Debbie Downer

Tuesday Tip from Pride Institute: What message are you sending as the practice leader?

April 15, 2014
As leader of your practice, your team looks up to you and follows your mood

By M.L. Wheaton, Director of Consulting

We all believe in preventive dentistry, right? Well, I hope you also believe in preventing misunderstandings between you and your team members by setting an example of positive attitude in your practice.

Adam Bryant, New York Times columnist and author of "The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs On How to Lead and Succeed,” reminded me of this leadership lesson in his column in the Times recently. He reports on an alarming question packed with a powerful lesson. I’ll use his lesson from the corporate world and relate it to your dental practice.

A colleague asked, "Can we talk in the conference room?" Upon entering the conference room, she said, "Are you mad at me?" Mr. Bryant was puzzled, but realized later what was going on. As an editor, he faces a lot of tight deadlines, and often has just a short window to get a story into shape for the next day’s paper. He guessed he was thinking hard about some story as he walked through the newsroom one day – probably furrowing his brow, his mind a million miles away – when he briefly locked eyes with this colleague, who was startled enough by his body language to later pull him into the conference room and ask if the air needed to be cleared between them.

As a consultant to dentist employers/leaders, I know you have experienced the dreaded, "Can I speak with you today?" I’m sure you can imagine a team member asking the "Are you upset with me" question.

Adam Bryant reports that his colleague did him a huge favor because he learned a memorable lesson about how people can read so much into subtle, and often unintended, cues. From that moment on, Mr. Bryant made much more of an effort to be aware of his body language, particularly with the team of reporters he was leading, and to always show energy, confidence, and optimism, even if he was on a tight deadline and wrestling with a difficult problem.

At Pride Institute, we share with our clients the concept of meta-communication, described in the work of Albert Mehrabian several decades ago when he examined the component parts of communication. He found that people are influenced 55% by body language, 38% by the speed and intonation of the voice, and only 7% by the words themselves!

So doctors, how do you enter the office first thing in the morning? What tone do you set with your body language at your morning huddle? Are you Debbie Downer? Are you bringing your home life frustrations into the office? Is your "Good morning" authentic"? If you get into the day and find you are not making goal, are you depressed, or are you upbeat about how to turn it around? How you present yourself WILL be mirrored in your team!

Mr. Bryant makes this powerful influence crystal clear through the story of Linda Hudson, president of BAE Systems, when she first became company president. “I was the first female president of the General Dynamics Corporation, and I went out and bought new fancy suits to wear to work. A lady at Nordstrom’s showed me how to tie a scarf in a very unusual way for my new suits. I went to work in my suit my first day. I came back to work the next day, and I ran into no fewer than 12 women in the organization who had on scarves tied exactly like mine!

“That’s when I realized that life was never going to be the way it was before, and that people were watching everything I did. It wasn’t just going to be about how I dressed. It was about my behavior, the example I set, the tone I set, the way I carried myself, how confident I was ­– all those things. It really was about me now, and the context of setting the tone for the organization.

“That was a lesson I've never forgotten – that as a leader, people are looking at me in a way that I could not have imagined in other roles. To this day, not only the awareness, but the responsibility that goes along with this is something that I think about every day.”

So doctor/leaders, look in the mirror (literally) as the first reason why team members might think you’re upset with them. A team that is walking on eggshells due to your negative influence will not be willing, excited, and committed to serving the practice well. On the other hand, your positive influence also sets the tone for them. This goes full circle to your patients, who pick up on those vibes in your practice.

As Dr. Pride used to say, "It’s show time!" And your team is watching you!

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