It has been said that “good is the enemy of great”.
If we consider the meaning behind this phrase we can begin to understand why there is often little motivation for healthcare providers to acquire the leadership skills that are essential for transforming a good clinical practice into a great clinical practice.
It is important to acknowledge that our lack of leadership acumen is no fault of our own. There is little time in the crowded healthcare curriculum for schools to teach leadership principles and their application. Nevertheless, our lack of these essential skills can prevent us from creating a better , more fulfilling, more creative, and more productive clinical practice.
Warren Bennis, who many consider to be the father of modern leadership thought, stated that good businesses can be managed, but great businesses must be led. The same is true of our practices, but without a working knowledge of the transformational power of leadership, we cannot visualize the unlimited potential that our practices can achieve.
This is not to say that a good practice is not worth having, and herein lies the problem. If a healthcare provider can make an adequate living by working four eight hour days per week, why should he or she feel compelled to acquire leadership skills, especially when they have no concept regarding what this skill could do for them both personally and professionally? They will likely ask the obvious question, “What’s in it for me?” What are the rewards for leaving my comfort zone in order to become a value based leader?
In reality the rewards are significant, and choosing to embrace leadership can be a life-altering decision. Let’s look at a few of the facts.
Leadership makes good business sense:
1. It increases productivity and profitability:
In recent years, several dental management/consulting firms have promoted a form of “results-based” management. This is the antithesis of “values-based leadership”. Results are a poor substitute for values, especially when they replace values as the practice “anchor.” This reversal of culture in which results drive values has proven to be a poor form of management. No matter what the espoused qualitative values of the leader, in a “results-based practice” the staff sees the obvious lack of alignment between the stated values and the actual behavior of the leader. It is important to note, that our staff sees and learns what is valued by the leader by observing what he/she chooses to reward and punish, as well as how they utilize the practice’s resources. When leaders reward or punish behavior based on predefined performance numbers, they send an incredibly negative message to the staff.
I have observed the destructive nature of results-based management through interaction with several of my client’s practices that have adopted this form of management. My assessment of this form of management has been repeatedly corroborated by research that has confirmed the superiority of “qualitative” versus “quantitative” cultures. There is a profound irony in the fact that numerous research findings unquestionably prove that qualitative cultures that stress values over financial gain are more productive and have a better bottom line than businesses that adopt a quantitative, results-based culture.
It makes perfect sense, for example, that people commit to values, not rules or results; people comply with rules. Committed people tend to enjoy their jobs and exhibit longevity. Longevity of staff promotes continuity in the practice, and happy staffs are significant determinants of satisfied customers in a service industry. Satisfied customers exhibit brand loyalty, which results in repeat business and once again drives the bottom line.
2. As leadership skills increase, management problems decrease:
In her article published in the Journal of The American Dental Association in 20001, Anita Jupp notes that“an overwhelming percentage of dentists report that staff-related issues, not clinical dentistry, are the number one cause of stress in their offices.” Does this sound surprising? All of us have heard this common refrain from fellow professionals: “If only I had to worry about treatment issues, and I didn’t have to deal with staff, life would be grand!” Those who truly understand the nature of leadership do not lament their troubles with staff. Instead, they have a valued and supportive staff that makes their life easier and more fulfilling.
Over the years I have become acutely aware of an inverse relationship between leadership and management problems. Simply stated, as my leadership skill increased, my practice’s management problems diminished. I have found this to be true with other healthcare providers as well. One explanation for this phenomenon is that as we become better leaders we are able to change our organization’s culture from one of compliance to one of profound commitment on the part of our staff.
The key to creating a supportive staff and a culture of commitment is found in one’s ability to clearly communicate. Effective leaders are exceptional communicators, and as such, are able to eliminate what is arguably a major source of staff problems, that being poor communication that results in ambiguity and ill defined expectations. By clearly communicating their practice culture’s values and purpose, both verbally and through role modeling, a leader will serve as a catalyst for the development of a culture that promotes clarity and purpose, has well defined expectations, and fosters commitment by all of its members. In this ideal culture, there is no place for ambiguity. Every team member knows precisely what is expected and is able to decide with certainty whether specific actions are aligned with the culture’s values and purpose.
**In part II of “Why Lead” I will discuss the personal benefits of becoming a value-based leader.
Dr. Joel Small and Dr. Edwin McDonald, the founders of Line of Sight Coaching, are dental practitioners, authors, speakers and Business Leadership Coaches who work with healthcare professionals to help them build more successful practices so they can live the balanced life they seek.