By Anthony Record
Feb. 27, 2019
Whether it’s the clothes we wear, or the car we drive, we all like to think we have style. For better or worse – consciously or unconsciously – our sense of style is evident in all we do. The same is true for the way practice leaders manage their team. What is your leadership style?
It’s worth determining your management style, and making improvements, as effective leadership can enhance patient care and increase staff retention, productivity and revenues.
Regardless of your personality and the nature of your practice, there is, I believe, one leadership style you should develop in yourself, one in which you present an “opportunity,” ask for employee input, and then make the decision.
Before I explain what that is, and why it’s important, let’s think about your current leadership style. If you haven’t given much thought to it, you are managing your practice and interacting with your staff with your natural leadership style, which is determined mostly by your personality and how you would like to be “managed” by someone. Leaders who rely on this style usually fall somewhere on a spectrum that can most easily be thought of this way:
1 – A leader who makes decisions and communicates them to employees
People who try to “lead” using this style would be described by their employees as a dictator or bully. Their philosophy is “my way or the highway.” Low job satisfaction and high turnover rates are usually associated with this type of practice, along with an inability to reach goals or implement change.
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2-A leader who states their position and then tries to “sell” it to employees
People who lead with this approach have made all the decisions themselves, and are convinced that their way is the only way things should be done, but to not ruin morale or come across as too aggressive, they try to convince their staff they are open to the staff’s input. The same characteristics of low morale and high turnover are usually present, but the reason for it would not be as apparent to the staff. Employees feel steered or manipulated, not led.
3 – A leader who communicates a tentative decision, but allows input before making a final decision
Managers like this have created a fairly safe environment where their staff members feel comfortable expressing views that may clash with their own. Although it may be in a begrudging manner, managers like this will change their mind and alter a plan based on employee input. Employees usually feel appreciated, and unless there is dysfunction in another aspect of the practice, they will have moderately high levels of job satisfaction. However, they would be open to giving notice if what they perceived as a better opportunity presented itself.
4 – A leader who presents an “opportunity,” asks for employee input, and then makes the decision
I really like these people! You may have already figured out that in some cases the word “opportunity” is used euphemistically in place of the word “problem.” Regardless, though, people leading a team with this approach have trained themselves that whenever a decision affecting the team needs to be made, their first thought is: I need to involve the staff in this decision. This approach ensures that whenever something needs to be implemented (e.g. a new policy, form, procedure, etc.) the people charged with the implementation will feel a sense of ownership. They feel valued, consulted, trusted and appreciated.
Managers using approaches 1 and 2 (and to a lesser extent approach 3) have employees who do not feel valued or trusted, and therefore, not appreciated. They couldn’t care less if the leader’s idea succeeds. With this fourth approach, most employees will take whatever steps are reasonably necessary to see that the thing succeeds. Always remember: More involvement, more commitment. No involvement, no commitment. High levels of job satisfaction and retention are characteristic of these types of practices.
5 – A leader defines parameters; staff makes all the decisions
In other words, these leaders inform the staff of what needs to be done, along with the tools and resources that are available, then get out of the way and let the team make most of the how to get it done. This practice has employees who would follow the leader into battle. They have developed relationships rich in mutual trust and respect.
6 – The staff presents opportunities and goals
These leaders simply act as a resource. In the optical field I have never personally seen this approach in action. I have only read about it in other industries. For example, you can imagine some low- or mid-level engineer meeting with the CEO of Apple, and saying, “I think I’ve found a way to fit over a million photos on our iPhone without using any space on the phone or the Cloud.” In response, the CEO says, “OK, you have six months and $5 million to make it happen…go for it.”
Take-Away: Involve Staff In Practice Decisions
Managers with natural leadership styles on the autocratic side of the spectrum need to consciously move toward more employee involvement. My personal experience has taught me that most employees are capable of much more than we think they can accomplish. Take a leap of faith and see for yourself.
You may remember that I said my preferred leadership style in a practice manager is one in which you present an “opportunity,” ask for employee input, and then make the decision. While you should strive for employee ownership and involvement, sometimes a situation will call for a unilateral, seemingly autocratic, decision. Different situations require different approaches.
However, a leader should be rigid and unwavering when it comes to integrity and honesty. Never lie to an employee (or patient for that matter). Work and lead by principles of integrity and not by the seat of your pants, or for convenience, in the moment. Do that and you will be a leader who is trusted and respected by all.