Whether you manage one or two employees, or sit at the helm of a multi-clinic chain, being the boss is challenging. And based on what I’ve learned in my own experience as both a clinic director and a tech executive, being a good boss is as much about leaning into the tough situations as it is letting go of what we can’t control. So, what difficult scenarios have I had to lean into—and let go of? Here are my top eight:
1. Pointing Out Poor Performance
Unfortunately, when an employee is underperforming, you have to take action. As a young clinic director, I struggled with questioning my own role in the poor performance as much as I struggled with that employee’s bad behaviors. I always wondered if there was anything more I could’ve done: should I have provided more training? Been more inspirational? Tried harder to level the employee up to my expectations? Better defined those expectations? While there may be some truth to these concerns, if you’ve invested considerable time into communicating clearly and helping the employee improve—and he or she still isn’t hitting the mark—then more drastic measures may be necessary. Ultimately, there are situations in which an employee simply isn’t the right fit for your practice. And while that can be a hard pill to swallow, it’s one we have to gulp down nonetheless. The key to successfully navigating this situation is to have open, crucial conversations early on—rather than simply hoping that something will change.
2. Controlling Costs
As the boss, you’re faced with a laundry list of financial decisions on a near-daily basis. Some of those choices are easier made than others, and if you’re under tight budgetary constraints, your decisions should always be more tactical than emotional. For example, you may not be able to splurge on breakroom coffee or purchase that new piece of equipment your staff wants—and that’s okay. It can be hard telling your team “no,” but the key is helping them understand that you’re doing so for the good of the business—not because you don’t care about employee amenities or customer experience. Sharing information about your financials with your staff is a critical element to a more cohesive culture. For example, at WebPT, we have a quarterly “all-hands-on-deck” meeting—our company-wide stand up. At this meeting, we celebrate successes, share stories to inspire our teams, and communicate the company’s financial status and goals. We also use this time as a way to highlight opportunities for us to improve. We’ve found that being transparent across the board is paramount to our success.
3. Relinquishing the Ropes
Most leaders want to have some form of control over every aspect of their businesses. And if not kept in check, this drive can lead to some serious burnout. That’s because—as this Entrepreneur article points out—the willingness to trust is “more emotionally taxing” than other aspects of being a business owner. Because your business is your passion, it can be hard to relinquish control. But, to stay sane, you have to be willing to trust. And that means letting go—something that, at first, was incredibly difficult for me to do. But, now that I’ve done it, I can say it's been the most rewarding challenge to overcome. Now, I have the time to focus on the things that I truly love—and those job functions that make the biggest impact. Plus, because I’ve been able to delegate my previous tasks, I’ve provided opportunities for professional growth to those around me.
4. Finding the Time for Feedback
When your task list is a mile long—and you devote a decent chunk of your time to “putting out fires”—you don’t have much time left for anything else. But, I challenge you to prioritize more than just the urgent to-dos. After all, the best leaders make room in their schedules to spend quality time with their employees. This allows you to learn what motivates your staff, provide them with feedback, and give them the confidence to act on their own ideas—even if those ideas end up failing. Ouch; I said it. Sometimes staff members have ideas that need to be proven out—and sometimes those ideas fail. But, that’s okay! That’s how we grow. It can be tempting to hold our employees’ hands and guide them through every decision. But, where would we be as leaders if we didn’t learn from our own failures? Thus, as the boss, it’s your duty to pay forward that amazing opportunity for growth. All you can do is be there for them, help them learn from their mistakes and course-correct, and make it a point to emphasize that failing is a learning experience that is crucial for personal—and professional—growth.
5. Trading Treatment Time
PTs love treating their patients. And if you’re a PT who’s new to a management role, you might be tempted to try and hold onto as many treatment hours as you can. After all, your patients are more important than anything else—right? For me, this was an especially tough transition. Becoming a manager meant I had to give up some of my treatment time so I could handle administrative tasks. Eventually, I accepted that while this was not necessarily my ideal, someone had to take care of the business side of things—and as the boss, that someone was me. Now, each leader’s approach to tackling those items is different, but from my experience, I can tell you what didn’t work: saying that I would commit a couple of hours a day to admin tasks. Why? Well, inevitably, those “couple of hours” would shrink down to a few minutes. And pretty soon, to get everything done, I found myself working from home more often than I wanted. To solve this problem, I committed to spending my Tuesdays and Thursdays, which were half-days, working on administrative tasks. This dedicated schedule allowed me three full days of treatment time, and I found that committing to this division of time was easier than trying to sprinkle in smaller chunks of admin time throughout the week. Being disciplined with my time—and not giving into constant gear-switching—allowed me to truly focus on the tasks at hand and remain productive at work.
6. Bailing on Work/Life Balance
I always say that there’s no such thing as work/life balance. I think that no matter what, at any given point in time, one side will receive less attention than the other. Now, that’s not to say you’re in a perpetual state of being a bad boss, therapist, wife, mother, spouse, or sibling. You have to remember that there’s no possible way to be in two places at once—and you have to be okay with that. Surrender to the fact that you’re doing the best that you can—and let that be enough. Chances are good that you’re being much harder on yourself than your family or staff are. Furthermore, keep in mind that you’re a role model for your employees. And if they see you burning the midnight oil every night, they might assume that’s what is expected of them, too. Now, we all want hard-working team members. But for many individuals—especially millennials—the freedom and ability to disconnect from work is crucial. In fact, this personal time is so valuable that the younger members of the workforce are willing to take pay cuts to work for companies with solid core values and a culture that embraces work/life flexibility.
7. Marking the Right Metrics
Part of proving your value as a business is knowing and communicating your KPIs. What’s a KPI? As Erica McDermott explains in this WebPT article, “a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is simply an important business metric—one that is imperative in meeting key business objectives.” Sounds easy enough. As a leader, you know the factors that are crucial to your business’s success. But, that’s not the tough part; the challenge is getting all business stakeholders to agree on what’s most important and thus, what information you should track. Another challenge is finding the right software to help you build a dashboard that organizes and analyzes those metrics. Once you have everyone on the same page—and you’ve put the right software in place—it’ll be smooth (or at least smoother) sailing.
8. Tracking Down Good Talent
I might sound like a broken record when I say it’s critically important to hire for culture fit. But, this is something that really strikes a chord with me as a leader—and something that can be super-challenging to nail down. As a therapist, you’re looking for a team member who has the same values as your team, is committed to helping your patients, and is exceptional at what he or she does—talk about a needle in a haystack. But, even though it’s tempting to hire the next new-grad who walks through your clinic doors, I challenge you to take your time and hire slow. Because the only thing that’s more challenging than finding an employee who’ll uphold all of your expectations is dealing with the repercussions of hiring someone who doesn’t. This concept has been especially evident to me during my experience at WebPT—in our beginning stages and throughout our rapid growth. So, what’s our secret to finding good people? When hiring, we ensure our candidates have the essential ability to perform their job role—but we focus much more heavily on culture-fit. That emphasis on hiring great people who share our values has certainly paid off: our company culture is strong because all of our employees—from employee number one to employee 300—truly believe in our vision. And that’s something special. Remember, you can teach people new skill sets, but you can’t teach heart, true grit, or integrity. For me, this is the best part about being the boss—all of the great people you get to meet, grow, learn from, and nurture. It makes all the tough moments totally worthwhile.
What challenges do you face as a boss? Are you having a hard time taking action? Or, do you struggle to let go when a situation is beyond your control? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comment section below.