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Columns , Leadership

When your boss is the problem

Conflict with a practice owner can arise from insecurity, personality differences or unapologetic callousness. A manager who understands the root cause can help bring harmony to the clinic.

When your boss is the problem
Outbursts from a practice owner often can be traced to insecurity.

How should veterinary hospital managers neutralize a practice owner whose behavior toward staff is unpredictable or relentlessly difficult? How do you help the team to cope with such a leader? When bosses behave badly, managing up can be the remedy.

Reality Check

Hospital managers often feel a sense of ownership. The majority of us, however, are simply employees. So, even if we enjoy relative autonomy and feel like we run the show, let’s humble ourselves with the reminder that we are employed to help our bosses meet their goals for the practice, even when their leadership skills are in question.

Outbursts from a practice owner often can be traced to insecurity. Digging deep to better understand who you work for will help you to head off daily disasters and respond appropriately when a problem slips by.

Find a Balance

Is the practice owner lashing out because he is forced to work in a way that does not fit his personality? You can step in to lift the burden and utilize the owner’s strengths.

A smart boss surrounds himself with people who balance his shortcomings. The choice, however, requires the owner’s humbleness and openness to outside perspectives.

A manager would be wise to invest time in understanding personalities. Early in my current employment, a Myers-Briggs inventory informed me that my boss and I had opposite personalities. (She already knew that, which is why she hired me!) Recognizing our differences and applying communication principles taught during training were key in allowing us to effectively work together to build the practice.

Once managers have a solid understanding of how a boss naturally operates, clear lines of communication can be crafted. For instance, does your superior make decisions based on facts or the emotional consequences on others? Does she need time and space to think or does she prefer in-the-moment decisions? What time of day is she most receptive to a discussion? Does she prefer written or in-person communication?

Where bosses fall short on skill is where hospital managers should step up and complete a complementary pairing. Maybe the owner is great with medicine, animals and vision. The manager is left to fulfill the areas of business, people and strategic planning.

The Value of Confidence

Is the owner insecure about the practice’s direction? Help him define who he is and what he wants, remind him that he has power and control over the situation, and then provide the resources he needs to reach his goals.

Leaders who lack self-efficacy are more likely to feel defensive and personally attacked when they receive suggestions. A Harvard Business Review study found that leaders who were asked to write about their core values became more receptive to employee input. Self-affirmation can be used to reduce ego defensiveness.

If your boss shows a lack of confidence, take time to discuss what is most important to her. Ask her to explain how she became a practice owner. Why did she make the leap? What did she envision the perfect practice to be? How has the vision morphed? What values does she hold most sacred and what do they look like within the scope of the practice? What keeps her up at night? How can you help? Become an ally who can be trusted to help shepherd her dreams into reality.

360-Degree Management

Is the practice owner stressed because she questions your effectiveness and credibility? Before attempting to manage up, ensure that your ability to manage out and down is secure.

Managing your boss requires her vulnerability, trust and respect. Prove your worthiness through your handling of others. How do you treat clients, sales representatives and employees? What do you say about them once they are out of earshot? If you regularly pipe off about your annoyances with other people, can your boss trust you to not do the same with her?

In all your professional relationships, show grace and deference. If you feel the need to vent and snark, do so privately with a spouse or friend unassociated with work. Better yet, reflect on your negative reactions and find a way to positively and authentically empathize and connect with colleagues and customers. Doing so will not only catch the attention of your boss but also will improve your effectiveness as a manager.

While the bulk of office conflict can be diffused with communication and personal growth, not all behavior should be shouldered or tolerated. I am a firm believer that we each play an active role in how we receive, respond to and influence the actions of others. Leaders have a responsibility to behave appropriately at all times. Incidents of harassment or abuse should be swiftly addressed and corrected. No employee is exempt, regardless of skill set or longevity.

Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is practice manager at Daniel Island Animal Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina.

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