Are You A Boiling Frog?
It’s been said that if you drop a frog into boiling water it will instinctively jump out. But if you place the frog in a pot of cold water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won’t notice the water getting hotter; it will sit there until the water boils. The fate of that poached frog may be like some dental leaders who settle into a routine or let small conveniences solidify into large habits — and allow inertia to set in.
According to zoologists, the story is folklore. An actual frog submerged and gradually heated will jump out. However, some research experiments appear to corroborate one underlying premise - that a submerged frog will stay still when heated, but only as long as the heating is gradual enough.
What this metaphor does illustrate is the danger of not reacting to small but important performance problems. In my work with dentists, I frequently hear, “I just want to do dentistry.” The last thing they want to deal with is the “problem” of having employees. I am called into crisis situations because many doctors avoid the reality and necessity of being a leader. They abdicate their responsibility.
If you’re like many dental leaders, you have a common reaction when one of your employees is a problem… let’s say one with a “bad attitude.” Rather than concentrate on the specific behaviors sending your blood pressure into the stratosphere, you find someone to vent to about it. It might be a colleague or a friend and almost always your spouse. In a moment of courage you might make a subtle comment to the difficult employee, hoping they “get the hint.” If the timing is lucky, you may include some kind of vague statement in a performance review. The bottom line is that it’s more comfortable to avoid talking about it.
No one relishes the idea of giving bad news, especially when it has to do with someone’s poor behavior. Unfortunately when dental leaders hesitate, procrastinate or even abandon their leadership role, problems gradually get worse. The people who experience the bad behavior, first-hand, have a drop in morale. The doctor loses credibility for not taking constructive action. Loss of production and productivity follow. Before long, patients notice the tension in the office environment, and the stakes grow higher and higher with each passing day. Poor behavior that doesn’t get addressed early on will heat up if ignored. Like it or not, you are the dental leader and it’s your job to deal with people problems. All too often crises happen because warning signs are ignored, overlooked or minimized. That sends a message that unacceptable behavior is acceptable. Situations that are “mole hills” grow into “mountains” when you don’t address them quickly.
Remember that every situation offers choices about how you choose to frame and interpret your employees’ actions. And, choices about how you will respond. Choose to act from a rational approach, one that is based on objectivity. When you open a dialogue with your staff, you collaborate with them to find a solution.
To improve your skills in being a leader, focus on one or two actions that seem most promising. Be patient with yourself. New skills seem awkward at first. With practice, you will begin to feel more confident. Most importantly, recognize the progress you make. Celebrate incremental steps toward fighting complacency.
It takes just as much effort to be a good leader as to be an ineffective one, and it's a whole lot more pleasant and rewarding. Since you are a leader anyway, you might as well be a good one. Set upon a course of self-development that includes improving your leadership skills. Remember that you have two jobs – 1. You must accomplish the dentistry, and 2. You are responsible for leading your team of employees. Be sure to develop the skills that will help you be better at both.
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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