A Team with Four Captains
A Team with Four Captains - that’s the structure of the 2014 United States World Cup Team. Quite unusual and their diffused leadership certainly will be dissected regardless of the final outcome in this year’s tournament. Although I’m not familiar with all the intricacies of international ‘football’, I do know that there is a ‘science’ of leadership in sports…and business. While there can be multiple leaders, they must be unified and aligned to succeed.
Leadership is an increasingly difficult balancing act for one individual. When you multiply the equation by adding Partners and Associates, things get more complex. Most practitioners who expand their business do not grasp the necessity of shifting the way they work. They remain myopic and continue to operate under the impression that their partner(s) will behave the same as them – they assume that the Associates know they aren’t in charge, so there is no need to worry about them.
But lack of communication, collaboration and coordination are instantly visible to employees and often to patients. Without trust and cohesiveness among the leadership team, they cannot accomplish what they came together to do. The lack of ‘team-ness’ at the top can, and often does, produce a huge obstacle to practice success.
Dental partnerships often consist of independent individuals who enjoy competing. That’s how they got to the top. They rarely know how to deal with conflict constructively, and often choose to avoid it. Disagreements don’t get resolved. Hidden agendas prevail. Dysfunction at the top filters down quickly.
If your staff often wonders what’s going on or you feel like your practice is headed in five different directions, perhaps it’s time to look at your ‘executive team’ and focus on process issues. Well-functioning teams discuss issues, such as how well the group is working together, how decisions are being reached, and how well the group is interacting.
Practice success requires a solid vision or Direction, the Alignment of resources to manifest that vision, and a Commitment by all involved to making that vision a reality. Central to this process is the collaboration of the leadership team in a way that leverages the contributions, opinions, and experiences of each partner. Here are some keys to establishing a stronger co-leadership in your practice.
Build relationships. Take time to get to know one another. By creating connections you will look forward to talking and planning together. This is the ‘foundation’, the single most important aspect of the co-leadership model. You have to trust your co-leader! Two or more leaders working together will surely have their differences in leadership style, and they will not always agree or share the same perceptions or interpretations. But when there is mutual respect and trust between them, they will be able to work cooperatively instead of competitively.
Decide how decisions will be made. Agreeing on how to make decisions is a critical component of effective co-leadership. No matter how well “matched” co-leaders are, there are bound to be times that consensus cannot be reached. For example, in a family business where two siblings are co-leaders, the one with expertise in computers has the final say on equipment purchases if there is a disagreement. They both support that decision. Co-leadership requires a win-win frame of mind. It isn’t Bob’s or Jane’s decision; it’s OUR decision.
Conduct effective and efficient meetings. Begin each meeting with an understanding of what must be accomplished and end with an action plan - who will do what by when. Having open lines of communication (phone, emails, face-to-face) is one of the things that makes co-leadership work. Prepare agendas and circulate in advance. Keep meeting notes and distribute the minutes to everyone afterwards.
Learn to avoid being ‘triangled’. One of the biggest problems that co-leaders face parallels what parents encounter. That is, Junior asks Mom if he can sleep over at a friend’s house because he knows she will say ‘yes’ and Dad will say ‘no’. When you are aligned with your co-leaders, you present a united front. It’s good for employees because it conveys psychological safety and that enables them to focus on their work. And it’s good for the practice because you don’t get side-tracked by irrelevant issues. Make it a point to check with one another when important issues come up. This improves the credibility and the respect of the leadership team. You can’t be divided.
Co-leadership can be extremely powerful and effective. When it works, then one plus one equals more than two! But remember, even when there are multiple leaders, there can only be one team.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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