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OfficeMax founder touts ‘benevolent dictator’
Getting tough by lecturing staff on problems, calling out employees for mistakes at meetings, and threatening to let people go or slash pay and benefits may not get the results desired. Psychologists and successful CEOs alike say calm conversations and focusing on examples of when employees performed exceptionally may work better in producing the desired change.
'Don't mistakes warrant anger?'
Old school management is the manager or owner telling a staff member in a disgusted and irritated tone that they are wrong. Too often these comments are made in the operatory, making the patient uncomfortable. But according to Los Angeles psychologist Wendy Walsh, "Positive rewards are more successful at changing behavior than punishment. That's why companies reward employees of the month and base bonuses on performance. When reprimanding an employee, always speak to their higher self by sandwiching the criticism between too positive statements."
Dr. Walsh acknowledged that reinforcing positive feelings in staff allows them to associate the good feelings of receiving compliments with the desired behaviors, hopefully leading to their repetition.
Another psychologist and a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Michael Komie said that reinforcing ideal behavior with positive comments is just the start: “From a positive psychology point of view, it is very important to set positive expectations along with rubrics — criteria that are clearly spelled out so that the staff can know what the specific expectations are for good performance." It's all about measurement and having that affirming attitude. Dr. Komie said the communication style of authoritarian leaders may be perceived as criticism, which has the double-downer effect of lowering employees' self-esteem while raising their anxiety levels. He explained that team building increases good performance; practice leaders should communicate in staff meetings in a way that focuses on team strengths paired with specific expectations for good performance.
Michael Feuer, the co-founder and former CEO of OfficeMax and current CEO of Max-Wellness, admits that he has occasionally "lost it" over the years with employees. "You say things, you are human: ready, aim, fire! You said it. It didn’t work. It didn’t serve your purpose." Everyone loses their temper at some point, according to Mr. Feuer. If you say something inappropriate, he said, follow it with: "Time out, start over. I'm sorry. What I meant to say is. . ."
"It disarms people when you are so candid. People don’t expect the boss to say ‘I’m wrong, I apologize.’ They respect when you admit you are wrong instead of quietly slinking into the night."
Mr. Feuer titled his new book on this and other topics, The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition.
Reinforcing positive behavior with compliments and keeping your cool are all a part of effective practice management. Being a lax manager is not productive, Mr. Feuer said, because "if there's no policeman, even good people will go a little over the speed limit." Thus, combine a positive management style with partnering with your staff. “Candor goes a long way. Say, ‘I’m a great dentist, but I want to be a great boss and dentist so tell me how I can be better? What can I help you to be better so I can be better?’ All the sudden they’ll be your ally and tell you. If you are not forthcoming, they’ll give you a dumb answer, and then everyone goes back to their role of mediocrity.”
Janyce Hamilton is an award-winning Chicagoland freelance dental writer and editor. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered, or any comments on this column, to Chicago Dental Society.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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