Tact and the Sycophant.

At lunch this weekend, my 13-year-old stepdaughter told me “at dad’s house, we keep our opinions to ourselves.” I didn’t even finish swallowing my food before I said, “I completely disagree,” quickly stopping all conversation at the table.

I asked, “When should you freely share your opinion, even if it isn’t well-received?” All three of my kids at the table had good answers. When a friend is being a little too crazy on the trampoline or if you know something that could help someone, like telling them they are going the wrong way to the airport, etc.

We quickly boiled it down to a litmus test: if your opinion can prevent unwanted harm or facilitate something good, share it and don’t be shy. People who don’t have the guts to say what they think, especially when it can help someone or prevent something bad from happening, usually live quiet lives of despair.

“You’ll never get what you deserve in life if you keep all your thoughts and opinions to yourself,” I said, “Plus the conversations are a lot more interesting and you’ll probably learn something about the other person that can help you both in the future.”

I share this story because you own a business and you have a handful or even scores of employees who are afraid to share their opinions with you. The smartest and most-successful amongst us are really good at helping our employees be tactful, yet we do not surround ourselves with sycophants. Brené Brown calls it “getting comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”

I had private clients in a few weekends ago who are very smart and capable, growing quickly and experiencing the challenges and complexities that come with growth. One of the challenges is stepping aside and letting someone else take the reins on projects and responsibilities inside the practice.

In determining who will step up to the plate and be their team leader, the only question I had for one potential inside hire was whether or not she could be blunt and honest yet tactful with you if someone needed to be fired. Their immediate answer was, “Absolutely not.”

“So, she’s not a leader,” I said. Keep looking and make sure you put people in positions of responsibility who are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, who are not sycophantic in their approach with you, and yet, can still be tactful with subordinates.

My parents and grandparents taught me this skill when I was a child. I’m now teaching it to my kids. Never assume your employees and team leaders had this taught to them at a young age. Odds are, they didn’t and you must insist that you are surrounded by tactful leaders willing to share their opinions.

Time is Money.

Most small business owners have scores of reports they check each month to help them manage their money. Expenses and revenue are tracked meticulously. Budgets are set and regularly reviewed before new investments are made in technology or human capital.

Even the average business owner has some idea of their production, collections and expenses this week or this month and how they compare to the same period last year or last month. The more engaged business owner receives these reports daily or even twice a day, like I do. Yet, almost no small business owner manages their time with the same care and consistency. Time in most businesses goes largely unmanaged.

Think about the number of phone calls, text messages, emails, meetings and unscheduled interruptions throughout your day. Very few doctors have grasped the huge amount of waste they allow into their day because they have failed to set clear rules on how they govern their time.

Leaders at The Disney Institute state it very simply: if you want better results, raise your expectations. Is there a clear understanding in your business about how you and your employees are to spend their time?

Do you allow your team to squander away your scarcest resource through ineffective use of email, unproductive meetings and constant interruptions? What would your practice look like if you could spend more time with patients and less time on activities that do not produce results? What would your overhead look like if you took time management as seriously as financial management?

A recent report from researchers at Bain & Company looked at the time management of 17 of the world’s top companies. What they found should not be surprising. Companies are drowning in digital communication. Leaders deal with hundreds of emails per day and spend way too much time in meetings. There is not enough formal control and employees are awash in dysfunctional meetings. There are few consequences for wasting time, less work is getting done and these firms are not as productive as they could be.

Your first job as the leader in your organization is to set the focus for the coming year. Steve Jobs was known for taking his top 100 leaders off-site each year to focus on the company’s 10 priorities in the coming year. After intense competition amongst the leaders to get their priorities on the board, Jobs would take a marker and cross out the bottom seven. “We can only do three,” he would announce. Jobs would not allow Apple to waste time on things he knew the company shouldn’t be doing. This allowed the firm to innovate much faster than their competitors.

Before your next meeting, ask how you can standardize the data you need in order to quickly set strategy and review performance. Do not allow new meeting time to show up on your calendar. Focus your team so they know the rhythm of the company is set and that they will be forced to operate within it, producing results and reducing wasted time. It’s possible but it takes discipline and your effort and attention in this area of your practice will produce big dividends. No amount of skill or money can buy you 25 hour days. If you want to beat the competition, start making the most of this precious resource.

Groupthink.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of social media and Facebook groups. Particularly for pathologic perfectionists (i.e., audiologists), this method of communication is dangerous for several reasons:

First, those who post in these forums assume they assert unique views and ideas, imagining themselves as individuals. Yet, to a great extent, the views espoused are heavily influenced by colleagues, friends in the group, childhood upbringing and society at large. If you could track the views and opinions of the average member inside these groups, as a function of time, you would see them bend towards the average, the longer the member operates and communicates within the group.

This is only one reason why you’ll never catch me dead inside a Facebook group for audiologists. It’s also why you’ll never see a user group with this type of communication created for CEOs of publicly-traded companies. One of my friends and business mentors travels to New York City at the end of next month to ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange, as the company in which he is heavily invested is finally going public and they invited him and a small handful of leaders to be present for the big day.

At dinner this weekend, I asked him why he thought people operating at his level (i.e., above $100 million in net worth) don’t waste their time on social media, and in particular, inside private Facebook groups, as more and more doctors seem to be wasting countless hours in these potentially destructive environments. His answer was pretty shocking: “Many people look for validation in groups because they are insecure. They flock together and succumb to the pressure to fit in and blend in because they are uncertain about their self-worth.”

I nodded in agreement because I’ve seen the damage of groupthink firsthand. You might be subconsciously unaware of the grip it has on you. If you participate in Facebook groups for audiologists or dentists, ask yourself how many times in the last year you’ve intentionally entertained an idea that is the very opposite of the group or conventional wisdom in our profession. Were you able to hold onto that view, and, if so, how long?

Only through awareness of the areas in which you conform, can you start to strengthen your ability to reason on your own. Take the opposite approach to your peers. Start with the assumption that you are not as much of an individual as you think you are. Deeply examine where your thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions are impacted by everything around you. Be brutally honest with yourself.

It’s one of many reasons why doctors fly from all over the world to meet with me and ask me to fix their practices. They’re really asking me to unlock them from the chains of groupthink, confirmation bias and inaccurate opinions about our profession and its place in society and free markets. Only then can doctors truly grow.

Business school gave me an entirely different view on elective healthcare. It challenged everything I thought I knew about management, strategy, finance, and marketing for health care facilities and procedures. One of the big reasons why I think it had such a profound impact on my ability to help doctors grow their practices quickly is that I was the only audiology practice owner in my business school class. Everyone else had entirely unique perspectives on both simple and complex issues in the business world. Because my professors and classmates weren’t entrenched in audiology groupthink, they helped me see clearly what could be done in our industry. I didn’t need the validation or attention of any other audiologists in order to create massive breakthroughs for my own practices, my clients and now for the profession at-large.

If you rely on your goals, outcomes, and progress to elevate your self-image, you won’t be held hostage to the ideas, attention and approval of others either. If you want to kill the groupthink in your life, this is a great place to start.