Ask five dentists what keeps them up at night and four will answer, “Staff.” Why is that?Why do dentists find managing staff one of the hardest parts of their jobs? And what are the effects of having (or being) a boss that finds leadership to be a challenge?
My theory, after working with and for dentists for 30 years, is that many dentists are simply not prepared for the task of managing a group of people. They come out of dental school after 7+ years with great technical skills and very little business acumen or leadership knowledge. They go to work in tiny spaces, with a mindset of “find problem-fix-move on”. The prospect of motivating, empowering, coaching, mentoring, and establishing long term relationships, just isn’t in their repertoire!
The result is a boss who doesn’t know the first thing about being a boss and doesn’t even want the job. Author Michael Gerber wrote a book called The E-Myth (the ‘entrepreneurial myth’). I highly recommend that dental team members read it to help them understand what’s going on with dentists and the running of a practice. In a nutshell, the e-myth is that anyone who can perform a technical skill in a business, will also be good at successfully running the business.
In my presentation, “Keep Your Staff Without Losing Your Mind”, I offer dentists and their teams ten strategies, behaviours and techniques that can be applied to everyday dental practice routines. When adopted, these strategies change everything. There is better understanding, cooperation and a healthier, happier work environment. Staff are empowered and motivated and that means a lot less of a dentist’s time spent trying to ‘manage’ staff. In this blog post, I will succinctly summarize them…
1. Hire the right people. Do not hire for experience alone, hire for attitude and character. Do not choose from among available candidates if none of them have the right stuff. By the same token, if you have what I call ‘low hanging fruit’ on board – let them go – they bring everyone down.
2. Manage moments, not people. Every moment is a learning opportunity. Coach as you go in real time. Do not wait for performance reviews to correct mistakes or make changes. Give feedback and correct in the present moment. Acknowledge a job well done right when it happens.
3. Listen like you’re wrong. We are all guilty of listening with half an ear while we formulate our answer or rebuttal. Robert Sutton (Good Boss, Bad Boss) says try listening with the mindset that you might be wrong. My own experience is that people respond to you differently when you really listen to them, and the prize is that you are exposed to new ideas and perspectives!
4. Don’t try to get people to like you! We all want to be liked but when your boss is busy trying to be your friend and be liked, it gets really old. We look to our employer for leadership. I tell my dentist clients, “Don’t solicit weak friendship; demonstrate strong leadership – your staff will like you better for it!”
5. Look in the mirror – whenever there is conflict, confrontation or chaos, usually lack of leadership comes into play. Everyone should ask themselves, what part am I playing in this? How am I feeding this? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? What would change if I did something differently? You would be surprised at how much power you have to change things.
6. Delegate, don’t abdicate! I see many dentists assign a task, walk away and wash their hands of it. I call this abdication because they relinquish their responsibility. That responsibility falls onto the shoulders of an employee who has no real authority and carries no burden of risk. That is unfair to the employee. Effective delegation involves assigning a task with authority to make decisions, then following up with communication, progress measurement, strategizing and discussion. The task becomes a learning, rewarding opportunity for the employee and the responsibilities are evenly distributed.
7. Follow the “No-Asshole Rule”- Can you tell Robert Sutton is one of my favourite authors? He defines a “Certified Asshole” as someone who blatantly attacks anyone with less authority, education, knowledge etc., by demeaning, belittling or otherwise making them feel less about themselves after an altercation. In his book, The No-Asshole Rule, Sutton describes the total cost of assholes (TCA) in terms of employee turnover and absenteeism, and he provides a little test to determine if you are one! There are strategies in the book for quelling your inner-asshole and ones for working with one.
8. Hold employees capable – there is nothing more empowering that being made to feel that we are capable. We tend to live up (or down) to expectations. Micro-managing makes people feel as though they are not trusted to do their jobs well. Expecting perfection is not the answer, but trusting that a team member will do the best job they are able to, usually results in just that. Feedback, encouragement and coaching are all part of the growth process; micro-managing or having negative expectations produces only negative results.
9. Value, appreciate, acknowledge – it is a misconception that cash is the most desirable way to acknowledge employees. Our souls and psyches crave appreciation and only when there is no other kind, will money suffice. Being made to feel that we are truly valued for our contribution, appreciated for our efforts, and acknowledged for the work we do, will be motivation to give even more.
10.Don’t be an island. This strategy ties right back into the concept that dentists lack some of the leadership skills to effectively manage the challenges that come from being a boss. They will seek help from mentors and colleagues on any and every technical skill and attend clinical CE courses galore, yet they are reticent to invest the time and energy to learn leadership and communication skills from a coach or mentor. I have overheard many dentists yakking to each other about staff issues in what is nothing more than unproductive bitch sessions. I encourage dentists and staff to have mentors, coaches and colleagues that can really help and to find effective, long lasting, sustainable solutions to the challenges of working with others in this business.
What differences do you think the application of these ten simple, easy-to-apply strategies and behaviours would make to your work? I have often said that if the technical skills of dentistry are the brains of the operation, then good, solid leadership skills are surely the heart and soul! I look forward to your feedback and stories….