10 Tips to Be A Good Boss
Every practice owner wants to be a good boss! Here’s 10 tips for how to be the best boss that you can be:
1) Roll up your sleeves: A good leader will never ask their team to do work that they’re unwilling to do themselves. Cleaning a dirty cage instead of walking by, helping a team member restrain a fractious pet, and otherwise chipping in with the daily work when you’re around sends the message that the team succeeds as a whole and that there is no work that is “below” your job title.
2) Never complain about money in front of your team: Being a practice owner is difficult and the financial stress of business ownership is ever-present. Your employees likely don’t have a good understanding of the narrow margins that small businesses survive on. Even knowing whether your business is doing well can be challenging and stressful (check out our blog post on assessing how your business is doing). Talking about money with your team isn’t wrong, but it needs to be handled delicately and never as offhanded complaints. Likely your team’s only insight into the practice’s financial health is the gross receipts, and most staff members don’t have business ownership experience to understand how much of that revenue is erased in expenses. Complaining about money around team members who likely think that you make more money than you actually do creates a very bad impression.
3) Expectations should be clear and consistent, even for you: If you set rules for your team to follow, as a good boss you should be prepared to follow them too. “Rules for thee, none for me” creates a rift between you and your team. Consistency in expectations, rules, measures of success, and rewards are a winning calculus for your team, but don’t expect them to respect the rules if you don’t!
4) Don’t be too hard: Veterinary healthcare work is hard enough (veterinary healthcare workers have been nothing short of heroic through the pandemic) without a bosszilla! It is important to keep in mind that an employee's relationship with their work is going to be different than an owner’s. If you think you’re the hardest working member of your team you might be right, but that’s to be expected because your role as an owner means that you have the highest level of incentive alignment on your team. If you want to boost your team’s engagement, the carrot works better than the stick: Consider incentive alignments like production bonuses, profit sharing, and rewards for team goal accomplishment. If you ask too much and give too little, you’ll lose your best people. Turnover is expensive!
5) Don’t be too easy: A good leader isn’t feared but is respected. Being a pushover is a temptation as a leader because “yes” is always a popular answer and “no” can lead to confrontation. However, leading comes with a responsibility to do what is best for the organization, the team, and fulfilling the trust that pet owners put in the medical team and that means saying “no” sometimes. Turning a blind eye to issues like charge capture (this is an important topic that we've discussed in depth here), bullying or inappropriate conduct by staff, or abusive/troublesome clients might avoid a confrontation today, but in the long run is much more damaging. Standing up for yourself, your business, your team, and your patients is a burden of leadership.
6) Leaders set the tone: Great teams know who they are, why they do what they do, and bring that passion to work with them. That sense of purpose starts at leadership and travels down throughout the organization. This is why it is so important for leaders to bring positive energy in with them every day, even when they might be having a bad day themselves. Attitude is contagious and self-fulfilling, whether positive or negative. Good leaders shape their environment through the attitude that they project.
7) Gratitude costs nothing: Saying “thank you” is free but can mean the world to a team member who has gone the extra mile. Expressing genuine gratitude where appropriate is a powerful and simple tool for an effective leader. Never take your All Stars for granted!
8) Team failures are leadership failures until proven otherwise: If your team or members of your team fail, a good leader’s reaction is to look inward first for the fault. A leader’s job is to set their team up for success through training, tools, operational systems, checks/redundancies, and effective collaboration within the team. When the team or individual members fail it is usually because they weren’t set up for success and that there weren’t proper safety nets built into processes to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure. It is true that toxic individuals do exist that will be incompatible with even the best team, but if you’re constantly finding fault with members of your team then unfortunately the common thread could be you!
9) Be present, but not too present: The hardest line for any leader to walk is finding the narrow “sweet spot” between micromanagement and undermanagement. You need to be around enough to follow your team’s work and troubleshoot problems. You also need to give your team enough space to do their jobs effectively without a hovering boss.
10) Delegate effectively: Where the line between falls between micromanagement and undermanagement is determined by how much work you’ve put into consistent training for your team: A well trained team should be able to operate mostly independent of your leadership and leaves your attention free to focus on the “big picture” of your practice. Being able to delegate work and feel confident that it will be done well is the hallmark of a well-managed team. Delegation improves productivity, employee engagement and pride in their work, and business profitability.