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Do You Really Know How To Lead? Really??

Posted Oct 17 2009 10:01pm
Leadership is an interesting concept.  I call it a concept because there are really no set rules about how to lead.  There are no real leadership schools, because it's something you learn along the path of life.  I think that very few of us are ever finished, we've never learned all we can about leading others. 
I remember when I started managing our practice.  I felt like someone threw me into the middle of the ocean and said "Swim" without also teaching me how to tread water, or at least tossing a life preserver in after me.  So I did what anyone who wants to survive would do, I desperately paddled and waded, went under a few times, (felt like staying under a few times) and finally started making some productive progress.  It wasn't too long before I thought I knew all there was to know about swimming leading.  I'd soon find out that all I really knew was just enough to keep me from drowning. 
I have found that just when I think I'm really a good leader, reality smacks me in the face and I realize that I have a lot to learn.  Here's a little of what I now know:
  1. Leadership lends you no power.  If you are accepting a leadership position, don't do it for the power you think you'll have.  If you try to lead by might, you'll find out how weak you can be.  You will realize that you are dependant on those you lead, not vice versa.  If they don't like you, don't agree with you, don't like your methods of leading, you will be as effective in getting things done as a bird with no beak or wings.  The power is in the relationships you build with your team.  It is in the example you set.  The power is in the character you unfailingly display.  It is in your consistency.  The power is in the trust you build.
  2. Speaking of trust, in case you didn't know, you build it with every word, every response, every facial expression, every nuance and every action you take, every conversation you have, the way you handle good times and the way you react in harder times.  When you are doing it right, your staff will look to you for reassurance, they will base their response on the way you seem to feel about a situation, and they will mirror your attitude toward others. If you want to test this, walk into a meeting and just be quiet and don't display your usual upbeat personality.  You will see the mood deflate and become flat.  They trust you to set the tone for the day.  If you think it's a downer, it must be.  So if you want to have people who are working together in harmony for a common goal, you better make sure you do it first.  Make sure you're happy doing it, too if you want to work with happy people.
  3. You don't get a bye when you are in a leadership position.  It doesn't matter if the boss is grumpy, the patients are nuts or the staff seems like they just hopped off a party boat, you have to be consistent.  You get to have a bad day now and then, hey, you're only human, you just really shouldn't show that you're having a bad day.  I guarantee you, if you do, and if you do it too often, you'll lose credibility.  I'm speaking from experience, so believe that I know what I'm talking about.  And if you think it was hard to establish credibility to begin with, it's much harder to regain it.   Control yourself in the short term to make your own life easier in the long run.  It's a choice and you know you're making it when you decide to give in to a bad mood or other negative attitude, so dig in really deep and pull out that strength of character and save the meltdown for the car ride home.  Or, instead of melting down in the Honda, congratulate yourself keeping it together instead.  Don't worry that no one would have known that you were upset about something.  It's not wasted, be proud of yourself for dealing with it and not letting anyone see you sweat.  Let it be over and move on.  (Note to self, let it be over and move on).
  4. Leadership is all about impact.  What do you teach the others around you?  Do you model patience, or are you often exasperated?  Do you persevere, or are you always on the verge of throwing your hands up and the towel in?  Do you have faith, because in this economy you really need to be positively realistic and realistically positive.  You have to find ways to keep your practice afloat and even thriving, but you should not promise the impossible and then fail to deliver.  You inspire faith when you set achievable goals and have a plan for reaching them.  Then you lead the way.  You inspire faith when you do what you say you will do.  Do you really believe in your boss and his/her skills and character or do you roll your eyes and complain behind their back?  The staff will do what you do, so I hope you have faith in the person who trusts you to lead their practice.  If you have faith, the staff will have faith.  If you all have faith, the patients will, too and that's the impact you want.  If you have a hard time with this, better to leave your work then to work in  bitterness.  (Someone else said that first, I can't remember who it was). Remember always, it's an honor to be asked to run someone else's practice.  It really is, so respect that and leave it if you cannot fully support the dentist.
  5. Leadership is about dedication.  Do you dedicate yourself to the staff?  That means caring more about them looking good, then looking good yourself.  It means giving them wings and teaching them what they need to know to succeed.  It means helping them before you help yourself.  Stopping to show them how to do something, rather than attending to your own work.  Then later, you don't suffer because you have to stay a little late to finish the task you postponed to help, you just do what needs to be done.  Do you dedicate yourself to your patients?  Do you spend time helping them understand why they need treatment, and what their condition means?  Do you maintain your composure with them, even when they seemed determined to make you lose it?  Do you continue to be respectful to them despite the fact that they may be  behaving rudely to you?  Do you dedicate yourself to your boss?  Do you know what his vision for the practice is?  Do you listen to him and give him suggestions when he needs them?  Do you partner with him in making the practice and staff successful?  Do you dedicate yourself to yourself?  Do you have balance in your life or is your job your life?  Make time for the things you enjoy away from work.  Save attention for the people you love and the things you like to do.  Don't be boring and if you are only interested in work, guess what?  You're boring.  Dedication doesn't end as you lock the door behind you. You're always watching what others do in their business that makes you feel good, and then incorporating that into the practice.  It's talking up the practice, dentist and staff whenever the opportunity arises (without being annoying, use common sense here).  It's not about doing it all yourself because it's easier, it's about sharing what you know and being confident that you'll still be needed.
  6. Leadership is about perseverance.  "Never, ever, give up."  Winston Churchill said it succinctly.  So did Thomas Edison, "Most of life's failures are people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up."  Don't give up on your doctor, your team or your patients.  Don't write people off.  Invest in them.  Spend time trying to understand who they are, how they are, what interests them, what motivates them, and what their talents are.  Then take that and use it to help them get where they need to be.  Realize that not everyone will be ready to be where you think they need to be when you think they need to be there.  Also realize that even if they aren't, and it doesn't work out that you'll continue a relationship with them, you still never have to give up on them.  You can accept that it is what it is, and separate with goodwill.  It will always serve you well.  Persevere when things seem hard, it won't kill you.  Be aware of your emotions during difficulty and try to call on an emotion or attitude that will aid you in difficulty rather than pull you down.  When you feel frustrated try to figure out what is frustrating you.  Maybe it's a team member who has a bad attitude.  Will frustration on your part make a dent in her attitude?  It may actually increase it and take away from your credibility.  You can't control her attitude, you can only address the problem, discuss the change you expect to see, and let her know the consequences of staying the same.  No need for frustration when honest, open communication is available, and it always is, you just have to be brave enough to use it.
  7. And the last one for today.  Leadership is about courage.  It's not easy to tell someone else they have to change.  It's not easy to keep going back over mistakes or bad attitudes.  It's hard to be the one who has to give feedback and face the fury of a staff member who doesn't want to hear it.  You get tired, you get hurt, and sometimes you wonder, "Who cares about me, who worries about me, who tells me I'm doing ok?"  The honest answer?  You do.  You are your own mentor, you are your own cheerleader.  You supervise yourself.  And you have the courage to believe in what you are doing.  You know that you want the best for everyone and for the practice.  You have the courage to put yourself in front of everyone and make mistakes.  You have the courage to put yourself behind everyone and push them to success, even though there may be mistakes along the way.  And when success happens, you place yourself beside everyone else and share the victory equally, knowing that it really is equal, because without them allowing themselves to be led, you wouldn't get anywhere.  Knowing that you did what it took, gave what you had to give, to develop the influence that made them choose to follow you is enough satisfaction for you.   You lead.
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