0611de088 090 130

Finding Your Leader’s Voice

Nov. 1, 2006
’ve seen dignified dentists reduced to jelly when I mention leadership. Why? It’s a difficult subject for dentists.

I’ve seen dignified dentists reduced to jelly when I mention leadership. Why? It’s a difficult subject for dentists. The outcomes of motivating staff, resolving conflicts, and other leadership issues are less controllable than the outcomes of clinical procedures. Have you ever had a great day in which your staff and patients were so happy, and the practice ran so smoothly, that you dared to whisper to yourself, “Gee, I’m a good leader”? Then the next morning, a team member who was happy the day before knocks on your door, distressed over a staff, systems, or compensation issue ... and it all goes downhill from there.

Every day you have to delve into your leadership bag for tools for new situations. This is why dentists often feel that the “cure” for staff issues - leadership - is worse than the disease. What is an approach to leadership that would provide a true cure for frazzled dentists overwhelmed by staff issues that would feel completely natural and comfortable?

The first step to being an effective leader lies in debunking the myth noted by Ken Blanchard - leadership is something you do to people, not with people. Leadership communication is not a monologue, but a dialogue. According to leadership expert Margaret Wheatley in her book Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, “We often approach leading people like mechanics trying to fix machines.” (I taught a class for senior dental students and one asked, “How do you make your staff enjoy their jobs?”)

“When we allow no input from our staff,” Dr. Wheatley said, “we must provide everything ourselves: the mission, values, structure, plans, supervision, incentives, and deterrents. This approach is like trying to pump energy into a lifeless mass; it exhausts the leader and employees, and causes burnout. Instead of assuming that employees have no capacity for self-creation, self-organization, or self-correction, we can learn to lead differently.”

It’s as if Dr. Wheatley were addressing dentistry and dental students directly. Dentists have been trained to look at what is wrong clinically and fix it, which leads to approaching people like mechanics fixing machines. Believe me, I’ve been searching for the pill to cure “people issues,” but until it is discovered, we need to roll up our sleeves, clear our vocal cords, and start communicating with a leader’s voice.

What is a leader’s voice? It’s a voice that pushes past cynicism and uncertainty, and allows the leader to speak the truth, create a compelling context, and challenge others to stand with him/her. That’s easier said than done.

What easy first step will help you create your own leader’s voice? Learn to communicate authentically. This is described in one of my favorite books, The Leader’s Voice, by Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland. The authors refer to a leader’s authentic, honest, open communication as “leadership without wax.”

No, this does not refer to a new hairstyle or study model. It harkens back to the sculptors of ancient Rome. A status symbol of that culture was displaying statues in the home. Two kinds of sculptors emerged. The bargain-basement kind camouflaged their mistakes with wax the same color as the real stone. This practice incensed the fine artisans, who proudly hung signs on their doors declaring that they were sculptors “sine cera,” which means “without wax.” The term “sine cera” is the origin of our word, sincere.

Leadership without wax is the proud sign of an authentic leader. If your nose falls off during a staff meeting, let it stay off. Too many dentists mistakenly believe that they must present themselves to the staff as all-knowing and all-powerful. It reminds me of the old deodorant commercial that declared, “Never let them see you sweat.” If you don’t think it’s difficult to break this mindset, say out loud, “I was wrong. I need your help.” I’ll bet some of you broke into hives just uttering the words.

Leadership without wax believes it is perfectly acceptable to let them see you sweat. For example, assume you decide to lead your staff through the implementation of digital radiography. If you present this project as an expert leader who knows all the answers and has no fears or misgivings, the staff will approach the project in the same unrealistic way. It is natural to embark on sweeping changes with some trepidation. Your staff will not be innovative or take risks unless you allow for potential failures, concerns, or fears. They will feel uncomfortable sharing their misgivings with a leader who seems impermeable. One of the best statements a dentist can make is: “I have fears and concerns, but I know we can accomplish this. That’s why I need your help.”

You may think such an admission is risky, but you cannot be a leader without wax unless you are willing to be vulnerable. In influencing others, both the leader and staff change, grow, learn, make mistakes, encounter obstacles, and have setbacks. You become more credible when you are vulnerable. And isn’t that a more natural and human role to play? I’ve seen a lot of waxy build-up, and all it does is block the leader’s message.

Another favorite book of mine, The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, explains the steps to help you gain your authentic leader’s voice. Here are four of them:

