Leading the Leader: How to Influence the Boss
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 what the employees are leading the practice? Doesn’t seem possible, but there are ways employees can heavily influence decisions while letting the boss be the boss.
Actually, it’s quite problematic when a boss is the only one making decisions because it assumes they are always right. But are they? Probably not. In fact, some might feel their boss struggles to make good decisions a majority of the time.
But accuracy isn’t the point because most people in charge are generally open to suggestions, observations, and feedback when handled professionally. The problem, however, is that lots of employees get trapped into a “that’s-their-job-and-this-is-mine” mentality – sometimes out of fear, but also out of apathy.
So here are six tips for turning the tables and helping the leader lead.
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 has to be right or the boss will be defensive or see it as less consequential to their bigger issues.
Differentiate the Problem from Them
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 what is driving the discussion so they don’t feel as threatened and push back or act dismissive.
Start the conversation with some praise – something they do or handled well. Then, introduce the problem. Here’s an example: “I want to talk with you about something important, but first, you should know I feel comfortable sharing it with you because you are the kind of boss who is open-minded and receptive to feedback, so I know we can discuss it and find a solution.”
The boss is still the boss – even when feedback is warranted – so it’s important to show respect. When it’s time to engage them in a difficult conversation, get their permission. Lead off with something like this: “Could I bend your ear for a minute?” or “Would it be okay if we talked about yesterday’s situation with Mrs. Jones?”
Focus on the Big Picture
Small business employers are accustomed to dealing with micro problems – it’s not often when an employee communicates the bigger picture that this small problem represents. Yet, it’s far more powerful when a boss is given some context to little issues. Discussing the bigger picture helps communicate a concern for a solution and not just whining about the problem.
Assume the Positive
If it were possible to see inside the boss’ head or see things from their perspective, otherwise bad decisions might not look so bad. Since it’s not possible to know all the intentions of an employer, one good piece of advice is to assume the best until proven otherwise. That doesn’t mean ignore it, but it does facilitate a launch to the discussion that gives them the benefit of the doubt and the space to explain their actions or intentions.
Commitment to Patient AND Employer
Finally, one of the great things about dentistry is the concern for patients as people. So, when things aren’t quite right in the practice – keep in mind, that it’s the customer who matters most and practitioners have a moral obligation to ensure they are receiving the best care possible. If that’s the intent behind decisions then employee flexibility is important. If that somehow gets lost in the decisions being made, then have the courage to bring it forward and make a case as to why.