In the perfect practice, everyone gets along, knows their purpose, understands what tasks must be done and delivers exceptional client service. The reality? It is not such a perfect world.
People mess up, say the wrong thing and forget what the practice’s true mission is supposed to be. Because of this reality, there are bosses, managers and coordinators to oversee what is going on in the practice, keep things running smoothly, and identify both the star performer and the one who needs more training.
Yet even the presence of a boss or manager is wrought with difficulties. Not everyone is cut out to be in charge; some are even toxic to the team and the business. But, with a team effort, some bad bosses can be turned around.
Recognizing the “Clinical” Signs
The effects of a bad boss on the team are numerous. Confusion due to a lack of clarity of job tasks, stress, high turnover, low morale and poor job performance are not only your symptoms from this destructive boss disease, it is also showing up in your coworkers. Even if your coworkers are not directly coming under fire from the bad boss, they witness you or others being subjected to bad boss behavior and displaying the symptoms from that exposure. Worse yet, it is also affecting your clients and the very patients you all purport to love and treat.
Think about it—low morale often shows up in poor client service. Poor job performance puts patients at risk. A bad boss is not just affecting you; it is like a nasty disease infecting an entire population of coworkers, clients and patients. The sad truth about this problem of a bad boss is that, often, the business appears to be allowing the bad behavior by not addressing concerns or correcting the behavior.
Do a quick review of your management team. Do you have any bad bosses? A bad boss creates fear; a leader creates confidence. A bad boss places blame; a leader corrects mistakes. A bad boss knows it all; a leader asks questions. A bad boss makes work drudgery; a leader makes it interesting.1 Obviously, a good boss is often viewed as a leader. They inspire, guide, listen and speak in terms of “we” or “the team.” The bad boss depends on authority, orders people around and speaks in terms of “I.”
Formulate a “Treatment” Plan
People thrive when they have a purpose, are respected, are part of a great team and when their efforts are acknowledged. People decide to quit when the work environment becomes problematic—and when people leave the veterinary practice due to a bad boss, they take their valuable skills and knowledge with them, often to a competitor.
The first step is the immediate treatment of the “disease” by identifying the clinical signs, diagnosing the disease and formulating a treatment plan (see chart for examples2).
Next, the business must formulate preventive “wellness” plans to put into place when a person is initially promoted to a coordinator/manager/boss position. Give the newly-promoted person the tools and training they need to value and empower the team, provide clear direction, communicate clearly and effectively train others.
Creating a handbook for managers and trainers will provide the practice with a means of “inoculating” the team against common “infections” which could cause bad boss situations. The handbook should contain, but not be limited to, the following topics:3
- Developing Subject Matter Experts (i.e., trainers) in the practice
- Identifying training needs (who, what, when, why and how)
- Learning the different training/coaching styles
- Utilizing different methods of training
- Understanding human resource, operational and strategic rules/regulations that apply
- Learning the different leadership styles and when to apply
- Learning time management skills
- Learning communication skills
Just because a person is a fantastic technician or receptionist does not mean he/she will be an amazing trainer or manager. Do not set these people up for failure by neglecting to give them the tools and training for this different position. And, it’s important not ignore the rest of the team. Perhaps a spin on the old saying may apply here: It takes a village to raise a great trainer or manager.
The responsibility of each of us (i.e., the employees faced with a bad boss/manager/coordinator) includes a spin on managing—termed “managing up.” In order to “manage up,” you should:
- Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their motives.
- Help your boss focus on his or her strengths and success of the task at hand.
- Don’t fall into bad behavior yourself (e.g., gossiping, poor performance, bad attitude).
- Have the courage to have difficult conversations about your concerns (discuss in private).
- Identify and adapt communication styles to make the relationship work.
- Stand up to bullying.
Like medical issues requiring the assistance of a specialist, it may take a professional coach or consultant to help an organization deal with a bad boss’s problem in order to salvage the culture, ensure excellent medical care for the patients and promote business success.
Learn from “Clinical” Experience
Having a bad boss is not an end-all situation. Your first response should not be to leave the job; however, it may need to be an option as you exhaust efforts to improve the working relationship. Consider this time spent with a bad boss as an opportunity for you to develop your own good boss leadership skills for those times when you are in charge of a project or promoted to a management position. After all, you would not want to be the one causing an exodus of talented people because of your bad boss skills. +
- Quote attributed to Russell Ewing, British Journalist
- Kets de Vries, M. (2014, April). Harvard Business Review. Coaching the Toxic Leader. P. 101-109.
- Train the Trainer and Leadership Handbooks by Louise Dunn, Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting