First of all, I definitely have to start with the fact that this post is NOT about murder (LOL). It is, however, about re-organizing your office’s operational structure. It’s important to move away from having one person hold all the cards—a.k.a. the office manager.
We’re going to dive deep into why but first I have to tell you about an experience.
The Office Manager Death Sentence
There was a dentist who started a practice in a small town.
As the town grew and the years went on, his practice began to grow. He did what most dental practices do and hired an office manager.
He was lucky enough that the person had roots laid in the town—kids that went to the local schools and a husband who also worked near-by. So she was going to be around for a long time.
Years passed, and with each year that passed, the dentist became more and more out of touch with how the operations of his business ran.
I was referred to this dentist by a colleague and agreed to take a day-trip to help them get on the right path because they were struggling to execute some important processes. With just one visit it was crystal clear that they operated in daily chaos and it was no wonder they weren’t able to add something new or make a necessary change.
The dentist immediately handed me off to the office manager, who was clearly frazzled and overwhelmed.
Needless to say, she didn’t have the resources nor the right attitude (perhaps from years of working in chaos?) to transform the office. I gave what I could and left it up to them to implement.
When I followed-up later, it’s no surprise that nothing was able to change.
But what happened a few years after this feeble attempt is the office manager moved out of state.
And then the dentist was left with no knowledge of how to do things, nor team members who could easily cover and transition into the position—on top of the fact that there were patients who still needed to be cared for.
Choose Leaders Instead
Now imagine if instead of having only one person with all the knowledge and control, he had another “player on the bench”? What would’ve happened if his office culture empowered every team member to think like owners?
I bet you guessed it. Someone already on the team would have much more easily been able to cover the job responsibilities and fill the need.
I’m sure you can imagine his stress level when the only person who really knew how to do things left.
Which is why it’s important to maintain an operational structure that can quickly adapt to change and fill empty seats internally.
So why do dentists continue to set themselves up for stress instead of success?
My guess is: they’re just following what many other dentists do because they don’t know what they don’t know.
Leader vs. Manager
It’s crucial to understand that, while a leader and a manager might share similar job responsibilities, they are two vastly different roles. You may, in fact, have a manager who has leadership characteristics but simply holds the manager title. However, let’s get clear on the way a manager operates vs. the way a leader operates. Because this is where the difference matters.
Manager: A person who organizes & directs others
- Tells the team
- Creates followers
- Works in systems
- Sees people as they are
- Focuses on things
- Maintains status quo
- Says “I”
- Provides Instructions
- Places blame
- Knows how it’s done
- Gets staff to do their jobs
- Short-term focus
- Takes the credit
- Punishes failure
Leader: A person who inspires & empowers others
- Sells the team
- Creates leaders
- Motivates & empowers
- Works on systems
- Develops people
- Focuses on people
- Raises expectations
- Says “We”
- Asks questions
- Accepts responsibility
- Shows how it’s done
- Gets individuals to get better and better at their jobs
- Long-term focus / Executes the vision
- Gives credit
- Learns from failures
The Ownership Mentality
Having an ownership mentality means that the people who work in the office know, believe, and understand that they have a stake in the company. In other words, they understand that their efforts make a difference & that their contribution matters.
When you create an office culture where each and every employee has an ownership mentality you will have those “players on the bench” I mentioned earlier. You do this by switching from having a manager to developing a leadership team.
The Benefits of Having a Leadership Team
Reading that small-town dentist’s experience, you can probably imagine how much damage (even having a best-case-office-manager scenario— a manager who does a good job) can do when that key player exits.
And here’s the truth: employees will leave your office.
It’s just a part of having a business. People get married, have kids, pursue new career paths, look for more growth opportunities, try their hand at a dream-hobby turned day-job, etc. And if you’ve been in business for more than a year then this is not news to you.
Considering that, what do you think would be easier for you to jump in and cover: 50 tasks or only 10 of those 50? 10, right?
What’s more is that with a leadership team the operational responsibilities are divided out. If you have a leadership team of 5 people and one moves away, the others can easily rise to the occasion, divide the tasks, and take care of what needs to be done. Back to the hypothetical scenario, splitting those 10 tasks between 4 other people would be even better than just one person trying to take everything on.
Bigger, Faster Impact
The other huge benefit aside from quick adaptability would be more people on-boarding and empowering employees.
Let’s just pretend that you are going to switch your practice management software and you currently have 12 employees. (If you’ve ever done this big of a change then you already know that it can definitely be met with resistance.)
Is it easier for one person to convince 12 people that this is the best thing for them, the patients, & the business OR 6 of you convincing the other 6?
This is a “power in numbers” strategy. It will, of course, be easier to have 5 people standing with you to cheer on the team, be excited, and pump the rest of the team up for the change!
Last but definitely not least, is that a leadership team starts to create a culture of accountability. Because who really holds an office manager accountable? Probably not the people “under” them.
But leaders must hold each other accountable. And the people on their teams will feel more empowered to also hold them accountable (remember leaders pull not push).
I like to think of it as a nice checks-and-balance operational structure. And of course, the visionary (aka the lead dentist / CEO), is a part of that accountability. So prepare to hold people accountable and be held accountable yourself.
I think it’s important that we take a second to do a little self-check-in to see if you personally have some resistance showing up.
Don’t worry there’s no judgment here. But that resistance is inevitably going to foster a close-minded/resistant-to-change attitude—and we, as leaders, can’t afford to think like that.
So it’s ok if the thought of changing the office operational structure feels a little overwhelming or even creates a little personal fear for you.
You might even notice that you have some self-imposed limits surfacing (e.g. I’m not good with leadership, I can’t do confrontations, I’m not good at holding people accountable).
This will be particularly true if you’ve been using an office manager as a way for you to avoid having to hold people accountable, or as a way to avoid having to act as the visionary of your practice. I hope though, that right now, you will be willing to acknowledge that those feelings are coming up for you (if they are) & that you’ll lower those walls of resistance for just a minute.
You’re not alone.
You are not the only person who has ever had to step outside their comfort zone, learn new skills, make mistakes, or spearhead some major change. In fact, I created an online community for dentists who are wanting to have a safe place to share wins, struggles, and learn more about leading their teams.
You can learn.
Not great with hard conversations? Learn. Don’t really understand how to be a great leader? Learn.
You can learn the skills that you do not have, or whatever doesn’t necessarily come naturally for you. So don’t let those excuses hold you back from your own personal development.
Rise up & take ownership.
In spite of limiting beliefs, personal insecurities, or whatever else, the reality is: if you are the owner, you are the leader.
What I see happen a lot is dentists assign managers (and sometimes leaders) then try to completely sink back into the shadows. The kicker is they also have the tendency to randomly pop out when they feel like something isn’t “the way they want it” (even though they were out of the picture for most of the process).
What do you think that that really conveys to the team? Or to that manager/leader?
I’ll tell you. It’s poison for your office culture if you do that.
When you own a business, things should be the way you want it but that means that you have to be driving the vision—not lurking in the shadows.
Rise up and mentor your leaders. Set the example. Ask questions & be a part of the journey. Empower your team.
You are capable of this; so I hope that you don’t believe anything less.
Make The Change
As you can see there are many benefits to switching from an office manager mentality to a leadership mentality—not just for you & the leadership team but for the entire team.
By having a leadership team your office will be better able to adapt to change, make a faster & bigger impact, and set your office culture to that of one of accountability.
I’m going to be teaching you how to do this in my upcoming course, space is limited, so make sure that you get on the list early!