How to be a better leader    By Dan Fine. May 31, 2017.

Our blog on the loneliness of leadership was well received, so we wondered what else readers might find useful on this subject. (Most of you are, we think, leaders in your dental practices.) We didn’t need to look far. Dan Fine is full of ideas and he also happens to be half way through an MBA featuring leadership. Dan is a business advisor at Hive Business, specialist accountants for dentists. Thank you Dan…

It’s easy to assume we know what leadership is, but it’s not so easy to pin down and seems to change when we observe it. There are interesting parallels to the archetypal hero in mythology who overcomes chaos through soul searching. There are so many theories about good leadership but the real work, like that of the archetypal hero’s, seems to be genuine reflection and introspection, accompanied by a growing sense of autonomy.

In his book Rules For Radicals Saul Alinsky says events, or “happenings”, become experience only after they have been reflected upon thoughtfully: “Most people do not accumulate a body of experience. Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns, and synthesized.”

Reflecting and processing events seems like a good idea for your whole life, not just your business, and Alinksy is saying you have valuable information at your fingertips at every moment, all you need to do to turn the information to your advantage is notice it and reflect on it. Sometimes we can point to big events in our lives that we know have changed our thinking and behaviour, for example a car accident might affect the way we drive. But if we try to notice and digest much more than the big events then we open ourselves to learning and change all the time. So if someone at work is too busy to speak to you properly and you feel angry, reflect on why you feel angry, and why they are too busy. There might be valuable learning there.

Obviously becoming more aware is easier said than done, but you can get better if you’re prepared to be honest with yourself and work hard. You can’t rely on motivation to get you though because it will never be enough, instead you need a clear purpose that will push you through the times that you don’t want to keep going. It’s really important that you identify your purpose. What is it that you are doing all this for? It will probably be something personal, and once you become aware of it it will bring authenticity to what you’re doing.

This is difficult work, and as the stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger wrote, “our lack of confidence is not the result of difficulty, the difficulty comes from our lack of confidence”. So the beginning will probably be very hard. You are developing a new intuition for meaning in relation to your purpose, and you’re learning to attribute meaning in a way that serves you. Like the psychologist Daniel Kahneman says in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, we tend to think of our intuition as fixed from birth but in fact it’s built up through endless patterns of experience and learning and it leads to a push forward.

The only way to start is to put some time aside for reflection. Our dental practice development team advises a minimum of one day a week on management per £1m turnover, and an unspecified amount of time on reflection depending on what works for you. That might sound fluffy but reflection may be the most important thing you can do. Maybe you’ll begin to notice how you behave and see which of those behaviours serve your purpose. There’s no system for this so you have to develop your own, and I’m afraid leadership is situational, so there’s nothing empirical you can measure (if there was, Gandhi and Churchill could have performed each others’ roles — clearly they couldn’t).

A concept that’s popular at the moment says it’s useful to accept that you’re an incomplete leader and that you probably have two strengths out of the following four areas:

  1. Sense making (analysis, understanding the world)
  2. Relating (interpersonal)
  3. Visioning (keeping people going and looking forward)
  4. Inventing (building the system)

The main thing to remember here is that the superman type leader doesn’t exist; all you can do is be aware of your weaknesses, play to your strengths and stick to your core values. Without core values (things like consistency and honesty) you will veer wildly according to the situation and people will sense that you don’t stand for anything.

The former Navy Seal Jocko Willink has quite a harsh approach to this kind of self discipline called extreme ownership (the title of one of his books), and says that people usually know what the right thing to do is but tend not to choose it because it’s harder in the short term. He wants you to accept that you’re accountable for everything you have the power to change and be tough on yourself until it becomes unproductive. Take the failures and learn from them but be flexible enough to move on, and hang on to your core values whatever happens. Good luck!

Dan | [email protected]

Dan Fine

“You can’t rely on motivation, it will never be enough”

Dan Fine, business advisor, Hive Business

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