Leadership Matters (Part II)

By Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D. Originally published by ACT Dental.

Leadership can be a bit mysterious. How do you win the hearts and minds of your staff to do what you believe should be done?

Last month, I outlined the six leadership styles identified by those who study leadership. None of these styles is always the wisest choice. The most effective leaders have learned all six styles and then use the one that best fits the situation that they face at the time. As you know, the demands of your practice can change, creating different demands on the leader.

When leaders master all six styles, they have the best chance to positively impact the climate of their practice. The climate matters because:

  • A positive climate is more enjoyable than one in which people are negative.

  • Patients are drawn, and drawn back to, positive climates more than practices where people are grumpy and irritable.

  • Finally, research demonstrates that climate actually controls up to 30% of profitability. In other words, no matter how good you are with your hands, you can add a premium of 30% in profits if you also know how to lead.

A number of research studies, including one that I did with the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education, demonstrate that emotional intelligence (EQ) skills are essential for leadership success. There are fifteen different skills included under the heading of EQ. You can master leadership styles by mastering the EQ skills upon which each style relies. This column will identify which EQ skills are required for each of the six leadership styles. Self assessment (or a more formal assessment using the Emotional Quotient Inventory) can help you determine which of these skills are already strengths of yours and which ones you might want to improve.

The Authoritative Leader is skillful in articulating a mission/vision, and winning people to it. He makes a clear path for followers, cutting away the confusion that exists in most organizations. Team members do not work at cross purposes because a commitment to a common vision is created. The authoritative leader sets the broad parameter of the vision and then empowers staff to develop their own ways to make the vision come to life.

Learning the EQ skills required for being an authoritative or visionary leader will pay off. Of all six styles, visionary leadership has the most positive impact on climate. These four skills will help you become a visionary leader:

  • Emotional Self Awareness

  • Self Regard

  • Empathy

  • Problem Solving

Emotional Self Awareness is the ability to recognize that our own emotional reaction, i.e., that one is occurring and accurately label which emotion we are experiencing. This matters because visionary leaders are passionate about the future towards which they are taking their group. Without emotional self awareness, they would not be able to recognize their passion or why it is important to them. With emotional self awareness, they can distinguish between what really drives them and what might merely be a passing fancy.

To create a powerful vision, one must have faith in one's self as competent, i.e., that our ideas are worthwhile and have importance. Hence the need for strong Self Regard. Otherwise, even if the dentist creates a great vision for his or her practice, there will not be enough confidence that the vision is worthwhile to pursue it.

Just as a powerful vision must have personal meaning for the leader, the leader must find ways for the vision to have personal meaning for followers. Empathy is the ability to read other people accurately, to tune into their thoughts and feelings. To effectively communicate one's vision, it is important to know the starting point of the listeners, i.e., your staff. Once you know their starting point, you can tailor the message accordingly.

Problem Solving matters in two ways. First, a powerful vision solves relevant problems and thereby leads to a better future. Second, the leader must be able to solve the problem of getting from the present to the desired future.

The Affiliative Leader is a master at establishing positive relationships with himself and each staff member. Because the followers really like their leader, they are loyal, share information, and have high trust, all of which helps climate. The affiliative leader gives frequent positive feedback, helping to keep everyone on course. If you know how to create strong, lasting relationships with patients, you have good potential to be an affiliative leader. Simply practice the same behaviors with your staff as you do with patients. If you do, you are likely to be rewarded with a positive, profitable office climate.

The EQ skills required to an affiliative leader are:

  • Empathy

  • Interpersonal Relationship

  • Emotional Self Awareness

  • Assertiveness

Empathy, in addition to reading others well, also means that we actually care about what they think and feel. We don't have to share their feelings or points of view, but they do have to be important to us. People can tell if we are interested in them. If we shut off their views and discount their feelings, they know that our interest in them is limited to our own self service. If, instead, we take time to listen and hear, people feel valued.

Interpersonal relationship skills involve the ability to give and take affection and to share emotional information. Of course, your relationships with your staff are professional relationships, so you would approach this process differently than you would personal relationships. However, if you genuinely like staff members, let them know.

We also find that the more team members understand each other, at an emotional level, the better that they work together. Shared emotional understanding helps them to accurately interpret each others' behavior. Such understanding reduces conflicts and enhances cooperation. By sharing such affection and emotional information, you build an affiliative bond that creates strong loyalty.

Communication is essential to affiliative leadership. Communication requires empathy, and assertiveness. Assertiveness is the skill we use to communicate in ways that do not threaten others but that does protect our own interests. Do not confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness, as many Americans do. Aggressive communication makes people feel afraid. Assertive communication helps both parties feel safe.

The Democratic Leader involves staff in decision making. From time to time, your practice will face significant decisions.The democratic leader works to create real, not superficial, agreement among the team with regard to such decisions. Everyone may not get their way, but their opinions are heard, at length, and respected. The advantage of this approach to decision making is that with consensus comes intense employee commitment to decisions made. Such commitment leads to high cooperation and promises kept.

