Article Date: 4/1/2006

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Getting The Little Things Done
Is it better to get your hands dirty or wait for staff to do it?

There's a paper clip on the floor. The contact lens solution bottle is open. The frame displays are dusty. We've all seen these things in our own offices. The frustration most doctors experience when seeing them isn't related to being like Felix Unger. Rather, it's because fixing these things is an easy task that so obviously needs to be done, yet is not. How you handle these and other tasks that are "beneath the boss" hinges on your individual management style and will set the tone for how your team members approach their jobs in the future.

Be a DIY

Home Depot and others have made their fortunes by telling us to "do it yourself." While many of us are certainly ready to chip-in and answer our phones, do a contact lens training session or empty the garbage, is this the best use of our time? The answer is obviously no. As doctors, we should be doctoring. We should be using our CEO time to move our practices forward. It's unlikely that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company picks up after his employees. Or does he?

Does being a good manager and leader mean accepting that absolutely no task is beneath you? I believe it does. For example, if your practice mantra is to stay on schedule and you notice all of your opticians are busy when someone comes in to pick up their glasses, a strong team-playing leader will "get their hands dirty" and dispense those eyeglasses. But good leadership doesn't end here.

DIY plus

At this point, it would be helpful to alert your staff and discuss why it was necessary for you to do a task that they should normally do. The wrong way to discuss this at your staff meeting would be, "Did you notice that I had to dispense a pair of glasses last Wednesday afternoon? That's not my job. It's your job!" A better way to approach the situation: "Last Wednesday while I was dispensing a pair of glasses, I was wondering how we can come to a solution to allow our opticians, who are better at dispensing glasses than I am, more time to do their jobs. Maybe there's something in our scheduling we need to change? I'm open to ideas."

Presented this way, you can eat your cake and have it too. You show your team that you don't mind helping out with tasks you normally don't do. And you also exhibit the fact-finding skills a good CEO uses to problem solve. By engaging your team to deliver a solution, you identify the problem, participate in the issue and facilitate a discussion towards a solution.

The LSEDI approach

Another alternative to the DIY approach is LSEDI or, "let someone else do it." In this case you again show that you are the "thinker," not the "laborer," which reinforces your role as the head decision maker. However, if instances of LSEDI are happening routinely you must recognize that the LSEDI strategy isn't working. If it were, the bathrooms would always be clean, the magazines always up-to-date and last nights' files always put away.

Finding a balance between being the boss, being the leader and being a team member can be a challenge. The key is to be a team member with a clearly defined job description. In your case, you're a team member who rolls up his or her sleeves when it's necessary but your job description also asks you to be a coach and analyzer in order to determine why you had to do those non-optometric tasks in the first place.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2006