This is an excerpt from a report that I wrote about a doctor’s office I visited not too long ago. It is a message that all of us need to consider.
Culture is the sum total of leadership and systems reflected in the way the office is managed. An esprit-de-corps exists in every office, like it or not. Whether it is complacency, outright tension, or a well-oiled machine, you as the doctor are responsible. How you interact with the staff from a leadership role will define the types of results that you and the office are capable of achieving. You can have favorites in the office, but no one can know about it. This is like raising children: You can’t play favorites or protect one person from the rules and regulations you have set up for the whole group. It creates a culture of distrust and ambiguity. You, as the doctor, need to model the actions and attitude you wish to see in your staff. As I always tell doctors that think they are doing a good job of leading: If you look over your shoulder and don’t see anyone following, you’re just taking a walk.
Like it or not, the doctor will set the tone and must present the vision for the practice. If there are not inspiring goals/vision for your practice that the staff can embrace, there will only be an “average” follow through. Result: Lower production and higher overhead. We as leaders need to paint a word picture so vivid that everyone will understand and want to follow us. Great leaders have followers, and followers deserve to know where you are going (the vision). Without a strong vision and its implementation by your staff, it will appear to the doctor as if they are the only one that really cares. This forces the doctor to micromanage every last thing in the office. You will begin to feel like you are not “keeping up”, or not in the loop. This in turn stresses your ability to find the right staff and delegate to the right type of staff in a way that completely engages them in the process. For this to happen those who are engaged must embrace the vision and actual process you have laid out to successfully arrive at the result you had originally intended. Keep in mind that any practice will always be the “shadow” of its leader. This shadow reflects the skill with which you lead and will always be there to remind you of how well you are doing. While the leader creates the “culture” of the practice, it will always be the staff that “drives it”. When it comes to staff, perception is everything. There can be a frustration running through any staff where there is a perception of a lack of real leadership or engagement from the doctor. A lack of leadership from the doctor is often replaced with apathy, lack of follow through, and avoidance of accountability from the staff. This can lead to the belief that a leader is unsure of where they want to go. This creates a culture in the staff that fails to embrace change or follow a consistent path of improvement. The reasoning is that they believe that there will just be something new tomorrow, so why change today. Every office that I have seen has the makings of a great staff. I would like you to read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. In this very short book, you will see what it takes to build a team around your vision for your practice. It would also be a great staff meeting to introduce your staff to a new culture in your practice. Most leaders constantly need to assess and change the status quo in order to take their practices to the next level. Limit your goals and be specific in your choices and direction while creating consequences for those who fail to perform at an acceptable level of excellence. Every doctor will face difficult decisions as they fine-tune their vision of where they would like to take their practice. Keep in mind that you will never progress any further than the one staff member with the lowest commitment to your vision. It is the weakest link syndrome. Being too kind and understanding may create a situation where you hang on to the exact wrong staff member thinking that you will be able to cope or to change them. This never ends well. This means that success will come from systems, protocols, and a long-term staff that really are engaged in the process. These core staff members drive the culture and add feet to what has to be done. The need to micromanage is a symptom of a culture gone “bad”.
If I could get you to begin with the end in mind, the ultimate goal in leadership in a dental practice is to have a committed staff where all you need to do is let them know what is desired, and the end result you expect. They will then deliver without you having to micromanage or worry about the results. In fact, there is no need to manage the people. You will only observe and manage the process. As a leader you need to understand that you cannot change people. Instead, your task is to provide a clear vision and remain part of the team. I tell doctors all of the time that you cannot be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special distinctive, and compelling in the workplace. Do this and you will have a team that will look forward to taking on more and more of the “management” tasks that you currently do so that you will have more time to actively lead your practice. You will face some tough decisions as you take your practice to another level. If you would click this link and download the 360 Degree review for the doctor you will for the first time see how your staff sees you. Use this to refine your vision, and make course corrections. This is how you Summit.
Mike Abernathy, DDS