Leadership’s Secret Sauce

In Print Issues by Linda Drevenstedt

Do you know that Leadership’s Secret Sauce is more important to your leadership success than your intelligence and your technical skills combined?

Management researchers, particularly Daniel Goleman, Harvard PhD, have been studying leadership’s secret sauce since 1995. The key ingredient in this concoction is emotional intelligence. Often dental leaders shy away from the mere word “emotion.” My coaching request for a dental client to have a constructive conversation with a poor performing employee has often been met with, “But, what if she cries?”

Emotional intelligence is not about hugging or bearing your soul. It is accepted, studied and confirmed as the one ingredient beyond your skill and your knowledge that can distinguish you as a top leader. What is emotional intelligence? There are five ingredients that make up leadership’s secret sauce:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy/Compassion
  • Relationship/Social Skills

Self-Awareness is tricky. Studies show that you are likely to underestimate or overestimate your own abilities and their effect on others. Behavior strengths, when overused, can create barriers to communication and, therefore, to effective leadership. DiSC profiles are used by dental management consultants and serve as a basis for understanding self-awareness. When you, as a leader, know your strengths, you can use them to your best advantage. However, those same strengths can also turn your team or your patients off. Self-aware leaders can use their strength and then rein it in when it is ineffective. Below are the DiSC style strengths and “warts” that can be pitfalls:

“D” – Dominant/Driver leaders are excellent at setting challenging goals, getting the move on efficiency and time usage. Yet, that same drive can sometimes not resonate with people. Team members can feel left out and feel that they are mere cogs in your progress, plans or profits.

The “i” – Influencing/Expressive leader is excellent at generating enthusiasm and a we-can-do-it culture. The self-aware “i” leader knows that they can change agendas too often and create chaos with lack of follow-up and follow-through.

If you are an “S” – Steady/Relater leader, you want a peaceful and calm practice, and you truly listen to others. Team members, however, dislike it when you avoid tough decisions or discipline, or you buy into a patient’s story and discount your services.

Most dentists have a strong “C” – Conscientious/Analyzer part in their behavior style. “C” leaders keep the practice focused on quality and accuracy like a perfectionist. Yet, you can be so concerned with perfection that you cannot delegateorletothersperform.Thistypeofperson’ssharp critique can leave team members frustrated and, at times, afraid.

Building self-awareness takes observing your impact on others. Can you look to see how your behavior affects others compared to your intentions?

Self-regulation skills include: self-control, managing personal and practice stress, and managing the balance between your family and your practice. Self-regulation develops through an understanding of how your brain processes information and why your brain leads to your thoughts and then actions. Your brain is wired with an old brain part from caveperson days and a new evolved brain – the neo-cortex. These two parts, though inches apart, have very different functions. When an event happens, the message first goes to the old brain, or amygdala. Your amygdala searches, in nanotime, your old emotional storage cabinets to see if this event matches a prior emotional event or if there is danger. Your brain supplies the stored or innate response needed.

Self-regulation skills allow you to interrupt that first brain impulse and change your response by using your neo-cortex to make a more emotionally intelligent decision. The event still happens, but leaders can learn not to be a victim of their past or their innate responses. An emotionally intelligent leader can be cool, calm and collected before responding. Self-regulation is critical when life or the practice throws change, disruptions or challenges your way.

Your Motivation is experienced through your team’s eyes. A motivated and emotionally intelligent leader defines and lives though articulated vision, values and passion. Leaders who lose their vision leave their followers lost in the desert going their own way. If the leader sends mixed messages about values, the team losses faith in the leader’s integrity.

Managing passion and motivation is leadership’s spice ingredient. Passion for your profession, passion for each team member becoming their best, passion for the patients’ dental wellness and passion for creating a dental business that is well respected in your community all put a bit of spice into your dental life that attracts great team members and great patients.

Empathy/Compassion can sound a bit touchy/feely to dental leaders. Yet, developing this one skill can take your leadership to a height you never imagined. Empathy is the antidote to judgement. Judgement creates a “green fog” between you and another. Dentists and office managers come with high expectations of themselves and of others. These expectations foster judgement and can lead to self-criticism and criticism of others, both of which lower empathy. Empathy does not mean you need to feel sorry for or make excuses for another or yourself. Empathy means you can see yourself and others as valuable people doing the best they can with what they know or have.

People are ALL dysfunctional AND functional in their own unique way. Empathy and compassion allow you as a leader to go for your best and encourage others to go for their best without the caustic veil of judgment clouding the relationship. Ask the question, “How can you help your patient or your team member have the best experience under your leadership by using care, concern and compassion?”

Relationship/Social Skills. Dentistry is a PEOPLE business, NOT a teeth business. Dental leaders can over focus on tasks and not focus enough on how best to communicate, get along with and inspire people. When a leader is too task focused, then dentistry becomes a transaction that can be replaced. An emotionally intelligent leader knows that both the team and the patients will stick with a leader who has created a relationship, not just a transaction.

Relationship does not mean that you need to be heavily involved in everyone’s business, running their life from the sidelines. It does mean that you know enough to care about the lives that are attached to the patient and the team member. Emotionally intelligent leaders see each person’s value, even if in a moment they are not behaving as you would like. Relationship building includes how to authentically and honestly communicate.

Leadership’s secret sauce has five important ingredients. Each ingredient is a skill that you can develop or improve. Look outside of dentistry for emotional-intelligence courses for you and for your team. As each person increases their emotional intelligence skills, your team synergy will grow. There are great books and assessments that can help you know where you are and help you create a plan to build your leadership emotional intelligence, your secret sauce. Email me (linda@drevenstedt.com), and I’ll send you my reading list to get you started. Growing your leadership in these five areas of emotional intelligence pays dividends in both your practice and at home. At the end of the day, they are not just leadership’s secret sauce, they are life’s secret sauce, as well.