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Lessons for Dentists from “Good Boss, Bad Boss”

By February 14, 2015January 21st, 2022Michael's Operatory, Practice Management

I’m reading this book entitled “Good Boss, Bad Boss” by Rober I. Sutton, PhD and I can’t help but think: every dentist who owns their own practice needs to read this book. Here are just some of those take-a-ways:

1. Good Bosses Focus on: Performance and Humanity

It can’t be all about profit, economics, and humanity be damned! As per the book, bosses need to be judged by what they get their teams to accomplish AND also by how their team members FEEL along the way. Were they respected? Supported? Dignity and pride go a long way in establishing motivated, loyal and empowered team members.

Performance: bosses should empower others to get things done effectively and efficiently (on time and budget).

Humanity: bosses should do everything within their power to help people experience dignity and pride in what they do.

In the dental office, dentists might think it’s all about performance: more patients, more procedures, more billings, etc. But think about this: is this the type of place you would love to work? Is this the type of place you look forward to going to on Monday morning? Out of all the places that your team members could have worked, they chose to work with you. How does / should that make you feel?

Now, on the flip-side, you don’t want to be someone who focuses purely on humanity; otherwise, you’re likely to get taken advantage of and end up working for a charity/not for profit organization. You need to leverage your team’s core competencies to get results.

Finally, as a boss, you need to be cognizant of how well you’re doing when it comes to performance and humanity. We just others by our actions; we judge ourselves by our intentions. But you should ask your team how they perceive your progress on these two fronts: performance and humanity. Humble yourself. Don’t think that you’re the best (even if you are at certain things); because then you’ll be approaching the ‘asshole of a boss’ territory. And nobody wants to work for an ‘asshole’.

2. Good Bosses: Allow Team Members to Fail, and Learn From It

Good bosses don’t go around saying: “Do it perfect, or don’t bother doing it”. Good bosses don’t say, when someone screws up: “Don’t worry, all is forgiven and forgotten”. Good bosses say: “Let’s aim for perfection; it if doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.   All will be forgiven. But we will learn from our mistakes so that we perform better the next time around”.

In our office (and this might be a good idea for your office), we have something called a “Lessons Learned” binder (also colloquially know as the “Binder of Shame!”). Basically, whenever someone has objective feedback for another person’s work, they send them an email. That emails then gets printed and put into the “Lessons Learned” binder. This allows us to document and hopefully never-repeat these mistakes in the future.    I can tell you this as well: it helps take the subjective and emotional aspects out of criticizing others. When you are writing an email to make suggestions / correct someone, you realize it’s going to end up in the Lessons Learned binder. So you make it devoid of tone and emotion. It’s just a “Here are some suggestions, questions, comments” type of document. And trust me on this: the person who made the mistake appreciates not being condemned / criticized / complained about. They appreciate being able to screw up and get corrected in an objective fashion. And it helps with new team members who require training. They can see that nobody’s perfect; what is expected going forward; and how the team learned important lessons via trial and error before they came along.

3. Good Bosses Give Credit First, Take Credit Last

The idea here is simple: be humble. You don’t need to boast that you are #1 all of the time. You will be recognized by your team members without saying much. Your actions speak louder than your words. The author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss” actually goes on to say that you should give your team members MORE CREDIT than you believe they deserve. Why? Because outsiders will attribute most, if not all credit, to YOU (and probably more than you deserve!).

4. Good Bosses Blame Themselves

When things aren’t going well, blame yourself – in front of your team and stakeholders.   As per “Good Boss, Bad Boss”, refusal to accept blame, pointing fingers at others, and wimpy language can help bosses keep their job for a while, but it usually backfires int he long run. No matter what is said, bosses are seen as responsible for what their people do”. Going back to “Performance” and “Humanity”, if you want people to believe you are in control, respect you, be loyal to you, and to perform better than ever, taking the blame (at least some of it) is part of the solution.   After you’ve sincerely apologized in full, you need to take control and lead your team to a resolution. You need to make the challenge part of your “Lessons Learned” binder, and communicate what you will do differently from now on.

5. Good Bosses Take Control (When They Need To)

Some dentists are pushovers. They are not assertive enough to show their team members that they mean business. They can’t dictate performance because they don’t seem to be in control. Good bosses take charge when required (but also delegate certain tasks to the experts among their team members). Here are some tips and tricks (as per the book) that allow people to take charge… just keep in mind that you shouldn’t use these tricks all the time or else you might be venturing into the ‘asshole of a boss’ realm:

  • Talk more than others
  • Interrupt others
  • Cross your arms when they talk
  • Flash some anger every now and then
  • Stand up / sit down at the opportune times
  • Ask people what they need to succeed and then try to give it to them
  • Tell people about your pet peeves/quirks
  • Give away some power or status, but make people realize it was your choice

Now, I just want to repeat: these tricks allow someone to be more assertive in the room. But they might push you towards being an ‘asshole’ of a boss. You don’t want to be a blabbermouth, spewing verbal diarrhea just to hear your own voice. You don’t want to interrupt everyone incessantly such that the conversation is one interruption after another. You don’t want to cross your legs and arms all the time to show that you’ll reject all other ideas before they’ve ever been spoken. You don’t want to look angry all the time and standing up all the time. You get my point. Use these techniques when you need to assert control/power. But also realize that it’s what you don’t say, or how you move (i.e. your gestures) that reassure others that you’re in control.

There are lots more golden nuggets of knowledge in “Good Boss, Bad Boss” and I highly recommend every dentist read it.