Four 'Always' Rules of Great Managers

Feb. 1, 2007
A velvet glove is the first step, but the velvet is most effective when placed atop an iron hand.

A velvet glove is the first step, but the velvet is most effective when placed atop an iron hand.

by Patrick Wahl, DMD, MBA, and Ginny Hegarty

The question we are perhaps most often asked is “How can I motivate my team members and increase their productivity?” Many consultants feel that some “team-building exercise” or another will motivate people. However, we’ve found this type of motivation is short-lived and that you can’t force people to be motivated. You have to hire motivated people and then provide an environment that supports their commitment to high performance.

Rule No. 1

Rule No. 1 of managing people exceptionally well is: “Always hire motivated people.” We’re reminded of the business owner who was asked, “Who trained your staff to be so polite and well-groomed?” The owner answered, “Their mothers and fathers.”

Does Southwest Airlines inspire its employees to be helpful and fun? In some ways, yes. But the reason Southwest has so many helpful and fun people is ... they hire people who are helpful and fun! At Southwest, the interview process begins with your first phone call and your performance is evaluated at every point of contact.

Applicants are brought in for group interviews and asked to give a three-minute speech about themselves to the group. Meanwhile, a manager is watching the group - not the speaker - to see just how attentive the fellow applicants are to the speaker. Those who are interested and attentive are hired; the rest are not. Southwest believes this method of identifying how people react and respond to others is a major reason for their low turnover rate. They pick winners!

Rule No. 2

RuleNo. 2 of managing people exceptionally well is:“Always wear a velvet glove.” Couch everything you say in velvet. People are good. You should expect the best. People want to live up to the high expectations you have of them.

Treat your employees as if they were volunteers, advises management expert Wolf J. Rinke, PhD. “Stop and think, what would you say to your team members if, indeed, they were volunteers? How about: ‘Please.’ ‘Thank you!’ ‘Can I count on you?’ ‘I need your help.’ ‘I really appreciate what you’ve done.’ ‘Thanks for being on my team!’ ‘Thanks for showing up.’ ‘Could you do me a favor?’”

A very misguided boss once declared, “If you don’t hear from me, you’re doing great.” There is far too little feedback in dental offices! In fact, feedback should take place not during periodic reviews, but daily. Too many people think feedback is synonymous with criticism. Don’t shortchange yourself or your team by falling into this trap. Catch people doing things right and tell them about it - you’ll make their day and you’ll love the result! People repeat behaviors that get attention and are rewarded. Remember to give your team the gift of positive feedback. You’ll be rewarded with consistently good performances.

Rule No. 3

Rule No. 3 of managing people exceptionally well is underneath your velvet glove, “Always have an iron hand.” There will be the uncaring. There will be the selfish - the detritus, the flotsam, and the effluvia. Hopefully, they are not on your payroll, but if this description brings a familiar face to mind, your commitment to staying in touch and holding them accountable will let them know without a doubt that they need to find another place to simply punch the time clock.

A velvet glove is the first step, but the velvet is most effective when placed atop an iron hand. Certainly, all parents hope to inspire their children, leading them by example with nothing but positive words and actions. Still, most children benefit from an occasional “time out.”

Rule No. 4

Rule No. 4 of managing people exceptionally well was coined by Nike many years ago: “Just do it!” You cannot hire your way out of management and/or leadership. Your practice culture trickles downstream and begins with you setting the vision, style, and pace.

Leadership is thought of as glamorous and lofty, while management is considered gritty grunt work. But in the end, inspirational speeches and noble goals aren’t enough. Execution is all that matters. You’ll know this is an issue in your practice if you hear team members complain “All we ever do is talk about the problems, but we never actually come up with solutions.”

Visionary leaders

Ray Kroc founded a business so successful it has become a cultural icon - McDonald’s. Ray Kroc was a visionary. Still, McDonald’s franchisees achieved what they did not merely as a result of Ray Kroc’s inspirational leadership, but also because of Kroc’s personal on-site inspections, which at times concluded with him stripping the franchise from the owner. That is to say, the most effective managers haveiron hands underneath their velvet gloves.

Steve Jobs is also a visionary, almost single-handedly revamping three different industries: computers (Apple), music (iTunes), and movies (Pixar). Computers were ugly “beige boxes” until Jobs’ iMac earned its showing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Jobs’ iPods have made white earphones almost a fashion statement. And Pixar has elevated the animated film to its own category at the Oscars.

But it’s not only his visionary leadership that makes Steve Jobs successful; it’s also clear-headed and cold business savvy. He saved Apple Computer from almost certain bankruptcy after a string of veteran CEO “turnaround artists” couldn’t. How did he do it?

He moved quickly when he came back to the company. He cut like a knife through the politics and infighting at Apple. He fired people who didn’t get with the program. He made Apple great again by slashing a confusing product line and initiating brash, bold, brilliant ideas that would never have made it through a focus group.

Leadership and management

It is in vogue to exalt leadership and denigrate management. “You lead people and manage things,” we’re told. But leadership and management cannot be separated. People must be managed as well as led. You can’t be a great leader without managing, and you can’t manage effectively without leading.

You owe your team a culture of accountability. If your team members are like most we’ve worked with, they are capable. Make your expectations clear. Give them feedback. And let them be accountable.

Dr. Patrick Wahl and Ginny Hegarty are the developers of the Office Magic Leadership and Accountability System. With this complete system, you’ll manage your people exceptionally well - without becoming a therapist! Visit and master the skills you need to develop and retain great staff.

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