What would Mom do?

July 1, 2008
I have often joked that I was an only child in a family of six children. I guess that was because my mother spoiled each of us enough to feel like we were her only child.

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I have often joked that I was an only child in a family of six children. I guess that was because my mother spoiled each of us enough to feel like we were her only child. My mother understood that each of her children had different strengths and weaknesses, and that each of us was motivated in different ways. She didn't expect us to be carbon copies of each other. Instead, she set some basic values that she expected us all to follow, but she didn't dictate exactly how to live those values.

As I was growing up, I thought of my dad as the leader in the family. He was the business owner who supervised employees and worked on committees in the community. I never really thought of my mother as a leader, but as I look back, I realize I may have gotten my first lessons in leadership from my mother, who practiced the fine art of parental leadership.

The role of leadership in your practice is very similar to the role of parent. Our staffs are like children who look to us to provide them with some of the same things that their parents did. What makes a good parent also makes a good leader. Sometimes to get the best results from our team we need to think about what is important to them. Just like my mother who understood that each of her children was different, we need to realize that when it comes to leading and motivating people, one size does not fit all.

Parental leadership does have some areas that apply to your entire staff. The first is to understand that most of your employees are like children. I don't mean they are immature, but rather their needs are similar to those of children. For instance, both have a strong need for security. As the leader of your practice, it is important for you to provide a sense of security to your team. You do this by providing a stable work environment, which includes stable practice finances.

The second area is to provide boundaries. Like children, your staff wants and needs boundaries. It is incumbent upon you to communicate the specific boundaries that are necessary for the practice to run smoothly. These boundaries include rules of conduct and various systems of operation. It's human nature for people to see how far they can push before they cross the real boundary.

In addition to boundaries, good leaders and parents know they have to monitor the actions of their team or children. As a parent, when your child tells you he or she is going to a friend's house, you might call the other parent to confirm that is really happening. A good leader tells his or her staff what he or she expects and then inspects the results. To really lead your team, you must put a monitoring system in place to let you know that your systems and boundaries are being followed.

One of the best things a parent and leader can do is offer encouragement. Leaders and parents can see the potential in their staff or children that the staff or children cannot see. A leader's vision doesn't relate only to the big picture of the organization — it extends to the people being led. Seeing the potential in people and encouraging them to develop that potential is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Providing inspiration to your staff or your children is life altering. Leaders and parents have awesome power; the key is to use that power for positive results.

Perhaps the most powerful tool in the leader and parent's arsenal is setting a good example, because people are convinced by strong examples. "Do as I say, not as I do" seldom motivates people. The example of good parents and leaders may be one of the keys to success in life for our children and the people who work for us. Be very aware of the example you set and the impact it has on the people around you.

When you question leadership, perhaps the best thing you should consider is "What would Mom do?"

Reprinted with permission from the Dental Business Success Newsletter.

Theodore C. Schumann, CPA, CFP®, speaks on dental business topics and regularly lectures at the University of Michigan Dental School, the University of Detroit-Mercy Dental School, and dental meetings throughout the United States. He is host for a study group for dentists and writes a monthly newsletter. Reach Schumann via e-mail at [email protected].

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