12.2.11 Issue #508 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Check Your Boundaries
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

As a dental leader, maintaining professional boundaries is crucial for your success. I’m not talking about abiding by a code of ethics - that’s a given. I’m referring to the more ambiguous lines of authority that get crossed, the “fuzzy” boundaries that can derail your team and your practice. In essence, it’s the way you communicate - verbally and nonverbally - with your employees.

The definition of a boundary is the ability to know where you end and where another person begins. When we talk about needing space, setting limits, determining acceptable behavior, or creating a sense of autonomy, we are really talking about boundaries. Boundaries protect us. They help promote healthy relationships. They minimize conflict. Boundaries in the workplace are designed to create a healthy and productive environment.

Boundaries allow for appropriate connections between you and your employees. Being “friendly” is not the same as being “friends.” Yet our lifestyles have become so casual that people have lapsed in their ability to maintain constructive professional boundaries. Remember - mixing business with your personal life can cause serious problems.

There is a general misconception that having good boundaries will distance you from others. Certainly there needs to be some flexibility with your boundaries, so consider a continuum of professional behavior. At the left end of the scale is under-involvement, which looks like a lack of engagement, disinterest, and even neglect. Contrast that with the right end of the continuum that is represented by over-involvement, which includes socializing outside work, “friending” your employees on Facebook, and the like.

Aside from obvious ethical principles, there is no clear-cut rule about boundaries because there are many variables. Your leadership style, your employees' personalities, your practice culture, all factor into how you interact with one another. But one general principle does apply - your team needs a leader first and a friend second. Here are some common areas in your work life to review to ensure that you are maintaining constructive boundaries, for your sake and the sake of your team.

Playing the “Hero” Role
Motivated by good intentions, you decide to loan money to a staff member. (This was recently a case on The People’s Court. The dentist provided the funding for her Front Desk employee to have cosmetic surgery…and you can guess the outcome.) Sure, it’s called an “advance on pay” - but when you do this be very careful. You are crossing the invisible line drawn between earned wages and a gift.

Bending Practice Policies
Suzie Q is a single mother. She frequently leaves work 15-20 minutes earlier than the other employees due to childcare issues. Because she is a hard worker, you allow this special “favor” to Suzie, but you’ve violated the boundary of your own 8-hour workday policy. The other employees see Suzie as your “favorite” and this has the potential to cause problems in morale and disloyalty. Worse, if her co-workers perceive this as unfair treatment, they can ostracize Suzie.

Poor Teamwork
When you don’t trust that your employee can fulfill their responsibility, or you believe that you can do it better/faster (you probably can), you step in and do the task yourself. You may fool yourself into thinking you were “just trying to help” or s/he was so busy and it needed to get done, or you didn’t want to keep the patient waiting. But you have violated a boundary. You’ve taken over by doing someone else’s work.

Too Much Self-Disclosure
There's nothing wrong with sharing something personal about yourself with your employees. In fact I encourage appropriate sharing. It makes you human and builds relationships within the team. But when you go into too much detail or reveal intimate information, it confuses your staff in terms of the roles and expectations you have of them. Information about your private activities, personal habits, religion, sex life or politics could be either intentionally used against you, or unintentionally affect someone's opinion of you or your practice.

Lack of Clear Job Responsibilities
Without defined accountability, employees can legitimately blame one another for poor performance. “It’s not my job” may very well be the truth unless you establish boundaries for who does what. It’s equally important to identify when and how you want things done.

Not Respecting Physical Boundaries
You lean over Mary's shoulder to look at the computer monitor as she posts payments into your accounting program. For some people this is an invasion of personal space. Ditto when you open an employee's desk drawer or search through their belongings. In these instances you've stepped over a boundary and the impact can be one of disrespect or even betrayal.

There’s an old proverb that says: Good fences make good neighbors. Mind your “fences” and carefully balance the tricky tight rope of workplace boundaries.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more 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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