I was having coffee recently with a new client and wanted to get to know him and his leadership style. He is working on getting better at doing the ‘4 things employees really want’ [PIVOT page 8].
Does this conversation sound familiar?
I asked him how things were going back in the practice.
“Awesome”, he replied, “the change in the team is incredible, people are excited about what we’re doing. I just love the can-do energy.” Then with a little wince and a wink, he said, “Well, except for one person, I’m so frustrated with her negativity.”
Compassionately, I asked him to tell me more about what was frustrating him.
“It’s the same thing all the time, Ginny.” The sarcasm in his voice was palpable as he continued, “She has been in dentistry for over 30 years. She knows what she’s doing. She doesn’t need to change a thing. She’s vocal about how she feels and it brings the rest of the team down. I’m really trying to engage with my team, learn from their ideas and hold them accountable. Her behavior is like a wet blanket on this goal.”
I asked more questions trying to understand how this was playing out.
“Well, she seems to be onboard when our meetings first start. Then at some point, she starts talking with the people closest to her and it’s like she’s holding her own separate meeting. I have to keep reigning her back in, it’s exhausting.”
Accountability isn’t just about results – it’s about behaviors.
It seemed to me that the doctor had resigned himself to this pattern of disruption so I asked him if he had spoken with the employee about her behavior? “What’s the point? She’s been with the practice for 36 years, what’s a few more years of dealing with this before she retires?”
We talked about the likelihood that this employee’s behavior was impacting others on the team. It’s not about the doctors sucking it up ‘for a few more years.’ This behavior will have a negative impact on the team and practice growth. I reminded the doctor of four of the core values the team had established: Respect, Flexibility, Growth, Positive Team Spirit. Clearly, this employee’s behavior was not in line with these values.
I asked the doctor the KEY QUESTION at hand, “Do you want to change the values – or change the behavior?”
He chose to uphold the values. In that decision, a smile came over his face, “Wow, this is now so clear to me. If I allow her behavior to continue, I’m a hypocrite. My actions would not be upholding the core values any more than hers do.”
We had reached our learning moment. “Ok, Ginny I’m ready. Tell me how I can be a better leader and resolve this problem.”
Be the change you want to see
This clear and immediate shift in the doctor’s mindset was the key to positive change. When he could shift from feeling and acting like a victim of his circumstances to the realization that, as the practice leader he was letting down everyone else on the team when he tolerated the employee’s disruption, he had the fortitude to become the change he wants to see in his practice.
What are your non-negotiables?
In his perennial New York Times bestseller, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey speaks to the power of strongly held core values in the following true story he learned of while reading the Naval Proceedings Magazine:
It was a dark and stormy night.
Crewmember: “Captain, Captain, wake up.”
Crewmember: “Sorry to wake you, sir, but we have a serious problem.”
Captain: “Well what is it?”
Crewmember: “There’s a ship in our sea lane about twenty miles away, and they refuse to move.”
Captain: “What do you mean they refuse to move? Just tell them to move.”
Crewmember: “Sir, we have told them; they will not move.”
Captain: “I’ll tell them.”
The signal goes out: “Move starboard 20 degrees.”
The signal returns: “Move starboard yourself 20 degrees.”
Captain: “I can’t believe this. Well, I mean I’m a captain. Let them know who I am. I’m important.”
Signal goes out: “This is Captain Horatio Hornblower XXVI, commanding you to move starboard 20 degrees at once.”
Signal returns: “This is Seaman Carl Jones II, commanding you to move starboard 20 degrees at once.”
Captain: “What arrogance? I mean, what presumption? Here is a seaman commanding me, a captain. We could just blow them right out of the water. We could just let them know who we are.
Signal: “This is the Mighty Missouri, flagship of the 7th fleet.”
The signal returns: “This is the lighthouse.”
Dr. Covey goes on to explain that in life there are certain lighthouse principles and you cannot break these principles, you will only break yourself against them.
As the practice leader, you always have a choice! You can’t keep employees from acting out, but how you respond to any situation will determine the experience you and your team will have, positive or negative. Establish your lighthouse principle, hold people accountable for their behavior and you’ll earn your positive culture one day at a time.
As we left the restaurant, we agreed that the entire team, including the employee at hand, would benefit from the doctor’s clarity and strong leadership. He said, “Ginny, I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I think I just made a very important PIVOT and it’s only 8am!”