Who's the "Pack Leader" in Your Practice?
I recently watched a particularly interesting episode of The Dog Whisperer. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this very educational and entertaining program, the host is Cesar Millan, a dog behavioral specialist. His mission is to rehabilitate dogs and retrain people. He has an uncanny ability to keep dogs balanced, calm and compliant. I think of Cesar as a dog psychologist.
On this particular episode, the focus was on Riley the Mastiff, a 125 pound handful for her owners, Jessica and Shawn. This hefty canine was in control of the household! Although Shawn was a fitness expert capable of lifting hundreds of pounds, his size was insignificant when it came to stopping Riley’s bad behavior. Jessica was frustrated and vacillated between pleading to punishing the dog. They truly needed Cesar’s help.
If you’ve ever viewed The Dog Whisperer you know that Cesar teaches dog owners that they are the problem, not their pets. As I observed him show this couple how to restore order in their household, I saw many parallels for dental leaders.
My belief is that people, like dogs, are inherently good. I doubt that anyone on your payroll gets up in the morning thinking about how to make life difficult for you. If you’ve got problem employees, maybe you’re not being a good pack leader. Being successful requires you to influence people just about all of the time. You need to persuade your patients and your employees to take action based on what you say. Here are some principles to re-establish yourself as the alpha dog in your office.
1. Start thinking like your employees and your patients. Make the effort to get to know the people around you. Find out what’s important to them. This creates a positive atmosphere that motivates, encourages and gives confidence. Best of all, the information you gain will help you to know what each person needs from you to be a good follower.
2. Be direct and consistent in your communication. In the absence of clear expectations, your employees and patients will assume what they think you meant, and it might not be accurate. If job performance is not up to your standards, it’s your responsibility to provide feedback and training. If treatment compliance isn’t up to your satisfaction, emphasize the seriousness of the problem and/or the positive benefits that will be gained.
3. Be calm and assertive. If your employees and patients see you as frustrated, angry or fearful they are unlikely to follow you.
4. Match employees to the right jobs. Top performers want and need to feel challenged. Explore what new opportunities they see in their work with you. Provide your staff with opportunities to expand their skills. Show them that you are interested in them as people not just as employees.
5. Be benevolent but tough. This means you are fair and respectful. If you want employees to be productive, you have to create a disciplined teaching environment. Discipline is really a part of overall performance management.
6. Acknowledge your employees each and every day. People need to feel that they matter; it’s a human need. We all have a basic and natural desire to be valued and appreciated.
7. Reward appropriately. Avoid giving bonuses with the hope that problem employees will “get the message.” If you use money as the primary motivator, your staff will see you as a push-over – they weren’t performing well before the raise and they sure as heck won’t improve when they get reinforced for doing poorly. Praise needs to be linked to specific behaviors in order to contribute to the overall practice mission.
8. Choose your battles. There are some employee behaviors that just aren’t worth hassling. If you’re quiet but your chairside is talkative and friendly, learn to live with it. Manage your energy by focusing on the things that really matter.
Like our canine friends, your employees need challenge, discipline and support…in that order. This is the foundation for a balanced leader-follower relationship. Calm-assertive energy will create a positive and lasting connection with your employees and patients. And the rules, boundaries and limits you set and maintain consistently will establish you as the pack leader in your practice.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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