embarrassment or simply that the person believes one resolves their own issues. When encountering this type of resistance, try nudging around the edges to find a way to offer the type of support that is in the best interest of everyone involved.
When leaders are supportive of those around them, and reciprocal support becomes engrained in the culture, everyone wins. Morale increases, productivity increases and, as a result, profits increase too.
Dr. Gale provides coaching and training to enhance leadership skills, interpersonal communications and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgForward this article to a friend
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