Like visionary and affiliative leadership, democratic leadership has a very positive impact on your practice climate. In order to be a democratic leader, it is important to master the EQ skills of

  • Interpersonal Relationship

  • Social Responsibility

  • as well as the communication skills of Empathy and Assertiveness

The reason that the skill of Interpersonal Relationship matters in democratic leadership is that you will have to have a lot of trust in your staff before you will trust them to help you make critical decisions. In order to build such trust, people must share a good deal of personal information. Again, emotional understanding makes it easier to understand someone else's behavior and therefore trust them. Without such information, we tend to make more negative interpretations about the meaning of their behavior.

Social Responsibility is the ability to contribute to the group, even without immediate personal gain. You call on this skill whenever you help patients make decisions that are good for them even though it might mean less income for you.

Likewise, democratic leaders face the possibility that the group will make a decision that is for the group not always for the leader. At times, it may be important for you to partially submerge your interests for the good of the team. (On other issues, of course, you cannot compromise.)

Communication skills of empathy and assertiveness are essential to democratic leaders. Decision making in a democratic context is all about listening carefully, caring about others' opinions, and sharing one's own points of view without threatening the rest of the team.

The Coach leader develops people. She is able to recognize talent and how best to develop it further. She offers developmental plans, including challenging assignments that push people to cultivate new skills. This leader can bring the best out in followers by tuning into their hopes and dreams and helping them achieve them. As you can imagine, such a leadership style also has a positive impact on the climate of the practice. To master this style, you will need to master the EQ skills of

  • Emotional Self Awareness

  • Empathy

  • Social Responsibility

Interestingly, to be able to coach others, we must first know ourselves, i.e., emotional self awareness. We must be able to read our own feelings accurately. Our own emotions have an impact on how we approach a coaching situation. Without emotional self awareness, we do not recognize how our own feelings impact other people.

Empathy, of course, matters because the leader can only be effective as a coach if he can accurately tune into the hopes and dreams of the person receiving the coaching. If you have a hygienist who dreams of going to dental school, and you coach her towards a lifelong hygiene career, she is unlikely to benefit from your coaching.

Social Responsibility is essential to the coach leader because you sometimes will find yourself coaching people towards goals that may lead them to leave your employment, such as that hygienist who wants to be a dentist someday. That you would be able and willing to see past your own interests and demonstrate caring about the employee's dreams can create intense loyalty from all staff.

The other two leadership styles, Coercive and Pacesetter, tend to have negative relationships with climate. In other words, the more that you practice those styles, the less profit and more trouble your practice is likely to have. Yet, each of these styles has their place in certain situations.

The Coercive Leader rules by fear. "My way or the highway!" The leader takes charge and invites no contrary opinions. When is this approach positive? During a true emergency. When you have a patient in trouble in your chair, this is not the time for relationship building or democratic decision making. This is the time for you to take clear charge, using your training and experience to guide the patient to safety.

The problem is that such experiences can be emotionally rewarding. You might save someone's life. Everyone sees you for the hero you are. The downside is that such reward is likely to make you to want to take charge again (and again).

In order to use coercive leadership only when it works well, you need to have good emotional self awareness and impulse control. Emotional self awareness will help you to know when your temptation to take control is out of real need within the situation versus an expression of your emotional wish. Impulse control will help you stop yourself from indulging the impulse of taking charge when it is counter-productive.

The Pacesetter leader sets high performance standards for everyone, including himself. He walks the talk. This sounds admirable and has been widely believed to be effective. The data, however, indicate otherwise. Like the coercive leader, this guy usually does more damage then good to his organization. The reason is that the pacesetter tends to be impatient, demanding, and demeaning while setting a good pace. This essentially critical style wears on people over time.

And yet, there is a time and place for it. If you are working with a group of people who are as talented and motivated as you are, they are likely to respond well to such a leadership style. This situation is not likely to be in your office, no matter how talented your staff. However, if you are leading a group of highly talented and highly motivated dentists, consider using a pacesetter style.

To do so, you will need to have strong skills in Self Regard and Self Actualization. Self regard is required because, to set a strong and powerful pace, you will need high belief in your own competence. Strong Self Actualization will provide the drive necessary to achieve at a pacesetter level.

Now What?: What if you recognize that you would like to use one of these six leadership styles but you are unsure about whether your EQ skills are developed well enough to be successful.

You can check it out. The Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-I), published by Multi-Health Systems, is the only truly validated measure of EQ available. In other words, it has been thoroughly researched to ensure that it measures what it says that it measures. By taking the EQ-I, you will be able to see how your EQ skills, in fifteen areas, compare with those of other people. You will need a psychologist or someone certified in the EQ-I to get the test administered to you and to interpret your results.

If your assessment indicates that it would be helpful to build one or more EQ skills, contact me to discuss the EQ training program I have developed. Many of the people who have participated in this program were dentists. (Others are corporate executives who also face challenging leadership situations.) Feel free to call me to explore what is involved.

Content. Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D. is a psychologist who provides coaching and consultation to dentists and their staffs. He has been a guest lecturer at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education and writes frequently for Dentistry Today. He can be reached at dana.ackley@eqleader.net , or 540-774-1927, or EQ Leader, Inc., 2840 Electric Rd, Suite 208, Roanoke, Virginia 24018.


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