Every time I have an initial consultation with a dental client, we discuss the top 3 challenges in their practice. Almost every practice owner or office manager includes “employee management” on the list. Do they do this because it’s really a challenge? Maybe because they’ve been given a title with the word manager in it? Or… they can’t think of a third issue under pressure and have heard this phrase so much that its almost instinctual to mention it. Whatever the reason, my response is always the same. “You can’t manage employees. You must LEAD employees and manage systems.”
While I’ve never been asked, I can see the question swirling around in the head of my audience. “What is the difference between managing and leading?” Dentistry is often referred to as a relationship business. Immediately, we think of the relationship between the patient and dentist. However, it needs to be taken a step further to include the relationship between the manager (practice owner, office manager, team lead, etc.) and the team. A successful practice has a minimum of three team members. Each of these team members have different personalities. So why do “managers” think that they will all respond to authority in the same manner? Crazy fact: they won’t.
Let’s face it. Most of us in a Manager role were never trained to be in this position. Often, someone holds this title because of their tenure at the practice, their ability to take charge of situations, or they joined the practice having had the title in the past. However, they obtained the title, one thing is for certain… as soon as they accepted it, other team members started sharing issues with this person in an effort to find bias resolution. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When someone is promoted to the title of Office Manager or they become a Practice Owner it doesn’t mean that he/she automatically gains the knowledge of how to handle every issue properly. But they try their best and when they can’t reach their goal of making everyone happy, they feel like a failure. In reality, not being able to please everyone makes them completely normal!
The difference between managing and leading is vast. The definition of manage is “to be in control or in charge.” How can we be in control of other people? Even with all the AI advances, people still have their own free will. The definition of lead is “the initiative in an action; an example for others to follow.” Now, this is something you can control: your actions.
Successful managers lead by example. This means that they must be the prime example of what is expected out of the team and how to achieve those expectations. The goal is that the team will follow your lead and manage themselves accordingly.
The first thing a leader must do when put in this position is write a values statement. This is a list of his/her top three values in life. An example of values: faith, family, trust, loyalty, humility, self-respect, optimism, patience, peace, and so on. Google has a great list of over 100 values. A leader must decide what three values are most important when managing the success of the practice. It is important to write them down and put them in a place for easy, quick reference. This step is crucial because team members will come to the manager about all of their issues. Before you can lead them to a resolution, you must know what you stand for. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama of others. If you aren’t careful, you will be swept up in the emotional storm associated with the situation which will cause you to lead based on emotion vs. logic. If you find yourself in this position, refer to your values statement. Every time you find yourself in a leadership moment, make sure your actions revolve around your values.
The second thing a leader must do is learn the values of each team member. This is important because it will allow you insight into the “why” behind their actions. If we understand the values of others, it will help us to give meaningful feedback, which shows the other person that you respect and hear them. Studies show that 89% of tenured employees have stayed at their current employer, regardless of hours or pay, because they feel respected. It’s easier to express anger than pain. Therefore, if you hurt someone by not listening and immediately begin “managing” the person, they will express anger. This anger will spread like wildfire through the practice and pretty soon, the happy culture you worked so hard to build is torn down. Bottom line: learn your employee’s values. I read an amazing book on this topic and I suggest anyone in a leadership role read it as well: “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown.
The last thing every leader must do is realize that it is very lonely at the top. You must show a huge amount of self-respect and hold yourself accountable for your own actions. You need to set clear expectations and be the first to meet them. As a leader, you must model optimum behavior for your team. It’s easy for most of us to feel lonely and default to the behavior that will get us back in the “cool clique”. You must show courage in these moments and choose leadership over comfort.
As a leader, you have the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the practice’s success. What will it look like if you combine your values, respect, and accountability with your world at work? It could be amazing. Take some time this week and try it. As you experience the joy of leadership vs. management, please share your stories with me. Email me FrontOfficeCoach@gmail.com or contact me through www.FrontOfficeCoach.com. I can’t wait to hear about your success!
About the Author…
Tracy Civick is a nationally recognized speaker, coach, and author who focuses on motivating dental front office teams to grow practice revenue and get a better handle on the daily dental practice front office tasks. Her memberships include The Academy of Dental Management Consultants and AADOM, Academy of Dental Office Managers.