We’ve all dealt with it: the hygienist who is always late, the surly office manager, or the dental assistant who seems to need some assistance. As a dentist, leadership is an important component of your work. However, it’s hard to know how to lead when your team members don’t want to follow. In many cases, some simple and basic tools of leadership can help: compassion, empathy, and true listening. Sadly, however, in some cases, there may not be a good way to reach that team member. Learning how to handle difficult team members – and when to let go – is a vital lesson in your work as a dentist.
Troublesome… Or Troubled?
When a team member does not perform up to par, your first impulse may be to let that person really have it. However, in some cases, difficulties at work can be an indication of some other struggle. This is especially true if a trusted employee suddenly starts to underperform. As dentist, we are all taught that compassion is a cornerstone of good clinical care. This is no less true with our team members. Take that individual aside and ask if there is anything going on that you should know about, or if there is anything you can do to help. If there is some underlying struggle, your team member will appreciate your empathy. It there isn’t, this conversation may serve as a gentle hint that they need to pick up the slack.
Learning to Let Go
Although I urge compassion as the first solution in these situations, it is also important to remember that you cannot always save a troubled employee. Yes, offer your team member help. Ask another employee to guide your troublesome team member for a few weeks, especially if he or she is new to the practice. At the same time, remember, you and your team are there for the good of your patients. As a dentist, your natural inclination is to “save” everyone. However, if one team member is holding everyone back or inhibiting your level of care, it may be time to let that person go.
Prevention is Key
As we always tell our patients, the best way to treat problems is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. This is as applicable to team leadership as it is to dental hygiene. The best way to prevent troubles with your team members is to exercise great care when you are hiring a new employee. Explain his or her duties very clearly during the interview, and provide consistent guidance and feedback throughout their training process. Most importantly, never hire a team member if you do not believe he or she is fully qualified or prepared for the job. Doing so will only result in disappointment for that individual, your patients, and your entire team.