At a time when having someone strong at the helm is more valuable than ever, it’s worth knowing what’s involved in being a good leader. By John Burfitt
At the end of last year, as APHRA’s Continuing Professional Development three-year cycle was coming to an end, there was a flurry of training activity as many dental practitioners went into overdrive to get their 60 hours of CPD completed by the due deadline.
The latest cycle commenced on 1 December and for some practitioners, completing the training before its 2022 deadline is probably the last thing on their mind right now.
But it shouldn’t be, claims David Pich, CEO of the Institute of Managers & Leaders and co-author of the book, Leading Well: 7 attributes of very successful leaders.
“Now is an excellent time to plan, and embrace training, development and a commitment to learning as an ongoing process of the way you operate in business, rather than something you do in a hurry in order to meet a deadline,” Brisbane-based Pich says. “That approach is not good enough for the way things are changing right now in the business landscape, and is not going to help in setting up for a successful future.”
Pich has worked extensively within the Australian medical field, most notably with the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation and the board of the Australian & New Zealand Intensive Care Foundation. His new book Leading Well, a follow-up to 2017’s Leadership Matters, focuses on the personal attributes needed to transform managers into leaders, at every level of business.
One of the claims he makes in the book is, “Short courses don’t create long-term leaders.” Not that Pich is having a go at intensive vocational training, though he does question the motivation behind some practice leaders who sign up for MBA programs. Rather, he states that expecting any kind of training to change an ineffective approach to practice leadership is unreasonable, without also embracing a strategy about ongoing development with long-term targets in place.
“Some people approach professional education as something they tick off to get them to the next step, rather than as part of a long-term business strategy and evolving plan for the sake of their relevance within the profession and the success of their business,” he explains.
“It’s something I have seen time and again, and while signing up for a leadership course is done with the best of intentions, what you then do to follow up those lessons, by putting them into practice, is where it really counts. But too often, that all gets lost once the training is all over.”
For the business owner or practice manager who wants to adopt more effective leadership skills—not just their own but also within their team—Pich outlines a three-tiered strategy, explaining the stages as: ‘The Self’, ‘Others’ and ‘The Business’.
‘The Self’ is about having a clear understanding of the way you function, and knowing what you need to work on to become more effective as a leader,” Pich says. “This is not just about self-awareness but also analysing your own attitudes and processes to know where you are starting from and what must be done from that point.”
As for the concept of ‘authenticity’ in the workplace, Pich advises some caution about latching onto it when working on ‘The Self’ tier.
“When people use ‘authenticity’ as an excuse for being just how they are, and yet they’re bad as a leader, that’s a real issue,” he says. “You may feel you are being authentic, but you may be missing the point of needing to develop better skills of awareness and self-analysis, to realise what you are doing may not be enough, and you need to change.”
The ‘Others’ tier is about understanding the people on the practice team, knowing how they work and what brings out their best performance.
This is where Pich makes the blunt point, “Good strategy eats culture for breakfast when it comes to getting the best from your team. To become an effective leader, you need to learn the best ways to interact with your team so they not only want to come to work, but feel engaged and invested in the outcomes of the business.
“Remember this when running a good business—it’s not all about you,” Pich adds. He cites the example of team meetings where each staff member should have a turn in running the gathering, and everyone be encouraged to bring ideas to the table for consideration.
“As the boss, you should sometimes sit back, listen to what is being offered and then focus in on the good ideas that can be developed. That’s being a good leader, rather than the person who sits at the head of the table barking orders.”
As for the ‘Business’ tier, Pich explains effective leadership in this regard is about being across the various details of the practice, knowing they’re in order and ensuring the business continues to appeal to a changing market.
“This is when a strong leader will make a commitment to reviewing progress, noticing when it’s working and if it’s not, then doing something about it rather than just hoping it will sort itself out,” he says.
In these COVID-19 times, Pich says strong leaders are needed more than ever, to focus on developing the skill of resilience for all levels of the team.
“For some people, resilience comes naturally while others need assistance to learn and develop it, and this is when a leader who can help guide the way is essential, especially right now,” he says. “Learning how to be that kind of leader takes commitment, and often what that comes down to is constantly reviewing where you’re at and then deciding on what you next need to learn and work on. It takes time but does pay off in the kind of leader you eventually evolve into.”