3 Steps to Becoming a Practice Leader

Mike Rothschild, OD

The topic of “leadership” has intrigued me for many years, particularly as it relates to eye care practices. Leadership is often thought about in terms of official titles or positions, but I have found that true leadership is a much more personal trait. True leadership comes from an attitude of constant self-improvement and a tireless dedication to a common cause.

Leadership is anything you do or say to motivate and encourage each member of your team to a) want to do the work necessary to accomplish the vision you established and b) organize them to put a plan into action. In other words, leading is not doing, but it’s the empowerment and mobilizing of others.

Leadership comes in all different shapes, sizes and styles. Some people are called “natural born leaders” but that term is often reserved for a particular type of leader; often boisterous and opinionated. Many effective leaders make their mark behind the scenes and don’t necessarily need the spotlight to shine. Regardless of your role in your practice, if you feel the need for increased trust or common purpose, then you have an opportunity to lead.

Beginning your journey as a leader in your practice requires 3 individual steps.

    • 1. Decide that leadership is needed and you will do what it takes.


    • 2. Create a very clear vision about the organization you will lead.


    3. Begin communicating that vision to your team.

Step 1: Decide that leadership is needed and that you will do what it takes.
In my years of coaching practices, I have come across many practice owners who are reluctant to lead their teams. When I dig into the root cause of this reluctance, I usually find that it is based in a fear of “making everyone mad.”

This fear or anxiety is relatively common and is nothing to be ashamed of, but it does need to be overcome. When a practice has a lack of leadership, it takes on a life of its own. New initiatives are shut down before they are given a chance and progress toward the vision stalls.

Deciding to lead can be tough because of what it means.

Leading requires letting go of some of the things that others can do. This is often the most difficult part of the decision. This means empowering others to make decisions that may be different than what you would have decided. It means teaching more than doing.

Leading requires building leadership skills that you may not have. I have found personality tests to be very powerful in understanding strengths that can be used in leadership roles, as well as my limitations. The decision to lead requires a commitment to lifelong improvement of your leadership skill set.

Step 2: Create a very clear vision of the organization you will lead.
Consider that leadership is a journey to a destination. The vision is simply the definition of where we are going. Make it as clear as you possibly can and write it down. Where are you going and what will it be like when you get there?

Like any journey, if you don’t have a particular destination, there is not an incentive to continue if discomfort or boredom sets in. However, if your team is targeting some place special, then they will be more inclined to work through the adversity toward the destination. Creating a vision is the time to think big, and dream to imagine what is possible for your practice.

The act of creating a vision for your practice (or organization) takes practice. When I talk to people about creating their vision, I ask them to imagine how the practice will look when it is “finished.” Describe the practice when it is “perfect.”

Describe in as much detail as you can the building on the outside and describe how it feels when someone enters the front door. How many locations, exam rooms, staff members, etc.? Then let’s describe the perfect patient and the perfect day in this perfect practice.

The more details that you describe, the easier time you will have in Step 3.

Step 3: Begin communicating that vision to your team.
This is the first step in demonstrating or testing your leadership with your team. It is important that this comes after Steps 1 and 2.

Your individual leadership style and your current situation will dictate how this initial communication will go. Consider the current relationship you have with your team. If you regularly say (or think), “I would like to try that, but my staff will never go for it,” then you must establish the authority early on. If your office has regularly scheduled meetings, then you have a perfect chance for the team to be gathered for this “special” announcement.

It is important to not take lightly the sharing of this vision and the establishment of your leadership role. In preparing for this initial communication, run your plans by a trusted colleague or coach to help you think it through. It is important to share personal aspirations and dreams as the source of inspiration for this message.

Give a historical perspective of where the practice has been, changes that have occurred in recent history and the new direction that we, as a team, will be going. Offer opportunities for feedback and input but make it clear that this is the new direction and full support from everyone is expected and appreciated.

Communicate the vision consistently and relentlessly from this point forward (see Step 1).

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