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart
  • Let’s see how you can carve a masterpiece of leadership using these tools.Model the way Serving as a role model for others requires you to a) find your voice by clarifying your personal values, and b) exemplify what you say in action. People admire leaders who believe strongly in something and stand up for those beliefs. The principles and values that you choose to guide your actions cannot be faked, but must be chosen honestly. If you attempt to base your value system on what you think will please others, or on what will sound good in a marketing piece, if it doesn’t reflect the real you, at the first sign of an obstacle, pressure or resistance, you will lose the will to persevere.Having strong values does not mean they must remain unchanged during your career. The values that form your character, such as honesty, may not change, but the business values derived from your personal values, such as what you appreciate most and what you invest in, must change with time. For example, when a practice is in its growth phase, it had better have a business value called profitability, because it will be unable to deliver the best care and service with past due payables and large credit balances. When a practice is in its peak performance stage, we often see a value shift, such as a greater commitment to excellence, charity work, or family time.To test the authenticity of your values, ask yourself: Am I truly passionate about this value? Am I willing to publicly affirm it? Am I prepared to act on it consistently? If the answer to any of these is “no,” look for a greater value to support your investment and fuel your passion.Once you have strong values that you ardently want to achieve, you need to exemplify them in your attitudes and behavior in order to inspire people. If the value you seek is excellence in customer service, it is important that you arrive for work on time and communicate with patients in the same manner you expect of your staff.Inspire a shared vision A vision is a compelling, magnetic picture of a future outcome that you truly, deeply desire and that supports your business values. Whatever term you use, be it purpose, mission, dream, or calling, your vision is significant and gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. Without it, your practice becomes a series of tasks that feel like drudgery and lead to burnout. Once you identify a vision that motivates you, the next step is to inspire the staff to share it. And there’s the rub. One of my favorite quotes from The Leader’s Voice is “The difference between a vision and a hallucination is the number of people who see it.” How many of you have come home from a course excited about launching a new procedure, then three weeks and a few glasses of wine later, you discover that your vision was just a hallucination? You need to be able to communicate your vision in such a way that people will understand it, commit to it, care about its progress, and take appropriate action to accomplish it.The biggest problem with leadership communication is the illusion that it has occurred. Do you have a vision that is communicable to patients and staff? Can you describe your vision in the following terms?• The quality, service, outcomes, and results that you want to achieve in patient care• The satisfaction, accountability, responsibility, commitment, loyalty, and motivation that you want to inspire in patients and staff• The knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors of your team that personify the practice goals and benefits to the staff to align with your vision. Once you can share your vision in this compelling way, your staff and patients will see the horizon and help steer you.Enable others to act I used to advise dentists to “empower” their teams. I have, however, seen so many dentists claim they are empowering staff, when they are actually micromanaging or abdicating their leadership roles, that I now consider “empowerment” a tainted word. I now prefer “emancipation,” because staff who are not allowed to find their own self-leadership will feel like slaves. For example, an appointment coordinator who has been given “free rein” to create an ideal template for scheduling will become frustrated when the dentist breaks the rules by talking trout-fishing with patients during the hygiene check and throwing everybody off schedule. This staff member will mistrust the leader’s word. What does the dentist need to do to enable others to act? Trust the team by giving them true responsibility and accountability.Encourage the heart The most important step in establishing leadership without wax is to encourage the heart. Encourage means to inspire one with courage, and courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor. You can think of the act of encouraging as driving heart into someone. Rather than giving your staff more logic, this step involves releasing and supporting emotions. How do you encourage enthusiasm, joy, and passion for a common goal? You need to pay attention to your team and show them how important they are to you. Staff members deserve to be valued. They walk around with neon signs on their foreheads that say, “See Me,” “Acknowledge Me,” “Appreciate Me,” and “Give Me an Opportunity To Grow.”If you are clear about your standards, and you believe people can perform like winners, then you’ll often catch them doing things right. Think about a growth conference or salary review you recently held with your staff. Did your words of feedback result in encouragement, strength, and commitment to excellence? If the answer is “no,” then change your words. The most common complaint we hear from staff members is that the dentist only tells them what they did wrong, and never notices what they did right. The bottom line is: What gets acknowledged gets repeated.How would you feel if an assistant accused you of not caring about your patients and staff, but only about your bottom line? Or an appointment coordinator charged that you only like your assistant, and that you don’t care about the problems of the front desk? Would these criticisms give you reason to change, or would they simply sound like attacks and get your hackles up? This is how a steady diet of criticism without positive feedback can sound to your staff.There is a way to offer corrective feedback that preserves self-esteem by focusing on the behavior, not the person. Have you ever had an assistant who repeatedly gives you the wrong instrument, even after you’ve told her what you need? How can you communicate with your leader’s voice so that you build her self-esteem and allow her to grow in her job? The wrong way is “Hand me the wrong instrument one more time and you’re toast!” The right way may be “When we’re setting up for a crown prep, I see that the tray still has incorrect instruments. What do you need from me as your leader to ensure the tray is always set up correctly?” Whatever the answer, you’re leading the person to the self-discovery of a solution.Being a leader without wax means being sincere and passionate about your values, inspiring others to share them, emancipating others to support your goals, and encouraging the best in people. When you hide behind a façade and remain detached, your voice will fall on deaf, cynical ears. When you communicate authentically, others will hear you and be moved. So the next time your nose slips off at a staff meeting, shine a spotlight on it proudly and say, “I made a mistake, and I need all of you to help.” The results will be miraculous.
    Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice-management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For information on Amy Morgan’s flagship course on leadership, “The Dentist’s Voice,” or any of Pride Institute’s seminars, management programs, and products, call (800) 925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com.

    Sponsored Recommendations

    Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

    Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

    Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

    A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

    Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

    Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

    Whitepaper: The Blueprint for Practice Growth

    With just a few changes, you can significantly boost revenue and grow your practice. In this white paper, Dr. Katz covers: Establishing consistent diagnosis protocols, Addressing...