Good Leadership Can’t be Outsourced

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Q: I’m struggling with the current dynamics in my office.  Right now I have a highly effective group of individuals. The work they do individually is bold and outstanding; however they do not work together well.  For example, I have a hygienist who will not cover for any other hygienist. To her credit she did not ask anyone to cover for her, so she feels she shouldn’t have to cover for anyone else. This causes a great deal of resentment.  She is viewed as uncooperative and a bit of a snob.  She is not alone; a number of my staff act like divas.  My Office Manager is at a loss for what to do.  I’d prefer not to get rid of any of them because of their individual talents, but how do I get them to work as a team?

A: You are fortunate to have high performers on staff, but as you’ve learned, high performers can be more difficult to lead.   Expecting an Office Manager to take sole responsibility for leading your employees is not realistic.  They play a supporting role, but ultimately it is up to you to be the leader.

Leadership is mix of inspiration, communication, action, and representation.  Let me break down each of these components so you can see where you might be losing ground.

  • As a leader you need to inspire. 

You set the example for behavior you expect from your staff.   You should treat all of your employees respectfully, professionally and with kindness.   If you want employees to cover for each other you should cover more for them.  Even as the leader you are part of the team.  They will look to you for direction. Your behavior should model the expectations you have for all the staff members therefore you must act, speak, and be the person you want your employees to be.

  • As a leader you want to communicate.

You must be accessible and available for your staff.  This allows information to flow freely between you and them. Your employees have a stake in the practice. They may not have ownership interests, but their financial well-being is tied to the financial well-being of business. Therefore they will want to know your vision and plans for the future.  Keep them informed as to what you’re doing with the practice.  Whether it is purchasing software, implementing new procedures, or hiring new staff members, let them know.  If you don’t provide them with the information they tend to fill in the blanks for themselves.  Often the end result is more fiction than fact which can create tunnel vision and acts of self-preservation.

You must be honest.  Often leaders have to say things that are difficult to say.  In order to have their respect you must be honest with your staff.  Modeling behavior is one of the easiest ways to learn leadership skills (as long as you’re modeling the right behavior).

  • As a leader you need to act.

As the old saying goes ‘Actions speak louder than words’.  If you say you are going to do something then you have to do it.  Follow through with your promises in order to get the respect you need to influence others.  Provide staff with opportunities for development, both professionally and personally. Dedicate yourself to their growth.  Don’t be cheap.  Provide and pay for their training because their development benefits the practice as much as it benefits the individual.

  • As a leader you represent your staff to the public.

Their behavior is a reflection on you and the practice as a whole.  So if they can’t work together as a team, then it’s as if YOU can’t work as part of a team.  If a patient feels tension between two employees you may lose the patient.  Going to the dentist is stressful enough without having to deal with the practice’s internal conflicts.

In order to change the behavior of your staff you must first identify the weaknesses in your own leadership skills and work to enhance those.  It begins and ends with you.  You must create an environment where all people feel safe and where cooperation is rewarded.  Only then can you truly come together as a team to focus on the needs of the patient.