Situational Leadership (for dentists)

The goal of Pride Institute has always been to use its research and development capacity to take theories that are effective in the worldwide business environment and apply them to the dental office.

Jan 1st, 2005

Amy Morgan with Ken Blanchard

Amy Morgan: The goal of Pride Institute has always been to use its research and development capacity to take theories that are effective in the worldwide business environment and apply them to the dental office. Because dentists tend to become isolated in the small sphere of their practices, we have sought to stretch their boundaries with the teachings and discoveries of the larger business world.

Years ago we began teaching dentists Situational Leadership(r), a concept originally created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It then was expanded by Ken Blanchard to what is now called Situational Leadership(r) II, or SLII(r). Corporations worldwide have used this effective tool to successfully handle situations that arise with staffs and customers. Because dentists experience similar problems with their staffs and patients, they, too, need the variety and flexibility of leadership skills contained in SLII. That was why we began working with The Ken Blanchard Companies(r) to customize their excellent leadership training specifically for the dental practice.

Two years ago, the Pride Institute invited the Blanchard group to deliver the keynote address at the annual national meeting for its clients. While there, the Blanchard trainers saw a video of Dr. Jim Pride. Although he was too ill to attend the meeting, Dr. Pride addressed each and every one of our doctors in a very personal and moving way, leaving not a dry eye in the room. When the Blanchard people saw this, a true working relationship between our two companies was born. The people at Pride and at Blanchard saw astonishing parallels in our leaders. We realized that our leaders were both warm, charismatic, and spiritually based men who loved their clients and staffs and who constantly looked for new ways to inspire and challenge them. The Blanchard trainers who were present at that meeting sent personal notes to Dr. Pride, telling him how inspired they were with his leadership.

More recently, Blanchard executive Mark Manning remarked, "It's great to find a company like Pride that has the same corporate culture as we do, and it's exciting to see our materials customized and utilized in the small-business setting of the dental office. Because dentists are the CEOs of their practices, they have the ability to see effects from the training much quicker and more dramatically than large companies with layers of management to get through." So SLII, we found, works perfectly for the dental world.

The first step in our collaboration with the Blanchard group called for all of Pride's trainers and consultants to be trained by Blanchard to become qualified to teach SLII, which we have done. The next step was to create SLII curriculum customized to dentistry. Now, none of the experiential exercises and materials we use are about general business situations (which can be difficult to translate to the dental practice). All are specific to the dental office. After one year of using the new curriculum, we're very excited about what we have developed: a black-and-white, customized leadership theory that gives immediate results. The outcome of the training is that dentists have created in their practices a culture that embraces the staff as self-directed and self-reliant achievers.

In a nutshell, SLII recognizes that staff members are at different levels of development that change depending on the tasks they perform. The levels are determined by staff members' competence in performing the task as well as commitment to performing it. Their commitment depends on the confidence and motivation they have in performing the task. For example, a new appointment coordinator may arrive for work enthusiastic and self-assured, yet she may not know how to use the computer system to enter appointments. Her competence in performing the task is low while her commitment is high. Now consider a veteran hygienist who has always, as a value-added service, taken the patient's blood pressure reading during the hygiene appointment, but who has, you notice, stopped doing that of late. She knows how to do the task; however, she fails to perform it. Her competence is high while her commitment is low. You will need to discover the reason.

SLII teaches that there is no cookie-cutter approach to all staff members at all times. The staff members in our examples need different leadership approaches. The appointment coordinator needs direction on how to perform the task to bring her competency up. This includes leadership that provides structure, organization, teaching, supervising, and evaluating. The hygienist, who already knows how to perform the task, needs coaching on why she isn't doing the task and on what she needs to boost her commitment. This includes asking her for input, listening to her, facilitating (problem-solving), explaining (why), encouraging, and supporting. SLII trains dentists to diagnose the development levels of their staff members and to determine what leadership skill they need to best address it. The leadership skills include directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. Once the staff member's development level is diagnosed and the leadership skill chosen to deal with it, SLII involves partnering for performance with the staff member, i.e., sitting down with the staff member and addressing the situation in a collaborative manner. (Our favorite Ken Blanchard quote is: "Leadership is something you do with people, not to people.")

But enough from me. Let's hear from Ken himself on his theory.

Ken Blanchard: Dentists face the same challenges as the managers of any business. A great challenge for them is how to lead the staff.

When I ask people if they want to be magnificent at work, they almost always say yes. Yet how often are jobs done only to the minimum standard required? I believe this gap between what people want to achieve at work and what they actually achieve is often the result of the way they are treated by their leaders.

