Dentists and other business owners need to manage stuff and lead people. I believe that managers are one of the core business diseases of the Industrial Age. They are sacred cows who have only been around for a little more than a century, but who should go away as quickly as possible. Few things are as disruptive, unhelpful, and unproductive in the workplace as managers.
Solve and decide, or become less important?
The manager's worst habits are to a) solve things, and b) decide things. When a manager solves and decides, the only thing left is to delegate tasks, such as telling the team to "schedule this many patients per day." But when someone delegates, people can feel used. Managers who solve and decide things dehumanize the workplace because tasks are for machines.
Leaders do things quite differently. Leaders train others to solve problems and make decisions, and then they get out of the way. If you're becoming less important in your position, it means that you're effectively leading.
The best business leaders make the fewest decisions
The art of traditional management involves planning, organizing, staffing, controlling, and "manipulating human capital." In contrast, the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.
Ricardo Semler, the architect behind Semco, an $800 million Brazilian participation age company with 3,000 stakeholders and no managers, just celebrated his 10th anniversary of not making a decision. That is tremendous leadership, the kind we should all aspire to by training others to solve and decide, and then by getting out their way.
It works because Semler and other Semco leaders have trained others to solve problems and make decisions. Now out of the way, the leaders are free to stop solving and deciding and instead can ask questions and think about the future. If you're making decisions for others, you're managing. If you're just asking questions, you're leading.
What are you delegating, tasks or responsibility?
I wrote earlier that when managers delegate tasks, people feel used. Leaders delegate responsibility, a much broader request that requires thinking, solving, and deciding. When given responsibility, people take ownership, and ownership is the most powerful motivator in business. Are you delegating tasks that simply require action, or are you delegating responsibility that requires the messy and creative person to show up?
Management is not leadership, and leadership is not management
Management is a recently invented construct, but leadership has been around for centuries. We've conflated the two. Here's a simple reference for pulling them back apart: manage stuff, lead people.
The traditional business model we inherited from the factory system of the Industrial Age made the flawed assumption that people need to be managed like stuff. They don't. They need to be led, and the difference is not semantic. It’s gigantic.
The factory system reinvented people as extensions of machines, and when people are extensions of machines, they are "stuff" to be managed. But if they’re fully human, they require leadership, not management.
In our company, we only manage stuff—computers, numbers, software, processes, systems, delivery of goods and services, accounting, marketing, sales. These are all things to be managed, and everyone in our business manages stuff. But we don't need someone with the title of manager to hover over us to ensure the stuff will get managed.
The manager's quest is to be as helpful as possible for as long as possible. The leader's quest is to relentlessly train others to solve and decide, and become less necessary every day.
It's important enough to say again—the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make. Become a leader. Stop solving and deciding and focus on asking questions. Everyone in your practice will be better off if you do.