It’s a common belief that leadership is from the top down, right? The boss gives the orders and the employees carry them out. But have you ever fantasized that it’s YOU leading the practice?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting a situation where you as an employee are giving your boss orders on how everything should be done. That’s really not a great situation, nor is it likely they would yield that much control.
However, there are ways you can lead and heavily influence decisions while letting the boss be the boss. It’s actually quite problematic that the boss is the only one making decisions because it assumes they are 100 percent correct in every decision affecting the practice.
Think about that for a second – does your boss REALLY get things right 100 percent of the time? How about 75 percent? I am betting there are those of you out there who would even have me drop that down below 50 percent, right?
But the point isn’t to identify levels of accuracy, it’s simply that they don’t always get things right. Because of that the practice needs your leadership (and that of your co-workers) to help correct and balance some of those decisions.
The problem, however, is we get sucked into a “that’s-their-job-and-this-is-mine” mentality and/or are even fearful of making suggestions or corrections of their leadership. So here’s seven ways you can turn the tables on your boss and help lead your leader.
Read the Situation
Is today the best day to approach the boss about a problem that needs to be fixed when they just got chewed out by a patient or the office computer system went down for the third time in three days? Or maybe they are having some problems at home with a child or spouse, or their health is a little under the weather.
There’s a timing associated with bottom-up leadership that you have to get right or the boss may either blow yours off as a “lesser problem” and never get to it, or get immediately defensive as one more reason they are having a crappy day.
Start with a Positive
No one wants to feel attacked or that this problem defines them as a boss. There’s often a separation between the problem that needs to be addressed and them as a boss overall. It’s important that they understand that this is where you are coming from so they aren’t as threatened. And the best way to do it is to begin the conversation with some sort of praise.
It could be in something they handled well in the past or something they are good at in their leadership style – ideally, you want something related to the problem as it further helps soften the problem and makes them more open to discussing it and making a change.
Here’s how you could start the conversation:
“I want to talk with you about something important, but first, I want you to know I feel comfortable sharing it with you because you are the kind of boss who is receptive to this kind of thing and so I know we can discuss it and find a solution.”
Reverse the Roles
You have something you feel is a blind spot for your boss – something they aren’t seeing. Do YOU have blind spots? For sure, we all have them! So approach your boss’ blind spot the way you would want them to approach yours.
Think that through carefully because the tendency is that we want to get what we have to say off our chest so bad that we forget how we would like it done if the roles were reversed. And, by the way, just because your boss may not be good talking to you about blind spots, mirroring his or her approach could make the situation worse.
Soften the conversation by starting off with something like:
“Can I talk to you about something I’ve been guilty of sometimes, too.”
Or it could be something like:
“Let me share with you what I’m seeing, and please correct me if I am wrong.”
These kinds of non-defensive statements help ensure they will engage with you in a productive solution.
Your boss is still your boss – even when you are trying to lead them – so it’s important to show that respect. When you are ready to engage with them on a difficult conversation, get their permission. Consider the following:
You: “Could I bend your ear for a minute?”
Boss: “Sure, what’s up?”
You: “I’ve always appreciated the way you handle problems with patients…”
You: “Would it be okay if we talked about yesterday’s situation with Mrs. Jones?”
Focus on the Big Picture
Small business employers in particular are accustomed to dealing with micro problems – it’s not very often when an employee communicates the bigger picture that a small problem represents. Yet, it’s far more powerful when you give your boss some context to these little issues.
Discussing the bigger picture helps communicate to your employer that you are concerned more about the solution and not just whining about the problem.
For example, instead of just saying, “Becky is late to work every day.” You could say something like, “It’s really important everyone is to work on time because in order for us to give our patients the best care, we can’t get behind and one of the things that gets us behind is when staff are late.”
Assume the Positive
If we could climb inside our boss’ head we might find all kinds of interesting things. Some of it might bother us, but some of it surprise us, too. Since we can’t possibly know all the intentions of our boss, the best place to start is by assuming the best in them.
That allows you to kick off your discussion giving them the benefit of the doubt and allowing them some space to explain their intentions. Consider something like the following:
“I know you don’t intentionally want to make the patients feel like you don’t care. In fact I know from most of your interactions where I have been present that you always show a great deal of concern. However, yesterday something seemed a little off when you were talking with Mr. Jones…”
Commitment to Patient AND Employer
Finally, one of things I love about dental hygienists I work with is to hear how much they value their patients. You care about their oral health and are always working to help them improve that, and many of them become close friends.
So when things aren’t quite right in the practice – don’t you truly owe it to them to do what you can to make it better? You do, and you also owe it to yourself and your employer to not stay silent.
There are times when you can’t make it better for a lot of reasons, but you should always at least try. That can take some courage when discussing problems with the boss, but it’s important to try.
Have the conversation and work to create the best possible work environment for you and your patient, so that your patient and employer can get the best YOU have to offer them.
So there you go – seven tips for leading your boss. It’s important to not forget that a dental practice and other workplaces need leadership from not just the boss – that’s a given. Bottom-up leadership is what really makes the difference for the success of the organization and will help you grow in your career as a dental hygienist.