Back to Basics - Five Tips for Your Management Skills

Posted: Aug 15, 2013
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According to Harvard Business School professors Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria, being a “manager” in and of itself is not a profession. Why? Rakesh and Nitin argue that “true professions have codes of conduct, and the meaning and consequences of those codes are taught as part of the formal education of their members.” And, they contended, “unlike doctors and lawyers,” managers don’t “adhere to a universal and enforceable code of conduct.”

Interesting. I agree. That’s what makes managers so variable. There wouldn’t be a market for movies like Horrible Bosses if everyone followed and abided by a code of conduct. And you don’t see movies called Horrible Veterinarian being marketed. Managers often get so bogged down in the day-to-day activities of their jobs (open shifts anyone?) that they forget to actually lead and manage. But if we pay attention to the important soft skills of managing, we would get more out of our teams, which would relieve us from those every day stressors. How do you do that? I say, stick with the basics.

It’s not about you. There are two main ways to get people to get on your bus. The first is by telling them that they have to (and now, because I SAID SO). As you can imagine, this ends up adding a lot of extremely fun challenges (like people actively trying to make your bus breakdown and laughing at you while they do it). To be a true leader, you want to inspire people to get on your bus because they believe in you and your goals. That means you need to get to know them and their motivations. Why do they work at your clinic? What are their long-term goals? Philosophically, are you on the same page? (If not, that may require a detour.) Take time to know your staff and support their goals; they will reward you by supporting yours.

Be clear. In almost every interview I conduct, people say that their “ideal boss” is a direct communicator. About 50% of interviewees list “direct communication” as one of their strengths. I know about three people who are truly good at being direct but not too harsh. Tip: If new hires have to be instructed on how to deal with you on their first day of work, you’re too harsh. People don’t always take feedback well (trust me, I’ve been in HR for 13 years), but as a manager you are doing them a disservice by not providing clear expectations and feedback about what is going well and what’s not. At the end of the day constructive criticism will not only make them a better employee, but it will also make them a better person.

Sing it Aretha. Managers often confuse being liked with being respected. These two things are different. Your friends and the people you live with should genuinely like you and want to spend time with you. Your staff needs to respect you. Spending time trying to get everyone to like you is a losing battle, because at the end of the day you have to make the best decision for your clinic, not individual people (that tends to cause discord). If you make decisions fairly, communicate about them directly, and act with integrity, you will be respected. Will your staff always like you and your decision? No. But they will still respect you. And that’s okay.

Laugh at yourself. You’re hilarious. I hated the first On the Floor @Dove video I was in. I made faces and talked with my hands and my hair was too shiny. All true things in real life. I told the wonderful (and patient) OTF staff that the video had to be redone. Megan and Avi (our webmaster and video engineer) demanded to know why. Surprise: I’m high maintenance and no one wanted to do it again. All my reasons sounded logical in my head, so I repeated them out loud. They laughed. And I did too. It’s important to be human and humble and to laugh at yourself. You’re not above it. To this day, whenever we film anything, one of them will say, “The video was great, except your hair was so blinding that we’re not sure we can use it.” Or they’ll say, “We got a comment on the site from a user who likes everything except the girl with really shiny hair.” Very funny guys. Very. Funny.

(Here's a picture of Monica in a meeting. Her hair was not shiny that day.)

Monica Maxwell in a meeting at DoveLewis, with dog Phoebe sharing her chair and resting her head on Monica's shoulder.

Dream big. True leaders need to envision the future, not just for their department, not just for the organization, but also for each of their employees.  As managers, it is our job to help those who report to us grow and develop past what they were when they started with us. Our mentorship will impact them well after they leave us for bigger and better things. And good for them – you should be proud.

There are a thousand books out there about management. Is some of the information good? Absolutely, but at the end of the day, focus on the basics and (as cliché as it is) treat those around you how you would want to be treated. Managing is hard work, but if you keep those basic tenants in mind, you’ll have an engaged and inspired team to go with you on the journey. And don’t forget to pay attention. Your staff will teach you way more than you’ll ever expect.