I have long maintained that if people in an organization are to develop and make a difference - to not only excel but become magnificent - their leaders must escape the "boss" mentality and develop a culture where management and people work together to achieve excellence. This is particularly true in times of uncertainty, change, or growth.

Research accumulated by The Ken Blanchard Companies for more than two decades has measured the impact of training individuals to become effective, inspirational leaders whom others want to follow. The data shows that when leadership skills are enhanced, organizations increase productivity and maximize their performance potential. Building positive relationships allows managers, coworkers, and employees to be more prolific, achieve greater results, and create an environment where everyone is genuinely excited about the work they are doing.

In order to realize these improvements, it is critical to have leaders who can help employees to move quickly toward peak performance. However, most managers are not innately equipped to handle this task. Most are not able to flexibly use the four leadership styles - directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating - that are required to work with employees in various stages of development. According to research conducted by our company, without specific training in how to use all four, 54 percent of leaders typically use only one leadership style, 25 percent use two leadership styles, 20 percent use three leadership styles, and only 1 percent use all the leadership styles.

During a span of 25 years, Situational Leadership II - known by most as SLII - has become the most comprehensive and widely used leadership development model in the world. This is because it offers a simple yet practical method for effectively developing and managing people, time, and resources. It demonstrates the way for managers to focus on specific leadership behaviors and thereby help their direct reports become self-reliant achievers. SLII also provides a strategy for aligning individual goals with organizational goals.

In today's competitive marketplace, few organizations are capitalizing upon the full potential of their human-resource assets. Although hiring and retaining talented people with great skills are high-priority goals of most organizations, they remain elusive for the vast majority. In reality, employees cannot be self-reliant achievers the day they walk in the door. And, managers don't necessarily know how to lead just because they've attained a certain position in the organization.

It is common knowledge that only a small percentage of employees reach their full potential after joining an organization. Many become average performers, while some do not perform well at all or even quit after being on the job for a short period of time. This results in lost productivity and an increased cost in recruiting, hiring, and retraining employees.

Every organization has learners - both new employees and employees taking on new tasks - whose development level, meaning their competence and commitment for a task, is either low or variable. These employees need to be supported with coaching, performance management, and a leadership style appropriate to each individual. SLII helps managers recognize which leadership style to use in any given situation. It helps them to become more flexible and responsive to their employees' needs.

Amy Morgan: Let me interject with two of our experiential learning exercises.

Example 1: Jill, your financial administrator, has been asked to write the financial guidelines for the practice. She knows she'll have to devote additional time to do it, and she doesn't feel she has enough time to do collections as it is. She's concerned she doesn't have a good grasp of what the doctor wants or a format for the guidelines. Jill wishes for direction and help but feels there isn't the time, which is frustrating. What development level is Jill on?

Answer: Jill is what we call the "disillusioned learner." She needs direction because she doesn't know the guidelines. She also needs support because her confidence and motivation are low.

Example 2: You've asked Mary, your dental assistant, to research and choose a new supply company to reduce the cost of supplies. She tells you that she is excited to order catalogs and compare prices, but because she's never done it before, she isn't sure where to start. What development level is Mary on?

Answer: Mary is what we call the "enthusiastic beginner." Although she's an experienced staff member, she is being asked to do a new task. She has high commitment to doing it, but low competence.

Can you see that these employees need a different leadership approach? You need to be flexible in the leadership tools you use, so that when the staff member needs a more directive approach, you give it, and when the employee needs a more supportive and coaching approach, you give that. SLII teaches you how to be comfortable with all of the skills required to be both a directive and a supportive leader. Let's hear from Ken on the results of this approach.

Ken Blanchard: Over time, as performance and development levels increase, as employees become more capable and confident, they become more productive. They begin to contribute more directly and substantially to the bottom line, and that increases exponentially as employees become self-reliant achievers on critical tasks.

What is the result? It is an organization in which people feel they can develop and make a difference, where they feel they can excel, where they are willing to contribute their ideas and energy - an organization where everyone "wins." This is an organization empowered by Situational Leadership.

Ken Blanchard co-developed the original Situational Leadership model with Paul Hersey in 1974. In 1979, Blanchard and his wife, Marjorie, founded The Ken Blanchard Companies - a global leader in workplace learning, employee productivity, and leadership effectiveness. The company offers programs and materials that help people learn, and then cross the bridge from learning to doing.

For information on how to develop self-reliant achievers of your staff through Situational Leadership II specifically designed for the dental office, call Pride Institute at (800) 925-2600.

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