Great Vision Needs Sight
I received a call from a doctor last week. He said, “I want to be a better leader.” When I spoke with Dr. Clark (name has been changed), I learned that he started his practice from scratch 15 years ago. Production and collections have increased every year. Two years ago he bought a building where he is currently situated. He described the location and the facility as “great.” He treats children, adolescents and adults. In addition to comprehensive restorative work and general dentistry, he provides many unique and specialized services. His interest in learning is evident. He takes numerous classes to expand his clinical skills. He also frequently attends courses in business systems, practice management and marketing. And he teaches.
Dr. Clark has an entrepreneurial mindset. He is ambitious, curious and creative with a willingness to take risks. He has continued to grow and update systems, and he would like to do more but he has “poor staff involvement.” He confessed that most of his staff don’t even know about the processes he has put in place. According to Dr. Clark, he shares his expectations with employees, once, and they “do okay for a while.”
It is clear to me that Dr. Clark has great vision - the ability to see where things could be. His intellectual talent leads him to seek challenges that keep him mentally stimulated. He probably could jump out of an airplane with all the materials needed to build a parachute on the way down. However, he has lost sight of the need to bring people along with him. His managerial skills are being called to action and it will necessitate modifications in his behavior if he is to take his practice to the level he wants.
My experience with many dental leaders is that while they love the clinical aspects of running a practice, they find employee management a burden. Oftentimes they give directives to staff members and expect them to get it…and they are frustrated when they don’t. This is compounded when dentists are introverted. They forget to communicate their expectations and are surprised (and maddened) when things don’t go according to their vision.
Most dental employees want predictability and stability. And they need to feel that they matter to you and that you appreciate them, not only for the work they do but for who they are. This is a basic human phenomenon - until a person feels respected as an individual s/he won’t be a collective, even though it is in our nature to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
The bottom line is that you need to enhance your relationships with each employee, and focus on doing that every single day. That is the essence of leadership. One of my favorite quotes applies here - “People won’t remember what you said or what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.”
But communicating clear work expectations is not enough to optimize performance. It falls prey to an authoritarian mandate - do this, don't do that. Managing performance means changing the focus of your leadership so it is a daily activity. Managing employees is not an administrative exercise but an essential process for accomplishing the work through others. This is as important as patient care, marketing and networking!
Devoting more attention to improving relationships via bi-directional (two-way) communication is the first step. Once you know this information you can begin to help each employee to move toward their goal(s).
As a dental leader with true managerial responsibilities, your job is to shift away from performance goals and outcomes and look at employee needs. What can you do to help them experience meaningfulness? To feel safe? To be able to fully engage themselves? Yes, this is a paradoxical shift from conventional management, but a necessary one in today’s work world that is less about menial labor and more about using cognitive skills to manage complex information.
As the dental leader, you shape the identity of the practice and set the pace for how relationships develop. It is up to you to communicate the importance of unity in the office and to help employees feel valued. This is especially true during tough times. By keeping staff informed, you communicate that they are a valuable part of the team and important to patients. In return, most employees will go the extra mile for you over and over again.
Remember - your employees really are “volunteers” who have chosen to work with you. Pay them back - focus on building positive work relationships that will make your practice a more rewarding and productive place for everyone. Vision is great, but it is blind without sight.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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