08.14.09 Issue #388 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Hijacked By Perfectionist Thinking? It’s Time To Tame The Beast.

You have high standards. That’s good; you need to be precise and avoid mistakes, you’re in a profession that demands precision and safety. You want a successful practice and if you don’t stay on top of your staff, important things might slip through the cracks.

On the outside, perfectionism certainly can appear as striving for excellence. But on the inside it’s quite a different story. The desire to achieve is hijacked by harsh judgment of self and others. Perhaps you achieve a lot but you’re miserable, and so are the people who work for you. Here’s an example of what one dental office employee said about her perfectionist boss:

“I don’t think she sees herself this way, but her style of leadership devalues the entire team. We never really feel like she trusts us. The whole office tries so hard to give her what she asks for but it is never good enough. She has her hand in everything. We are all so afraid of making mistakes and being criticized. Nobody feels like they own anything. There’s no creativity. No one really likes working here.

Many perfectionists rationalize their behaviors with explanations such as, “I just expect a lot of myself” or “It’s not worth doing if you can’t do it right” or “Mistakes are inexcusable and unacceptable.” While it’s true that some mistakes must be avoided at all cost – sterilization errors for example – blunders and slips can also lead to improvements and learning. Did you know that the ice cream cone was invented when an ice cream vendor ran out of bowls? A fellow vendor, a waffle maker, gave him a waffle to roll up to hold the dripping ice cream. Did you know that post-it notes were invented because a 3M employee made an adhesive that was too weak? Some of the best learning happens when we make mistakes.

If you disagree, it’s likely that your thinking has been hijacked by the perfectionist monster. It’s time to stop thinking and acting as if outcomes are life and death affairs. Here are some steps to help you tame that beast.

  1. Train yourself to interpret the anxiety of not knowing every detail as a sign of progress towards becoming an empowering leader. When you feel worried, write it down in a logbook. This will help you to be more self-aware of automatic, irrational thoughts that move you into unnecessary action.
  1. Stop fear and failure statements from your internal self-talk. Put a rubber band around your wrist. When you are caught in the vicious cycle of obsessive worrying, snap the band and silently say, STOP. Repeat until you are able to redirect your mind to more rational thinking.
  1. Talk back to your inner critic by challenging false conclusions. People with unruly internal critics are preprogrammed to think negatively. It is an automatic process. They assume that their inner critic is the definitive expert on everything. Worst of all, the critic in you only knows one thing – what’s not working. Well, what about what you are doing well? List the positive qualities and actions of your employees too. By redirecting your inner dialogue you’ll shift your mind and your mood.
  1. Recognize that you just can’t do it all. In dental school your success depended on trusting one person – you. Now you are in a position of leadership and you must trust others if you are going to succeed. In fact, the most difficult challenges you face in your office have little, if anything, to do with your technical skills as a dentist. The problems are more likely due to your behaviors. And nothing erodes practice success like the need to control everything that goes on in your office.
  1. Accept that there’s no perfect. When you strive for such an unrealistic standard you aren’t aiming for success as much as you are trying to avoid failing. Perfect is unattainable. It also has undesirable side effects that inhibit leadership behaviors, and it will hold you back. Stop operating under the myth that ultimate control is possible. Life is filled with uncertainty and risk. Channel your energy to do well by paying attention to your strengths. Play to win, rather than to not lose.
  1. One of the most difficult challenges you face is shifting from an individual contributor to an influential leader. You went to school to be a dentist, and it is unusual if you had even one leadership class. Human behavior is complex. Fortunately the skills to be a more effective leader can be learned. By integrating your existing strengths with new behaviors, you will have a positive impact on your team.  Leadership training also will help you to develop strategies that lead to heightened levels of trust and openness among team members, and improved practice results.

Many successful dental leaders are described as intense, driven, or achievement oriented people. The inner critic certainly can have value by motivating you to change for the better. But if your inner critic is sabotaging your success and happiness, please give me a call.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like information about any of her practice-building seminars, contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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