Article Date: 4/1/2010

Balancing Leadership and Friendship

Balancing Leadership and Friendship

QUESTION: I've always heard, “Don't be friends with your employees.” With just three of us, that seemed impossible. But now tardiness and absenteeism have crept into our “friendship.” What should I do?

By Donna A. Suter
Chattanooga, Tenn.

Answer: When you're starting small, you want a “lean and mean” workplace. Your employees can handle a “lean” work environment, but there's no need for you to be “mean.” In fact, the old hard-line, autocratic approach to leadership simply doesn't work.

Hire people you enjoy being around and encourage them to work with you — not just for you. Then be your own best friend and set guidelines for employees that will lead your practice to success. Develop your leadership skills by becoming an expert at setting clear expectations, and remember that an effective leader communicates and enforces guidelines that may hurt (requiring some evening hours), but never harm (treating people disrespectfully).

Unfortunately, you're not alone in your problem — tardiness and absenteeism often plague practices. You can use solid leadership skills to address these sticky topics without coming across as Big Brother. Here's how:

1. Don't waste time. When someone calls out or walks in late, there's no time to listen to long answers to “What happened?” or “What's wrong?” If an employee is late or absent too frequently, you should discuss each occurrence, but do it later when you have time and remember to dedicate the bulk of the discussion to reviewing your office policy, not the specific instances or excuses.

2. Explain your wishes clearly. You expect employees to show up prepared and on time every day, for the entire day.

3. Address the unfulfilled job requirement. Replace a misleading phrase, “excessive absenteeism,” with the more appropriate, “failure to maintain regular attendance.” Make it clear that the employee has failed to do something that is part of the job.

4. Encourage responsibility. Put the need to change in your employee's hands. Say, “I understand that you have (child care problems, car trouble, a runaway pet, and so on), but we need someone who shows up for work on time, every day. When you don't, we all look unprofessional and service suffers. What are you going to do to ensure that you can meet your responsibility to the practice?” You need a real answer. If you accept “I'll try” or listen to excuses, then in essence, you're opening the door for allowing the bad practices to continue.

Practice owners should constantly challenge employees to accept greater responsibility and acountability. Do so in a manner that doesn't disrespect the individual or put the productivity and profitability of the practice at risk. Then celebrate your collective success with friends who've got your back! nOD

Ms. Suter is President of Suter Consulting Group based in Chattanooga, Tenn. Check out

The opinions expressed herein are the opinions of our contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of our advisory board, the New OD staff or Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions, Inc.

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2010