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Are You a Mouse or a Rat?

By: Steven H. Dayan, MD, FACS
Posted: March 4, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of
Group of surgeons, with two shaking hands

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Unfortunately, being rigid, absent and tyrannical can be common among physicians.

Rigid. Rigid protocols are how doctors learn in medical school, and it makes most feel comfortable when trying to compartmentalize large volumes of information. But in real life, things are so different. There are no rigid protocols and although they may seem safer, the blinder effects inherent with rigidity will eventually steer you off the right path. Adapting to the times is important, and you must keep your finger on the pulse to know what is coming next. In the business world, there are thousands of examples of rigid leaders and businesses that at one time were incredibly cocky as they led the industry, and were soon passed by a less rigid, leaner competitor that recognized changing consumer desires. For example, IBM passed on the concept of home computers to Microsoft, and Toyota offered less-expensive gas-efficient vehicles, usurping the popularity of General Motors. Consider the protocols you learned in medical school, and how much they have changed since you began working in the field. The world of aesthetic medicine is changing, as well. If you are a one-trick pony and only do one thing, you’d better be great at it. If you aren’t, and the market decides to go in a different direction, you will lose your prospective patient population. Additionally, you will work a lot harder to find and reach a contracting group still interested in the old-fashioned way.

Absent. An absentee leader is the first step toward bankruptcy. If you are not attentive, others will run your practice based on their visions and most likely without your best interest at heart. Additionally, tomorrow’s disasters start with mild symptoms that are often overlooked by an inattentive leader. Before a dam breaks causing massive flooding, there are always leaks. Similarly, the patient on the cardiac floor with progressive shortness of breath and high-volume intravenous fluids who is heading toward pulmonary edema could have been saved from an ICU admission by tending to her earlier and with more focus. Your practice is the same. Others won’t recognize the signs that you will. If there is an issue, get ahead and jump on it. Absentee leaders don’t see the warning signs until it’s too late, and then they are quick to blame others.

Tyrannical. Tyrannical leaders are destined to eventually fail. Although in the short term an aggressive, hard-punching leader can muscle the business through and motivate the troops, in the long term, it gets tiring and ineffective. Professional diplomacy pays off with your staff, colleagues and competitors. The key to being a team leader is to be a member of the team. Keep your ego out of it, and look at situations from your team member’s points of view. This is a hard thing to do, but it is the foundation of a successful business or practice. What is your employee thinking and why? If you understand your employees’ points of view, you will likely figure out a solution to their ineffectiveness. Scolding, avoidance or continuous punitive action won’t work in the long run. An employee has to feel some sort of investment in your practice or business or else they won’t produce.

The MICE

Let’s start with the “M” for messaging. Messaging begins with an honest assessment of who you are. You must define who you are, and what you want your practice to be.